Recap: ‘Perry Mason’ ends Season 2 with a quiet but superb finale
Spoiler alert: The following contains details from the Season 2 finale of “Perry Mason.”
Is there any justice at all?
That’s one of the many questions raised by the second season of HBO’s “Perry Mason” remake, which ends with our hero (Matthew Rhys) alone in a dark jail cell, having achieved half successes in his big case and in his life. One Gallardo brother is convicted, one is vindicated. Camilla (Hope Davis) is under investigation, but Lydell (Paul Raci) is in the wind. Della (Juliette Rylance) is a legal hero living a new double life. Paul (Chris Chalk) wants no more Mason cases. And one more boat catches fire off the coast of Los Angeles.
“Mason,” which had a decent if not very special first season in 2020, has become one of this year’s best shows, with its excellent cast and thought-provoking themes. It’s a show built on subtleties, so it’s fitting that the season finale is quiet and clever, raising questions even after delivering answers. The big reveals all came in Episode 7, and in the final installment Perry, Della, Paul and the rest deal with knowing the truth without being certain that justice will follow.
It turns out Camilla was the invisible hand behind the murder of Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey), to keep him from testifying about her very illegal scheme to sell oil to Japan (on the eve of World War II, there were dire implications). Mateo (Peter Mendoza) and Rafael Gallardo (Fabrizio Guido) were collateral damage, even if Mateo did pull the trigger as a hitman. The problem of proving any of this is left to Perry, Della and Paul, whose backs are against the wall when the finale begins.
In the end, Mason and company don’t do anything wild to save Rafael from prison and Mateo from the gallows. Mason falls on his sword for concealing the murder weapon, earning a four-month jail sentence and placating the judge. That keeps the trial going and allows his team to bring their evidence to District Attorney Burger (Justin Kirk), after getting rid of the blackmail material that Camilla had on the DA (pictures of him with a man). Burger, after some convincing, agrees to do the right thing and investigate Camilla and cut Mateo a deal.
And that’s the end of it. Mateo goes to prison for 30 years without the possibility of parole. Rafael goes to art school. Mason begins a short stint in jail, but his paramour Ginny (Katherine Waterston) agrees to wait for him. Della, scared by the way Burger was blackmailed, strikes up a phony relationship with him, leaving her real lover Anita (Jen Tullock) on the outside. Paul goes to work for local boss Melvin Perkins (Christopher Carrington), to the relief of his family. And Detective Holcombe (Eric Lange) lights his gambling boat on fire, just like the one that went up in flames in the season premiere.
Maybe it all feels underwhelming after Mason’s fisticuffs in the last episode or the drama of overdosing and spying in earlier installments. But “Mason” is a show that succeeds at the little things even more than the big ones. The original 1957-66 Raymond Burr series was known for its oration and righteousness, but the remake is best when it has its fascinating and realistically flawed characters share a drink on the couch, and wonder whether anything they do matters. Season 2 ends in a bit of a mess, but life is messy.
And after a quick four-month sentence, Mason should be ready to take on more cases with Della. If Season 2 showed us anything, it’s that the series has the legs to go on for awhile, so long as there’s more injustice in Depression-era Los Angeles for Perry to investigate and fight.