Perry Mason Season 2: What's on the Docket for Matthew Rhys' Defense Attorney?

The morally scrupulous attorney, with the help of Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), takes a case that reflects the divide between the haves and have-nots of Los Angeles — both then and now.

by | March 6, 2023 | Comments

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Sometimes even when you win, you lose.

The new season of HBO’s revamped Perry Mason checks in with Matthew Rhys’ morally scrupulous attorney several months after last season’s finale saw him lead a case to a mistrial and free a grieving mother (Gayle Rankin’s Emily Dodson).

His experiences with that trial still weigh on him. But 1930s Los Angeles is a city full of people who need good legal council and it’s not long before he has another chance to try to balance the scales of justice.

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(Photo by HBO)

This season focuses on the shooting death of Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey). The son of an oil giant who attempts to make a name for himself under the “if you build it, they will come” credo of designing a baseball stadium to lure a national team to the City of Angels. Then his body was found in his car.

The two men quickly arrested for the crime? Rafael (Fabrizio Guido) and Mateo (Peter Mendoza) Gallardo, Chicano Americans living a unhoused community.

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(Photo by HBO)

Executive producer Susan Downey told Rotten Tomatoes that season 2 showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler — who took over for creators Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and who are known for creating Cinemax’s gritty New York–set period drama The Knick — had the idea of “bringing in the sunshine” to the first season’s previously established world of a “beautiful, haunting, authentic, dirty, and real Los Angeles.”

“That enabled us to say, ‘What about the haves and the have-nots and the people who get to live where there’s beautiful trees and sun and then what about the people out in the dusty Hoovervilles,'” she said.


(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

Modern Los Angeles is in the midst of a horrific housing crisis and U.S. government crackdowns on Latin and Central Americans and immigrants are also well documented. But Begler said that they weren’t intentionally looking to tell a story that parallels modern times; just that “humans don’t change that much.”

“Los Angeles is so vast and there are all these different communities and they all existed back then,” Downey said. “We felt like let’s tell these stories and let’s really explore, as we look at this larger question of what is justice, what it did look like to different people in different socio-economic places at that time.”

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(Photo by HBO)

The case also comes at an inopportune time in Perry’s personal life. He’s since sold his family farm and is trying to start over in a Los Angeles apartment and reconnect with young son. He was sticking to civil cases and developing a low-stress career of wills and contracts.

“As someone who’s obsessed with right and wrong — and there, sadly, tends to be a lot more wrong in the world — he’s always kind of going, ‘This isn’t right’,” Rhys said. “Part of the reason I was so attracted the first season is there’s so much stacked against him. There’s not much going on for him. He’s so much at odds with so many things that there’s a lot of play with.”

Rhys has given a lot of thought as to where Perry’s moral compass comes from, thinking that he enlisted in World War I out of a need to correct that wrong and that “he’s in this constant wrestle with that notion. So it’s no real surprise, he ends up being a lawyer.”

Matthew Rhys, Chris Chalk, Juliet Rylance in Perry Mason

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

This pursuit of the truth is also what keeps Perry working with Chris Chalk’s Paul Drake, a former police officer and an accomplished photographer and investigator, and Juliet Rylance’s Della Street, who left her career as a legal secretary to partner with Perry at his upstart.

Della is also closeted at a time when homosexuality was a crime. Rylance said this creates a juxtaposition because “we were pressed into these really tight spots for season 1 where, for Della, her work life is all about ‘find truth, seek justice'” and that, “this season really stretches her moral compasses” both at work at at home.

The season also continues to look at the race divides in the city (and elsewhere) through the eyes of Paul, who knows there are parts of the city that will not accept him — but that there are also parts where he can go that Perry cannot.

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(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

Chalk invoked W. E. B. Du Bois, citing his idea of the “veil of Blackness and how one wears a different veil in so many different environments just to survive.”

“The fun part of this season is that he’s doing that less and less and less — performing for people wearing his veil — but that’s creating more and more and more danger for him,” Chalk said. “Because those are tools for survival. I think his wife would not be super happy with him not using them as much.”

There’s no verdict on a Perry Mason season 3 yet. So there’s no telling if Perry will have another group of clients to defend. But it might not matter. Given his dogged pursuit of justice, can Perry ever be happy?

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(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

The few times Perry does seem to relax are when his gallows humor comes out (a favorite of Rhys’, who described it as “one of his only survival tools”) and when he takes his motorcycle out for a spin, away from the combustion of the rapidly forming metropolis.

He also lets off steam with curse words, which Begler and Downey swear is not anachronistic.

“I think people curse more than you realize,” Begler said. He noted that he’d watched a collection of movie blooper reels from the 1930s that was full of actors cursing when they flubbed their lines. “We have this vision of what we think of the past. But the reality is, like we say, humanity hasn’t changed. They were cursing up a storm back then.”

84% Perry Mason: Season 2 (2023) premieres at 9 p.m., March 6 on HBO.

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