Wowwww folks, we finally got some big reveals in the penultimate chapter of our little Perry Mason mystery here. That moment when you find out who the big baddie is and what exactly they have been scheming on this whole time, and you’re left with that “Oh, shit, now what?” feeling. I love that for us. Holcomb wasn’t kidding when he said Brooks McCutcheon was into something “bigger than anybody this town’s even thinking about,” and I dunno about you all, but I saw this one coming about as clearly as anyone in the show did, which is to say not at all. Then again, I never see the whole picture until the very last piece of the puzzle is put into place, so whaddya gonna do?
But first, remember our secret foe from the last episode who broke into Mason’s office and found the gun? It turned out to be the most likely suspect after all. Sneaking around is Pete Strickland’s bag, after all, as Milligan points out over a celebratory belt of his father’s Napolean cognac or whatever complete with an inscription on the inside of the lid that reads “to victory” in French. A little piece of “Napoleonica” that’d make Connor Roy jealous. Man, what is it with these guys and huffing the fumes of power off these, like, souvenirs of imperial conquest? Anyway, it’s a wasted gesture on a guy like old Strick, who’s clearly remorseful, in his own way, about betraying his buddy’s trust, shaky though it was.
“Listen, I don’t like leaving things bad between us,” Pete tells Perry on an overpass bridge. “Sometimes I get myself pulled into things, and I don’t feel good about it, but I do it anyway.” And Perry knows straightaway his pal was the one who broke into the safe — shock, hurt, anger, and acceptance all on his face in an instant. Rhys is a pro, man. Our guys have it out the way male friends of a certain age who hurt each other’s feelings tend to have it out, with a good old-fashioned bare-knuckle brawl. With that out of the way, Pete’s ready to make amends on his friend’s side of the fight, and Perry’s ready to accept it.
I mean, what choice does he have? Judge Durkin gave the prosecution two days to get a brief on his desk with a plan for going forward with the trial and the charges they would bring against Mason. When those two days are up, so could his career as a lawyer. But he’s got one long shot up his sleeve. “If I can piece together some fucking bizarre evidence,” he tells Pete, “I could possibly take down some of the biggest names in this city.”
Hell, yeah, let’s fucking go. Mason brings Pete back to the office to a furiously reluctant Della and Paul. And that’s before Perry tells them Pete was their office burglar. Ultimately, neither Paul nor Della can deny that Pete’s inside track on the prosecution makes him a valuable ally right when they need one most.
So it’s off to the mattresses and everyone on the team’s got their own quest for this quick-turnaround investigation. Mason and Strick meet up with Holcomb at the port where the Feds are sweeping a McCutcheon ship supposedly about to set off for Japan. “My guy in the Fed office says they always leave at night,” Holcomb tells them. Clearly they don’t want people to see what they’re dumping. So Holcomb bounces, and Mason and Strick sneak onboard with a line of deckhands and spy the whole operation. It looks like this ship is meeting up with another McCutcheon liner offshore, trading out all that produce for “black gold” and shipping the oil to Japan instead. Mason snaps some photos of the whole scene before they jump ship. There’s one big-ass piece of the puzzle secured.
Meanwhile, Della visits Hamilton Burger at his office to find out what’s got him spooked. He takes offense, or at least feigns to, when she brings up the night they found each other in the proverbial closet, but you can tell she means it when she says their friendship makes her feel like she’s not alone, and losing that lifeline has been rough for both of them. “Ham,” she says, “I’m looking for the truth.” Burger finally, though still reluctantly, acquiesces. He pulls a set of photos from a locked desk drawer of him in what folks in the ’30s might call a “compromised position” with another man.
Della’s rattled (this has some serious implications for her well-being), but her expression leads with empathy for her friend. Burger still doesn’t know who’s blackmailing him with these photos, and Justin Kirk plays his silent suffering with chilling precision. As soon as he’s opened up to Della, he shuts her out again. “Accept defeat. Let the Feds handle the rest.” But why would “the Feds” be handling anything?
The next stop is the Department of Agriculture, where Della talks to Mr. Denning, who investigated Brooks McCutcheon and Charlie Goldstein’s little produce price-gouging scam. It turns out he’d even subpoenaed them. Big news for Mason & Co. as it places more visibility on the McCutcheon empire’s shady activities much earlier in the timeline than they’d ever anticipated. But when Della inquires about McCutcheon and Goldstein’s file, Denning bolts from his office. Many cigarettes later, Della is greeted not by Denning but by some mysterious thug in a newsies cap — the same bloke who’s been tailing her and Mason: “Mr. Denning had an emergency. He won’t be coming back to the office today. That’ll be all, Miss Street.” And that’s it. The door is slammed shut as soon as it opens. Red flags all around.
So it’s back to the office for another round of “Here’s what we got so far.” I reckon it’ll be the last one of these — or second to last, more likely — as they’re as close as they’ve ever been to the whole truth and nothing but the truth but not quite there. So here’s what Mason, Strickland, and secretary Marion figure out:
Della thinks Brooks was taking the produce Lydell was dumping and selling it on the black market. “Another losing scheme by the bumbling prince of the city,” Strickland says. And the Feds got wind of it, so they subpoenaed Brooks and Goldstein to testify about the scam. The only problem is that’s probably not the only thing they’d testify about.
