Perry Mason Season-Finale Recap: See You Around …

Perry Mason

Chapter Sixteen
Season 2 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

Perry Mason

Chapter Sixteen
Season 2 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: HBO

Is real justice possible, or is it just an illusion?

It’s the question Perry Mason poses to the jury in his closing statement this week. And it’s the question the show has been asking us all season.

Season-two showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and crew have brought out the best possible version of Perry Mason through a meaningfully diverse cast of characters to weave a rich tapestry of American lives connected by systems of money, class, and crime. We all know these systems tilt the scales of justice to favor the rich and powerful.

And now it’s time to close the case in the finale. Della Street’s having a hard time believing that Camilla Nygaard, her powerful female pursuer, is also their big baddie, but when Paul and Clara roll into the office with an envelope from Phipps’s Beverly Hills pad, bearing his name, there’s no getting around it.

“Fuck,” Della finally says with a crack in her voice. She knows Camilla can’t be played with. Sure, Lydell McCutcheon was a major player in this whole thing, and he obviously didn’t do much to stop his business partner’s murder plot against his son, but he was yesterday’s big baddie. Meet the new boss, the same as (but smarter than) the old boss.

Mason’s ready to take everything they have, go straight to the DA’s office, and make a new deal with Burger. Della’s more than hesitant about outing her friend, but she knows he’s the one person who could save the trial at this point. So she tells Perry and Paul that old Ham’s been blackmailed, and they figure out the rest. The good thing about this “degenerate” crew is nobody cares; plus they’ve got enough to persuade Burger to get the person blackmailing him off his back.

But first, it’s time to see if Judge Durkin will budge on his decision for the rest of the trial. It’s the morning of, down to the wire, and our guy Perry sidles up to Durkin mid-shoe-shine and persuades him. “I was prepared to declare a mistrial,” Durkin says in his office with Mason, Street, Burger, and Milligan before him. “But I have reconsidered.” The trial will continue with the gun admitted into evidence, no mention of how it was obtained. Mason won’t cross-examine the final witnesses, and on top of that, he’ll be sentenced to four months in county jail for concealing evidence.

Della’s blown away by what Perry put on the line for the Gallardo boys, but he’s pretty quick to lessen anything resembling wonder or praise, which he’s right to do. Mason’s hot on the trail of justice and will do whatever it takes to secure that bag, illusion be damned.

Back at Phipps’s place, Constance is being nursed through withdrawals (sidebar: It took me way too long to realize Phipps’s wife, Constance, was Constance Barbour, Camilla Nygaard’s pet concert pianist, my apologies to Andrea Gabriel, who’s more than memorable and quietly effective in all of her scenes), just in time for Perry, Della, and Paul to show up with a quid pro ultimatum.

So here’s the deal, Phippsy: It turns out Ozzie Jackson isn’t dead, just nursing some bruises from his beating with Paul, who has already lined him up with a wad of cash and the chance to testify in court that Phipps paid him to organize Brooks McCutcheon’s hit. Phipps isn’t having that, so he breaks down quickly in front of our crew. Perry asks Phipps where his loyalty to Camilla has gotten him. Time to switch sides and work with this ragtag team of defense lawyers and gumshoes.

Final day in court: Milligan presents the gun as evidence and has the ballistics expert verify that every bullet fired was an exact match for the one that killed Brooks. Then he gives the exact closing statement you’d expect, going on about the Gallardo boys as “two Mexicans resentful of the more fortunate.” Guests in our country, he calls them, “too lazy” to bootstrap their way to the top. Mason’s closing remarks take a turn both anticlimactic (albeit appropriately, under the circumstances) and entirely on brand.

Absent his usual oratory bite in the courtroom but no less effective, Mason essentially says “fuck it” and gets to the core issue of the case (and the season): “A very well established attorney here in Los Angeles once said to me … there’s no such thing as justice; there’s only the illusion of justice.” Despite the oath to be impartial, every jury member has inevitably come into the trial with predetermined views. That’s not an indictment, just a fact. “Because every instant of our life — our wealth, our poverty, our race, our passions — predetermines how people perceive us and our actions,” Mason continues. Is real justice possible, or is it an illusion? All Mason asks is that the jury bears that in mind when reaching a decision.

Okay, now it’s out to the court of the city for the real final showdown. There’s a great little mini–Mission: Impossible moment for old Phippsy as he slides into Camilla’s house unannounced and grabs all those blackmail photos and negatives. It takes two trips up the stairs, though, first just to get Burger’s photos, then to get everything else, when Camilla catches Phipps on his way out the door and treats him to another veiled threat topped with a personal insult, a marching order, and a smile. It’s the last one of those he’ll take.

With two boxes full of glossy blackmail photos in their possession, the gang combs through them and finds some of their own, then takes all the Burger ones to the DA’s office. Burger’s still apprehensive at first, and he’s not happy about being outed to Mason (I love Mason’s “I don’t care”), but as Della points out, he’s free from the threat of blackmail now. He’s not particularly interested in sending the Gallardos to jail, let alone sentencing them to death, but the train of public opinion has left the station, and its demands must be satisfied somehow.

So Mason & Co. bring the new deal to the Gallardo family. Burger has agreed to drop the charges for one brother. The one who pulled the trigger, presumably, would plead guilty with a 30-year sentence. No parole. Ooof, that last part hurts bad. As we’ll see for ourselves (for the first time this season), Mateo was the one who pulled the trigger, and though Rafa was there at the scene of the crime, he alone approached McCutcheon’s car. Still, Rafa’s willing to take the fall for him to secure his young family’s future together.

