(Spoilers ahead for “Perry Mason” on HBO through the July 19 episode)
HBO’s “Perry Mason” is an old-style whodunit, but in true HBO fashion it’s just as focused on the characters as it is the mystery. That means it’s been fairly slow paced so far in terms of unraveling what happened with baby Charlie Dodson, doling out just a few nuggets of illumination information each week.
And so we’re more than halfway through this story now (five of eight episodes are done), and it really doesn’t seem like we’ve gotten much of a glimpse at the big picture yet. There’s just a bunch of disparate hints and not much connective tissue to bring them all together.
As of this week’s episode, we know at least four people were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Charlie Dodson. Three of them are dead and one is still alive. We have no idea whether there’s some kind of greater conspiracy, but this is an old-style noir thriller — there’s almost certainly some kind of conspiracy here.
So right now, here’s what we know: Charlie Dodson was kidnapped by a group of men who promptly demanded a ransom payment of $100,000 from the parents, Matthew (Nate Corddry) and Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin). They were able to pay that ransom thanks to Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick) — Matthew is his bastard son.
The Dodsons left the money in a hotel room near Angels Flight Railway in downtown Los Angeles and went to retrieve Charlie, who had been left on a train car. But Charlie was dead, his eyes sewn open so other people in the train car would think he is alive.
At least four men were involved in the kidnapping. After the ransom swap, three men hid in another hotel. The fourth man, LAPD Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), retrieved the ransom money then met up with the other three, at which point, he murdered all three of his co-conspirators.
Before Ennis showed up and killed them, we saw the trio discussing how the whole thing went down — all three of them indicated they didn’t know that Charlie would die. One of the men even specified that someone gave Charlie’s body to them, meaning either Ennis or someone else was the real mastermind behind the whole thing. So Ennis was tying up loose ends either for himself or on behalf of the said mastermind.
One of the three dead men was George Gannon (Aaron Stanford). Gannon was having an affair with Emily Dodson, and he worked at the Radiant Assembly of God, the evangelical revivalist church where Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) leads. George is likely not the one who did the kidnapping. He was probably instead the distraction — Emily’s neighbor said she was on the phone all night on the evening of the kidnapping, and that’s probably because she kept her on the phone while somebody else did the deed.
While Los Angeles district attorney Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) uses Emily’s relationship with George as an excuse to pounce on Emily, it’s very much unlikely that Emily had anything to do with the kidnapping of her son. First, it’s just too easy and simple. And second, there’s just no way the cops are right in a “Perry Mason” story.
So what we know right now is that Detective Ennis is, at minimum, an accessory to the kidnapping and murder of baby Charlie. He seems to be the key player right now, showing up way too quickly at every crime scene related to the case, and even going so far as to pay off the division chief so that he got the Dodson case instead of the detective at the front of the line for it.
So it’s certainly possible that Ennis is the mastermind. But we learned about Ennis’ involvement in the kidnapping during the premiere episode, and it’s tough to fathom them giving away the game so early on.
More likely is that there’s a greater conspiracy at work, or at least one more level of conspirator above Ennis.. The biggest suspect thus far is Baggerly. He fronted the ransom money, after all — something that wouldn’t upset him too much if he knew he’d get some or most of it back. Thus far, Baggerly hasn’t said anything that I would consider incriminating, beyond just being a creepy sexist old guy, but he certainly jumped at the chance to distance his son from Emily. Could this whole thing just be a way for Baggerly to bring his son into the fold and remake him in his own image?
It sorta looks like Baggerly is doing just that, convincing Dodson to help the case against Emily. This could just be opportunism on Baggerly’s part, or he could be turning Matthew against Emily just for the sake of making the situation go away. It’s hard to tell either way, but it does kinda look like Baggerly could have a potential motive.
There are two other folks whose part in this situation isn’t super clear as of now, but they certainly feel like prime suspects. The first is Detective Holcomb, Ennis’ partner. At best, Holcomb is barely trying in this investigation. At worst, he’s in on it with Ennis. But there’s been nothing that directly incriminates him yet.
The other is District Attorney Barnes. Barnes may have cleared himself this week during his scene with Ennis and Holcomb in the bathroom when he yelled at them after Perry Mason found evidence that a fourth man was involved. He directly asked them who killed Charlie Dodson, which is not a question that somebody who was in on it would ask.
That said, Barnes can certainly be “in on it” without knowing the particulars. Barnes appears to have a vested interest in pinning the murder on Emily, which could be a case of “the mayor is on my butt to clear this big case.” Or it could be that he was told by the conspirators to make sure Emily goes down for the murder. He could just be the corrupt DA making sure the right and powerful folks get what they want.
And, for the record, Barnes’ attempt to blackmail E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) was such a power move that it felt like something more than just standard criminal justice machinations. It was like using a nuclear option.
Beyond that, it’s pretty tough to put the pieces together right now, or at least you’d need somebody smarter than I am to do so. In any case, there’s still four more episodes of “Perry Mason” left and, hopefully, the answers will start to trickle in a little faster from here on out.