Perry Mason Episode 1 recap: Your next Sunday night obsession
Perry Mason Episode 1 introduces us to HBO’s stylish, updated reboot of the classic legal drama of the same name. The new series is gritty, gruesome, and looks fantastic. It’s clear the premium cable service spared no expense in furnishing the lived-in world of Perry Mason, played by the charming Matthew Rhys.
In this iteration, Mason is a hardboiled private detective who lives on a small, rundown dairy farm. He spends his days doing run-of-the-mill work like spying on Hollywood actors to ensure they aren’t breaking their contractual morality clauses and his nights having sex with the robust female pilot, Lupe.
His dairy farm sits on the precipice of an airfield, which just adds to the overall dumpy look of his dairy farm. Despite all of this, Mason is attached to his home and not keen on selling it, despite the fact he’s broke.
However, before we get to meet Rhys’ version of the iconic character, we are greeted with a nasty opening scene, one that sets the tone for the remainder of the gritty hour of television.
It appears the “main” case of Perry Mason will pertain to the kidnapping and murder of a young boy named Charlie.
We’re introduced to a couple frantically trying to complete the demands of an unseen presence, one who demands they leave him $100,000 in an open suitcase before retrieving their son from a nearby trolley car.
Unfortunately, when they reach their son, wrapped in a plaid blanket, they discover he is already dead, with his eyes sewn open.
Fast-forward to later in the episode when Mason is approached by John Lithgow’s straitlaced character, attorney E.B. Jonathan, who recruits Mason onto his team to solve the unsavory case for a man named Herman Baggerly.
Jonathan, his assistant Delia Street, and Mason, head to a meeting with Baggerly, who asks them to look into Charlie’s case because he doesn’t have faith in the police department to get the job done.
We meet Charlie’s parents, Matthew and Emily Dodson. They’re severely shaken up by their son’s grisly death. It becomes apparent why Baggerly may not feel the police are up to the task, since they happen to walk in during an unsavory interrogation between two cops, Detective Holcomb and his rather cruel partner.
During the arguing and questioning in one room, Mason explores the house. He starts taking pictures of anything that catches his eye, including a ceramic turtle and a framed photograph of Tatiana Maslany’s character, Sister Alice — although we don’t meet her in Perry Mason Episode 1.
While investigating, Mason runs into Emily and the two have a brief but emotional conversation about Charlie. Mason reveals he has a son of his own, a nine-year-old named Theodore.
At Jonathan’s office later, he, Mason, and Street try to figure out what they know about the case so far. Their current theory is that Charlie was stolen from the house while Matthew was away at work and Emily was asleep.
It begins to sound like the person who kidnapped Charlie knew a lot about the Dodson family, considering they were aware of their schedule and financial records. They knew they could ask for $100 grand, which suggests they had insider intel.
The next day, Mason gets a chance to peek inside the railway car we saw in the opening scene, where the Dodson’s found their son’s body. There, he runs into Holcomb’s menacing partner who wants to arrest Mason. But he counters by giving him some information — which is that he heard a car rammed into the trolley on the fateful night Charlie was discovered, something else we saw happen in the cold open.
In the morgue, Mason takes a few photographs of Charlie’s body. He and the coroner remove the stitches from Charlie’s eyes and Mason pockets one string inside of a matchbox.
Unfortunately for Mason, things take an ugly turn from there as he attends the Hammersmith Picture’s New Year’s Eve party, mainly so he can finally get paid for the naughty pictures he took of movie star Chubby Carmichael and up-and-comer Velma “Red” Fuller.
Originally, Mason was only instructed to see what he could find on Carmichael, but since the two stars crossed paths, he asks for $600 instead of the original $200, especially since the images could do serious damage to Velma’s image.
Well, Mr. Hammersmith does not like being toyed with and he certainly doesn’t like anyone surly enough to talk back to him. He has some of his goons rough Mason up, including burning him with the heated end of a pistol. Then he disses him by giving him the original $200… minus $199 for being a smarta**, basically.
Mason leaves empty-handed and worse for the wear, severely pissing off his partner Pete, too. Both men needed that payday.
It’s not surprising then, that Mason turns to alcohol to bring in a lonely New Year’s Eve alone. He makes an angry phone call to the woman we can assume is Theodore’s mother and his likely ex-wife. Theo lives with his mom and it doesn’t seem like Mason is on particularly good terms with his estranged family members.
How does Perry Mason Episode 1 set up the season?
In the final moments of Perry Mason Episode 1, a drunken Mason begins to realize something. He rushes into a room of his house and pulls out all the evidence he has on the Charlie Dodson case, spreading everything out on the floor.
He then pulls out the matchbox and a picture of the ceramic turtle and says, “So you like turtles?”
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what he’s getting at with that final line, but it’s only the first episode and this story seems to have a lot of twists and turns.
Also worth noting is that Holcomb’s seedy partner is definitely a corrupt cop. At one point, he enters a room with a suitcase for three men. He places the suitcase in front of them, apparently a payment of some sort, except when they open the box — it’s empty.
He then quickly shoots one man in the head and brutally crushes the other with his foot, while the third man escapes, suffering from a few bullet wounds himself. However, he doesn’t make it far before falling to his death.
All the cop says for reason of lashing out violently is, “They made the car.”
Remember how Mason revealed the vehicle crashed into the trolley? Apparently, no one was supposed to find out about that, so now we know that Holcomb’s partner was involved in some way.
What did you think about Perry Mason Episode 1? Are you planning to stick around for the remainder of the series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
New episodes of Perry Mason air Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.