Perry Mason S1E4: Chapter Four and the Commitment to Truth

Pete Strickland leans against a wall with his head tilted in Perry Mason S1E4
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

Perry Mason S1E4 doesn’t really provide new information when it comes to the Dodson case so much as it involves Perry piecing clues together to learn things the audience already knew, or at least could have figured out. There was a fourth man at the Central Avenue apartment shooting and involved with the kidnapping. George Gannon not only didn’t kill himself, but his body was moved from the alley in order to stage the scene. And so on.

Mason even comes close to figuring out Ennis’s involvement in the whole thing when he and Strickland surmise that the man who picked up the ransom money probably escaped to the Elks Lodge, where he proceeds to find Ennis.

But the end of Perry Mason S1E4 only marks the halfway point of this story, so it seems clearer than ever that Ennis won’t be the end of it. I suppose he could be, given his position of power within the police force, but he doesn’t really seem like a mastermind and there is too much story left for me to think it’s just going to be about Perry proving that Ennis was truly the one behind everything.

This leaves the question of who is actually pulling the strings, or who is involved in whatever way behind the scenes when it comes to the Dodson case. Before speculating about possibilities, however, let me first say that I think it is reasonable to conclude that the kidnappers did not intend to kill little Charlie. There was an accident of some kind. The goal was simply to get $100,000 of Herman Baggerly’s money and return the child, but something went wrong. It is because of this that Ennis killed the others involved. A kidnapping case where a ransom has been paid and the child returned unharmed is one thing; the murder of a child is another. As we’ve seen in Perry Mason, it’s the kind of case that sets a community on fire (figuratively).

So who else may have been involved?

We know from S1E3 that Mr. Wu is not happy about the press attention being paid to George Gannon. Or is it the fact that Gannon is dead? Or both? Does the brothel perhaps have more to do with what happened to Charlie than we have learned so far? Could this all tie into organized crime in the city in some way? And if so, how deep does the corruption go when it comes to the authorities? It would certainly seem that Maynard Barnes is not averse to playing dirty in his role as District Attorney, at very least.

Chubby Carmichael appears again in S1E4 after being absent from the previous two episodes of Perry Mason. This all seems like a bit of a side story, but given the amount of time spent on it in S1E1, I could well see it turning out to be more than that. After all, if we recall what Hammersmith and his goons did to Perry in that first episode, it would hardly be a stretch to think that there are connections between him and organized crime, and Chubby could be caught up in that as well. Or maybe he’s just mad about the photo in the tabloids of him running through the street with his dong flapping in the breeze (somehow the black bar makes it worse).

The possibility that most intrigues me, however, is that the Radiant Assembly of God has something to do with the crime. If they do, I don’t think that Sister Alice or her mother, Birdie McKeegan, know about it. They are “hysterical women” after all, even if they form the heart of the church. The Elders insist in S1E4 that Alice recant her claim that she would resurrect Charlie Dodson, despite Birdie’s protestations that Alice hearing the voice of God is the foundation of the Radiant Assembly. This is just too much. It’s blasphemy. Congregants brought Sister Alice a box of snakes. Actually, I’m not sure the Elders care too much about that one, but it does exemplify the way in which Alice’s pronouncement has turned many against her.

What is interesting is that at the same time that the men in positions of power within the church seek to control Alice, they recognize that she is the leader of the Assembly when it comes to its public face. And so they attempt to get her to read a speech they have prepared for her to dial back the resurrection claim, and it almost works until a man approaches Alice with a blanket for Charlie (because he’ll be cold when he comes back). This leads Sister Alice to instead double down and pronounce not only that Charlie will be resurrected but that it will be on Easter. This is what she believes to be true, and she refuses to cede that truth when it comes down to it.

So I don’t think that Sister Alice had anything to do with Charlie’s abduction, but it would be easy enough for me to see these powerful men who run the Assembly behind the scenes (sans Herman Baggerly) being involved in some way. Perhaps they sought to get money from Baggerly that he wasn’t willing to give freely for some reason, or perhaps it has something to do with the child adoption program Mason saw a posting about during his visit to the church. Or maybe I’m just suspicious of them for how quickly they are prone to dismiss women as hysterical.

The Fidelity One: It a Deal-Breaker?

E.B. sits in a chair with a drink in his hand
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

E.B.’s troubles continue in S1E4. He can’t get a loan to cover Emily’s bail because his law practice is in bad shape financially. Worse, Barnes threatens to get him disbarred for misappropriating funds from his clients in the past after he presents Mason’s theory that there was a fourth man in an attempt to get Emily off. Apparently this was the skeleton in his closet alluded to last week, and Barnes (revealing himself to be just the sort of slimeball we’ve always suspected him to be) says his options are to take a plea, tank at trial, or get disbarred.

But E.B. can’t bring himself to push Emily to take a plea deal even though it would be in his best interest. He believes that she is innocent, and his belief in truth and justice ultimately wins the day as they agree to fight in court. This stands in stark contrast to the frequency with which lawyers convince innocent persons to agree to plea out in the real world. Of course, there is another element to this, which is the question of what is in the accused’s best interest—not in terms of justice, but consequences.

If there is no reasonable chance of securing an acquittal, isn’t it actually in the interest of the innocent person to get as little prison time as possible? Can we trust that the justice system will actually dole out justice? This is surely what helps many a defense attorney sleep at night: the thought that even if their innocent client has gone to prison, they did the best for them that they could.

So what are Emily’s chances? Of course, they are very good because we are watching Perry Mason and that’s how the show works, but if this were a real-world case, I’d have to say her prospects do not look great. She was having an affair with George Gannon, who has been connected to the crime directly. They have correspondence between the two that they clearly plan to present as conspiring to commit the kidnapping. Her husband Matt has apparently decided (after his conversation with Baggerly last week) to cooperate with the prosecution. The masses think she is guilty and her case has been all over the news, lowering the chances of an untainted jury pool. The District Attorney is more than willing to play dirty. And so on.

But E.B. can’t bring himself to persuade her to plead guilty when he believes that isn’t true. He can’t deal with the corruption and the way the world around him has become. He keeps expecting personal relationships to help him and finding that they do not. The world just doesn’t seem to work the way he expects it to anymore.

So he goes home, turns on all of the gas on his stove, opens the door to the oven, and sits down to die.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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