HBO’s new noir drama about hard-boiled detective Perry Mason is the prequel to the hit 1950’s TV show that paved the way for a thousand courtroom dramas.
The 1st episode opens on a high stakes hostage situation. A young couple is on the phone with a man who has kidnapped their baby boy and is demanding $100,000 dollars for his return. The wicked stranger explains that they will be able to see their baby through the window of the tram as it passes the barren room they’ve been summoned to. After getting a good look to see that it’s really their son, they are to leave their briefcase full of bills, hang up the phone, and get to the tram as fast as possible to save him.
Just as the kidnapper said it would, the tram rolls by the window and the couple are able to catch a glimpse of their child. They follow the diabolic instructions, abandoning the cash and sprinting for their son’s life.
The loathsome man on the other end of the line is also escaping, leaping into a green getaway car which the driver clumsily clips against the tram in his haste to leave the scene.
The desperate couple make it to the tram and snatch up their baby from an abandoned seat, but in a heinous twist they realize that they are holding a corpse. The kidnappers murdered their child and sewed his eyes open!
The horrific scene cuts to a different part of town on that same stormy night where Perry Mason and his partner Pete Strickland are discreetly tailing a comedian named Chubby Carmichael, who is suspected of violating the morals clause of his studio, Hammersmith Pictures. The two detectives share a camaraderie that must have only been reached after facing some dicey situations together. After having little luck for three days, they finally catch Carmichael in the midst of eating pumpkin pie off a naked starlet. It’s clear that the two were up to a little more than just having dinner together.
After successfully uncovering Carmichael’s lewd affair, Perry heads home to his old family farm, a difficult place to maintain since his family are gone. The farm is next to an airstrip and while retrieving a stray cow, he catches a glimpse of a dashing female pilot. Perry gets a visit from E.B. Jonathan, a lawyer who clearly knows him well. E.B. offers him a temptingly profitable new case from a wealthy man by the name of Herman Baggerly who he will be meeting with that afternoon.
Before going to meet up with E.B. for their meeting with Baggerly, Mason pays a visit to his contact at Hammersmith Pictures for the Carmichael case. Daringly, he asks for triple of their agreed upon payment of $200 after managing to identify Charmichael’s female companion as none other than another of the studio’s rising stars, Velma Fuller. The contact warns that he will need to take this decision all the way up to Mr. Hammersmith himself.
Perry takes care of a few other unsavory chores including visiting the morgue to wryly swap his stained tie with that of a corpse’s, then appearing in court as a material witness. During these brief interludes, we learn more about Perry’s mysterious background. He has an estranged son who lives with his mother and he was also dishonorably discharged from the military some years ago.
At last Perry is sitting, along with E.B. and his assistant Della Street, across from Herman Baggerly. The wealthy man explains that he’s seeking the detective for the sake of two members of his church, Matthew and Emily Dodson, the ill-fated couple from the beginning of the episode. He doesn’t trust the police to handle the crime and Perry agrees to take the case.
The three associates visit the distraught Dodsons only to find that the police have gotten there first and are already abusing their piggish authority to grill poor Matthew about the ransom note he received after his son’s abduction. Perry encounters Emily Dodson and the two speak about their lost children over a cigarette, her baby Charlie was apparently fond of Turtles. Emily is soon engulfed back into her unimaginable grief and reveals that she thinks God is punishing her.
Back at E.B.’s office he, Street, and Perry recap what they know so far. The fact that Charlie’s kidnapping took place when Matthew was out and Emily was asleep downstairs suggests that someone with close knowledge of the family’s private life was in on the horrendous deed. In addition, the kidnapper knew that despite being grocers, the Dodsons were well off and would be able to pay the $100,000.
After a passionate night with the tough as nails female pilot Lupe who he had glimpsed earlier, Perry travels to the scene of the crime. Upon entering the room where the couple had left their hefty bail, he discovers that the police have again beat him there, a fact that is made apparent when a pistol is pressed to his head. The thuggish detectives are not happy to see him because they think he’s stealing their case. There is no question that these are corrupt cops, particularly Detective Holcomb, who blatantly reveals his plans to pin the loathsome crime on the grief-stricken Dodsons to get himself a promotion. Perry states that idea is blatantly wrong particularly because he learned from the traffic cop patrolling that area on the night of the kidnapping that a green car had gone tearing off down the street around the hour of the kidnapping, clipping the trolly in the process.
Next Perry has the distressing task of going to see the post autopsy Charlie Dodson. He barely manages to click the shutter of his camera as he surveys the small body, and helps the coroner remove the stitches from the deceased infant’s eyes, saving one as evidence.
The deplorable day turns into an even more detestable night. Perry is supposed to be paid the $600 for his implicating photographs of Carmichael and Fuller at Mr. Hammersmith’s sickeningly festive New Years Eve party but he is set up. Instead of handing over $600, Hammersmith burns Perry both figuratively and physically. The slimy studio owner reveals that he was only
ever planning on paying the $200 but because of “all the trouble” he is deducting $199. After smugly tucking one dollar into the detective’s pocket, the goons heat Perry’s own gun with a lighter and sear it into his chest.
The scene cuts to a dimly lit room populated by three nervous thugs, the kidnappers who sealed the death of little Charlie. It’s not long before a fourth arrives, and what a surprise! None other than Officer Holcomb’s vicious partner. The smirking cop drops a suitcase in front of the men. Clearly hoping for a wad of hundreds to compensate their risky gamble the closest thug opens the case. Mistake! The case is empty and as the men glance up in shock the officer shoots all of them remarking “they made the car.” One of the men almost escapes, attempting to jump to another rooftop but he fails and falls to his death.
Burned, bruised, and broken Perry, in his miserable state, attempts to call his ex-wife so he can talk with their estranged son but she won’t let him. Angry and at his wits end, he smashes the toy fire truck that he had bought for his son as a Christmas present to bits. Amidst his drunken rage Perry suddenly has a dramatic sense of clarity about the case. He spreads the evidence across the floor paying close attention to the picture he took of a turtle that was on Charlie’s bedside table and murmurs softly “so you like turtles…”