So why the big charade? Why pretend to send produce to Japan, then sneak on all that oil? Here’s where Marion comes in with the big missing piece: Are they selling oil to the Japanese military? “Who are they at war with?” asks Pete. LOL, quaint to think how isolationist we used to be as a country, though not knowing anything about what’s going on anywhere else in the world ain’t exactly a thing of the past around here. Anyway, Japan’s on a coup-attempt spree right now, and the League of Nations is imposing sanctions. McCutcheon clearly wouldn’t want anyone to know he was selling oil to the Japanese under the table, and Brooks’s little side scam was about to shine a bright light on his dad’s bigger one.
So Lydell really did have his own son killed, they figure. Close, and I imagine what most of us were waiting for, but not the whole cigar.
Lydell is skeet shooting with his grandson when Mason shows up for the big showdown. “Just returning something you dropped,” he says, burlap sack of oily produce in his hand. “I want a better deal for my clients,” Mason says. Work it out with Burger and bring the team something better this time. “Because if you don’t, if I’m suddenly no longer around when this offer is completed, then all of my research goes to the FBI and the press.” And along with that research, he can tell them Lydell illegally schemed with the Japanese to sell them oil and how he had such little faith in his own son not to tell people about it that he paid to have him executed.
“I tried to save him!” Lydells exclaims. “But he wouldn’t let me!” Paul Raci plays the scene with palpable fear and desperation under his fading layer of menace, just as he did in the premiere episode when he warned Brooks to back off before things got ugly. “I won’t take the blame for this.”
Brooks was clearly a liability to Lydell, but he didn’t want his son’s death, and Mason can tell he’s not lying about that. So who did?
Our first big tip-off comes from Paul and Clara Drake, who’ve just made up and realigned as a PI power couple in time to catch that fancy blue car picking up some smack at the corner Paul’s been watching. They follow the car to its house in an affluent white neighborhood, and after some brief reluctance from Paul, Clara approaches the door posing as a Jehovah’s Witness. “Are you Josephine Baker?” asks the woman lying on a couch in the front room, needle still in her arm. She starts OD-ing real quick, and her husband arrives home before Clara can clear the hell out. She ducks behind a closet door, and we hear a familiar voice asking about dinner plans. It’s fucking Phipps, Camilla Nygaard’s pet lawyer.
Now here’s the big facepalm “Ohhhhh, of course!” moment that comes with every murder mystery, for this recapper at least. Camilla Nygaard, duh! The real femme fatale was the girlboss oil baron all along. Earlier in the episode, at a meeting with their Japanese business partners, Camilla is the top dog, speaking Japanese to make moves outside Lydell’s purview. And when Lydell reacts with venom to her suggestions they make a memorial to secure Brooks’s future image, you get the sense there’s more to it than feeling insulted by a peer.
And though plenty of clues have led us to our main culprit, the editing work near the episode’s end really drives the point home. As Camilla’s puppet-master fingers glide over the ivory keys of her piano, we cut to the Gallardo brothers in prison, the stoolies in her grand plan. Rafael’s just been released from solitary (or worse), and he’s in a bad way. Mateo just got word from their aunt that Rafa was accepted to art school, and it’s up to Mateo to decide whether to tell him. Rafa lies in bed, shaking, eyes glazed over, and Mateo crumples the acceptance letter in his hands.
Meanwhile, Judge Durkin reads the brief from the DA’s office, Burger standing still before him while Milligan smiles. All the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We cut back to Camilla at her piano when the bald thug with the newsies cap enters the room, hands her some photos of Della in the parking lot at the Department of Agriculture. It turns out that when you live in an earthly annex of hell under the rule of money-worshipping oil barons, the one who just so happens to be a woman with the more modern mansion and “supports the arts” or whatever isn’t going to save you. In fact, she just might be the most diabolical of the lot.
• Another great Justin Kirk moment: in Judge Durkin’s office when Milligan says, “We can try this case again, I’m not worried.” The enormous eye roll Burger gives him — chef’s kiss.
• There’s a lot of cigarette smoking in this show, more than period and genre appropriate. Still, something about this episode, in particular, made me stop and think, Man, I love how dedicated this show is to making smoking look cool. I think it was the transition from Lydell putting out his cigar after a few healthy puffs to Denning in the Department of Agriculture blowing nice big clouds through the light of the blinds in his office. I don’t know; I’m firmly in the camp that smoking in movies and TV just looks too cool to cancel. We all know cigarettes are bad by now, right? Let the directors and cinematographers cook with all that light and curling smoke.
• I was thrilled that Paul and Clara resolved their tiff when they did — not sure I could’ve handled them being on the outs much longer. Made for some riveting expression of interiority (“Clar, the choices I made, they used to have fewer consequences. They didn’t have as long a reach”) as well as a great little co-side-quest. What can I say? I’m a happily married man who loves seeing a true power couple come back together, you know? In any case, I’m still gunning for the Thin Man–style Drake mystery spinoff.
• The Camilla Nygaard reveal doesn’t completely let Anita St. Pierre or Ginny Aimes off the hook (I reckon at least one of them could still be nefarious in some way or another), but it does put me way more at ease about both of them for the time being. Here’s hoping that, by the end of the finale, their convenient entrances into the lives of their respective new boos are convenient and nothing more.