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Perry Mason Season 2
★★★★★ | Perry for your thoughts.
After three years, Perry Mason is finally back. For most series, that kind of time usually spells disaster. Luckily, Mason proves himself enduring once again. The long wait was worth it.
After a superlative revival in 2020, season 2 is a self-assured continuation that brilliantly expands on every promise of its predecessor.
Six months after the devastating climax in season 1, Perry Mason is even more of a wreck than before. Fraught with insecurity, he has dropped any criminal prosecution work in favor of low-stakes civil law. Leaving his partners, Della Street and Paul Drake, adrift in a world where white men have the luxury to put a pause on everything - all others do not.
But when an open-and-shut murder trial falls in their lap, Mason can't help but poke at the scab of injustice in front of him. Two young Mexican men stand accused of killing a pillar of the community, and every bit of evidence is as pristine as they come. What begins as a cry for justice soon forces the trio to confront their own expectations, failings, and misgivings about society and partnership.
The hiatus hasn't slowed the series down one bit. Perry Mason remains a high-point in HBO programming. A smart and compelling drama you can point to when people say "they don't make them like they used to." It's one of the finest series on HBO - or TV in general.
Where the first season laid out the sprawl of a teenage Los Angeles, the second dives into the cracks upon which the city rests. The divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the social injustices which are taken as status quo. But more than that, it turns the spotlight on Mason, whose self-inflicted flagellation feels more performative to those who can't escape the boxes where society has placed them.
For Della Street and Paul Drake, it's a world of perpetual masking. One is a gay woman, the other a black man at a time and place where neither have it easy. Though set in the 1930s, Perry Mason could take place today and little would be different. Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk (Street and Drake respectively) are fantastic in their parts. Both navigating the unwritten rules of a white, patriarchal society in a way that is never condenscending or trope-laden. They're not here to educate or prop up the white savior. They are the heroes of their own stories. It's society that forces them to become anti-heroes to survive.
Yet the series wouldn't work without the grounding presence of Matthew Rhys, playing the titular Perry Mason. Rhys allows for Mason to be more than his outward hangdog charm would imply. He's a person lost without feeling the rock bottom under his feet. He needs the hatred of society to exist, yet can't see past his privilige in the ability to choose if he's ostrasized or not. Rhys plays the contradiction beautifully, which in turn allows us to root for him even as we acknowledge Mason's shortcomings.
At eight episodes, Perry Mason is exactly as long as it needs to be. Meaning by the time it's finished, I hungered for more. It's the rare legal drama that feels neither stagey nor overwrought. A procedural more interested in questioning the larger implications of a broken justice system than upholding its romantisized tropes. A standout work that showcases why this character has endured for decades in numerous formats.
It's because Perry Mason is a mirror. A reflection of a society unwilling to change. Gazing back at us from a hundred years ago, disappointed we didn't do any better.
If that isn't peak noir, I don't know what is.