We begin with Mason (Rhys), now a practicing lawyer, albeit not a thriving one, working with Della Street (a terrific Juliet Rylance) as his de facto partner. Season One gave us insight into the effects of World War I PTSD on a man struggling to find his place in the world; this time, it’s his continued disgust with the justice system and regrets about Emily Dodson, the woman he defended in Season One, that’s keeping him up at night. It’s a testament to Rhys’ terrific acting chops that none of his malaise feels familiar. A lesser actor would’ve repeated the same body language from previous seasons, but Rhys creates shading: his struggle is internal, something he is only slowly sharing with others, and the pain that shadows his face when he thinks about his estranged son is very different from the anguish he feels when he witnesses injustice. It’s not all darkness and desolation for Perry this season either. He strikes up a sweet romance with his son’s teacher Ginny Aimes (a welcome and charming Katherine Waterston), but the relationship, like all his bonds with other people, is tested by his profession.
If this isn’t your father’s Perry Mason then it sure as hell ain’t his Della Street either. The series’ writers and showrunners, Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, co-created “The Knick,” on which Rylance starred, and you can always tell when writers are familiar with what an actor can do. After pointedly hiring a secretary to replace, well, herself, Della quickly establishes that her legal instincts are even keener than Mason’s. A full-time law school student, Della is also navigating a new relationship with writer Anita St. Pierre (a luminous, crackling Jen Tullock) while becoming Perry’s equal, in court and in their offices. Rylance brings to mind a strident confidence a la “His Girl Friday,” but her surety is tempered with an outward tranquility. Because she is concealing her sexuality, and juggling the weight of being the only female attorney she knows, Della only breaks down when she’s alone. Rylance’s scenes with Tullock are among the best in the season, because they both allow for joy and provide a reprieve from the grim crime that takes center stage.
Said grim crime, without giving anything away, involves Brooks McCutcheon (an appropriately handsome/despicable Tommy Dewey), a failson who has done any number of legal and illegal things to gain the approval of Lydell (Paul Raci, possibly having more fun than anyone else), his surly oil baron father. Brooks’s newest bright idea is to give LA its own baseball team, and he has cheerfully evicted Mexican immigrants from their homes in order to build a stadium. In transposing the 1950s era Chavez Ravine evictions—which were conducted to build what is now Dodger Stadium—to the 1930s, Amiel and Begler have been unable to avoid what I call the “Chinatown” trap. The cinematic language used for film/TV about land repossession and capitalist greed in LA all lead back to Roman Polanski’s classic, in terms of style and structure, but that isn’t a bad thing here. Brooks is in over his head, Lydell is unimpressed, and the bill for that comes due when two Mexican-American brothers, Mateo (Peter Mendoza) and Rafael (Fabrizio Guido), get caught up in their web.