“There’s no excuse for killing a man,” Mateo says to the court after changing his plea to guilty and receiving his sentence. Does he wish things had been different for him? Of course. More food to eat, a real home. “But none of those things can compare to the feeling one gets from the love and loyalty of family.” For his part in this plot, Mateo is willing to take the fall, satisfying the public demands for justice. But the real scales of justice, if they exist, have yet to be balanced. The true murderer, buffered by wealth and influence, continues unabated. In the meantime, though, Rafael is free and our legal team, including Burger, all get to have a little moment of catharsis with the press outside the courthouse.

“Are you upset about losing?” a reporter asks Mason. But he doesn’t see it as a loss, and he acknowledges that none of it would have been possible without the real star of the trial, Miss Della Street. And the star of the trial she was. Straightaway, the press is asking our girl stupid questions about her love life. They might have seen her on DA Burger’s arm at a few social gatherings of late, but “future husbands” (Della uses the term with a quick, loving glance at an anonymous Anita in the crowd) are a topic for another day. Later in the wrap-up montage, we glimpse Della dating Burger in public with Anita at her side where it counts. Not ideal but pretty damn sweet, considering the times.

As for Paul Drake, he will be just fine with some new employment while Perry’s locked up. He has been burned by a system run for too long by white assholes, and it seems he has come to terms with the gray and even potentially violent waters he’ll have to wade through working for Melvin Perkins. Now I’m no advocate for organized crime, but I do recognize it as the inevitable result of desperation, xenophobia, and economic oppression that plagues immigrants and other marginalized groups in America. And there’s no denying Paul will do some actual good for his community by snooping on white city-council members, securing zoning permits, etc. It’s an apt little history lesson in that it at least acknowledges that progress isn’t always achieved without Machiavellian tactics.

The night before Mason heads out to jail, he and Della knock back a few at his apartment and give us a tremendous thematic wrap-up convo. Did Mason mean what he said in court about “justice being an illusion”? Della asks. “Look what we had to do. We hid a murder weapon, we prearranged a witness to lie on the stand, and stopped the blackmail with another blackmail.” Does any of it add up to real justice? “It’s not justice that’s the illusion. It’s the system.”

How much longer are we going to opine about people’s lack of faith in our institutions when our institutions fail, time and again, to uphold their end of the bargain? To quote Hasan-i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, “Nothing is true — all is permitted.” The system is the great obfuscator, but its obfuscations are what we make of them. So what do we do with that?

“We fight,” Mason says.

With the case over and the scales of justice about as balanced as one could hope for, Della pays a final visit to Camilla’s mansion and catches her swimming some laps in her stupid pool. As soon as Della calls her out, Camilla comes on strong about protecting women from abusers and selling oil to foreign war interests for something resembling feminism. Della leaves her with a parting non-literal fuck you and Camilla responds with thinly veiled threats, but that doesn’t stop the FBI from showing up in her backyard seconds later. Who knows how far their investigation will go and what Camilla can do to get out of a full accounting of her crimes — another topic for another day.

In the meantime, Perry Mason’s got a date with the slammer. “See ya around … Fucko,” he says to Pete Strickland, who has just sent him off with a pack of cigarettes, a few sticks of gum, and a warning to learn a skill he can trade on in there, as long as it’s not lawyering (“You go blabbin’ about being a lawyer in there, you’re gonna have every hard-luck case knocking on your bars begging you for help”). Once admitted to his cell, Perry takes the folded blackmail photo of him and his son riding horses, sticks some freshly chewed gum to the back, and pastes it on the wall behind his bunk. It’s a bitingly sad state, but you really feel those searing L.A. sunbeams coming through the shadowy bars behind his right shoulder — the light of justice slicing the shackles of a goddamned illusory system.

Inculpatory Evidence

• I’m sure we were all glad to see at least some semblance of Camilla Nygaard’s bill coming due, but the real satisfying body slam of this finale is when Burger tells Milligan he’s taking him off the Gallardo case and making a new deal. “Good-bye, Tommy.”

• “I have a gun,” Phipps says when the gang shows up at his place. “Yeah? So do I, right here,” says Mason, pulling his pistol from his jacket pocket. Funny how often American West frontier justice still runs the show around here.

• Well, it turns out Ginny Aimes was just a nice lady who got close to Perry Mason long enough to get yelled at by him — but seriously, I’m perpetually amazed by Katherine Waterston’s uncanny ability to breathe all kinds of life into semi-thankless roles. (She did that recently in Babylon as the “new” wife of Brad Pitt’s Jack Conrad.) There’s something about the way she conveys interiority. It bleeds through every frame with a command I can’t quite ascribe to any other actor.

• It’s creepy as hell when Camilla puts her full one percent paranoia on the table: “You more than anyone should understand the hard choices we have to make and the dangers that ripple out from them. They ripple and ripple until it catches up with you, and you’re drowning.” More money, more problems, more collateral damage.

• Of course, not everyone was served the measure of justice they should have had in this conclusion. Last we see of Lydell McCutcheon, he’s hiding out in Japan with a telegram warning him of the FBI request for his return. Something tells me Lydell’s on the fast track to an on-the-lam retirement.

Perry Mason Season-Finale Recap: See You Around …