‘Perry Mason’ Season 1, Episode 3 Recap: If the Teeth Fit …

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Take the plight of E.B. Jonathan, who is Perry’s de facto boss and Emily’s lawyer. Over the course of this episode, we see him suddenly struggling with what ought to come naturally to him. He repeatedly loses his train of thought. He bobbles a statement to the press. He seems perpetually one step behind in court. He notices blood in the sink after he brushes his teeth. He stares at a hummingbird outside his window so fixedly that he doesn’t hear his assistant, Della Street, calling his name.

In the end, E.B. gets dumped by his client Herman Baggerly — who is busy planning the construction of a religious community with his son Matthew Dodson, recently cleared in the case — and is reduced to begging an old associate for a loan, unsuccessfully. Thanks to a precise performance by John Lithgow, Jonathan’s dissolution over the course of an hour feels both sudden and inexorable, as if it were bound to happen sooner or later. It adds a tragic dimension to a character who could have remained a stock figure in lesser hands.

The same can be said of the Los Angeles police officer Paul Drake, a reluctant participant in the cover-up of key facts in the Dodson case. Followed around by the crooked and murderous Sgt. Ennis — who puts the “offensive” in “charm offensive” when he puts his hand on the belly of Drake’s pregnant wife, Clara (Diarra Kilpatrick), and pays for the couple’s groceries — he beats Perry when the private eye approaches him about his bare-bones crime scene report. When Perry ironically employs a racial slur to describe Drake’s acquiescence, Drake threatens him with the violence that, as a police officer, is his to mete out with impunity, throwing the epithet back in Mason’s face.

But when his wife instructs him to go along to get along, despite knowing full well what kind of person Ennis is, it’s too much for Drake to take. (There’s a separate conversation we can have about Clara and other wife characters who, like, just don’t get it, but I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt at this point.) Drake approaches Perry under cover of darkness and admits that he doctored the report, changing the facts to fit the bogus theory that Emily’s lover George Gannon killed his co-conspirators and fled the scene instead of getting killed there as well. As evidence, he proffers a broken set of dentures he recovered in the alley where Gannon fell to his death.

So, like grim Prince Charmings searching for their Cinderella, Mason and his wisecracking sidekick, Pete Strickland, race to the morgue to locate Gannon’s body before it gets cremated. After fighting their way through the tangle of corpses, they locate their man and discover that the broken dentures match the fractured partial set still in his mouth. It is perhaps the most disgusting investigative breakthrough TV has seen since Will Graham was out there profiling serial-killing installation artists in “Hannibal.”



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