The second season of the HBO legal thriller is another brilliant character study wrapped in an intricate whodunit.
Plot: Months after the Dodson case has come to an end, the scion of a powerful oil family is brutally murdered. When the DA goes to the city’s Hoovervilles to pinpoint the most obvious of suspects, Perry, Della, and Paul find themselves at the center of a case that will uncover far reaching conspiracies and force them to reckon with what it truly means to be guilty.
Review: When Perry Mason debuted in 2020, it was as a limited series. The brilliant whodunit introduced a new generation of viewers to Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous literary creation. Matthew Rhys, Juliet Rylance, and Chris Chalk brought a new edge to Mason as well as Paul Drake and Della Street. HBO decided to make Perry Mason an ongoing series after receiving critical acclaim. Three years later, the second season is here with a new story, new characters and new showrunners. Each of them deliver another captivating mystery as intricately as the first. Perry Mazza‘s second season shows that this series can continue a story and develop these characters beyond what previous iterations were capable of. A captivating mystery featuring twists and red herrings is central to this season but is secondary to the growth of the three main characters.
Set six months after the first season, Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys – who recently had a cool cameo in Cocaine Bear) is now a full-fledged attorney taking cases alongside his partner Della Street (Juliet Rylance). Perry has moved away from criminal law after the emotional trauma of Dodson. Brooks McCutcheon, a Los Angeles scion (Tommy Dewey), is murdered and two Mexican men are convicted of the crime. Their family begs Perry for help. Perry and Della see in the case against Mateo, (Peter Mendoza), and Rafael Gallardo(Fabrizio Guido), elements that don’t add up and offer a defense. They also hire Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), an investigator to help them exonerate their client and uncover a complex web that includes victims and guilty parties. E.B. was the lead attorney in the first season. Jonathan (John Lithgow) was the lead attorney while Perry and Della did the investigating, the focus this season showcases the legal skills of both Mason and Street while still delving into what makes them intriguing characters.
Matthew Rhys continues to portray Perry Mason as a gruff and antagonistic attorney but one with true morals at play. Although he doesn’t always make the right decisions, he does so for the right reasons. Most of Rhys’s season is spent as an investigator, or contending with Assistant district attorney Thomas Milligan (Mark O’Brien), police Gene Holcomb (Eric Lange), and his son, who now resides in L.A. Perry’s introduction to Ginny (Katherine Waterston), who is a school teacher and romantic interested. Perry’s development is made possible by Waterston, who is great in a smaller role. Waterston is just one of many key characters, along with Hope Davis as Camilla Nygaard and Sean Astin playing Sunny Gryce. Paul Raci plays Lydell McCutcheon. These characters are in direct conflict with Perry, and give Rhys solid acting moments that rival his outstanding performance in The Americans.
If the first season of Perry Mason was something of an origin story for the iconic lawyer, this second season spends an equal amount of time making Della Street into far more than the secretary she was in the novels and original series. Juliet Rylance is a great actress playing the role of Della, a closeted character who has the opportunity to become a legal expert. She also gets an intriguing subplot involving Hollywood screenwriter Anita St. Pierre (Severance‘s Jen Tullock). In the first season, it was important to portray gay romance in the 1930s. This time, it is handled with even more skill. Chris Chalk, who takes over from Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), is another talented actor who gets more screen time. As he works alongside Mason, Street, and gives us a different view of the racial tensions that existed in Los Angeles during this era, Paul Drake is given a lot more screentime. Chalk is really good in this role, and I love how Paul Drake is very different than how he was portrayed in any other Perry Mason adaptation.
With season one showrunners Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald departing, new lead writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler stepped in and did not miss a beat. This season’s plotting and complexity are on par with last season, if not better, thanks to a nuanced portrayal. The story of this season is not neatly divided into innocent or guilty. It presents a complex investigation that did NOT go as I expected. The story took a surprising turn in the first episode of the eight-episode season. Although I understand that this season’s storyline may offend some viewers who are looking for a Law and Order style resolution to their problems, Perry Mason10 is known for its ability to echo real life while still telling a compelling story. Although justice is done, not all the parties involved are safe. This season is a step in the right direction and will change how the third season looks if audiences and critics react as positively as I did.
The second episode of Perry. Mason is once again a top HBO TV show. The beautiful and soulful jazz score by Terence Blanchard and the atmospheric production design make Perry Mason a compelling whodunit. It relies more on layering character portraits than a smoke gun and chalk outlines on pavement. This is not your father’s Perry Mason and I am grateful for a second season that is as good as the first. Matthew Rhys and Juliet Rylance have been the definitive Mason, Street and Drake. It is rare that a television series can match Perry Mason‘s mix of drama, mystery and cool, while still telling a story about current social issues. If there is anything wrong with this series it is that we are all going to have to wait over a year before we get to see these characters take on their next case.
Perry Mason premieres on March 6th on HBO.