The Perry Mason Season 2 Premiere Just Severed Its Last Tie To Season 1's Case

This post contains spoilers for the season 2 premiere of HBO's "Perry Mason."

HBO's "Perry Mason" is several shows in one: a courtroom drama, a hard-boiled noir, and a thoughtful exploration of empathy and justice. In its second season, though, it turns out it might also be a ghost story.

The Matthew Rhys-led show returned this Monday after a long hiatus, and I do mean long. Its stylish, slow-burn first season bowed out way back in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those first eight chapters told a harrowing, graphic story about a dead, mutilated baby and a mother (Gayle Rankin) who ends up on trial for his kidnapping and murder. Rankin's Emily Dodson was a tortured, heartbreaking presence in the show's first season, and in last night's episode, her memory serves as a bridge from Mason's past to his present — even as her own story is cut tragically short.

The end of Emily Dodson

When we last saw Emily Dodson, she was a free woman in the sense that she didn't end up in prison (the case ended in a mistrial), but she was still haunted. It turned out her baby, Charlie, died when a sex worker breastfed him while under the influence of heroin, a horrible accident that was made even worse by the circumstances of his kidnapping and recovery. Emily's reputation was still tarnished by the court, especially when the world found out she was having an affair, and she was never able to fully process Charlie's death.

In the season one finale, Emily joins a traveling church, and in a weird turn of events, starts to raise a baby that she believes is her own son resurrected. But a horror-tinged scene in the second season premiere reveals that Emily's story didn't end there. Mason, already previously haunted by his military service, is having a new type of stress dream – if not seeing apparitions outright. During a quiet moment in the new episode, he suddenly sees a ghost-like Emily in his home, desperately choking on water as she attempts to ask him a question. A shot that pans over some paperwork on Mason's table shows us that Emily is dead via suicide by drowning.

Mason's last trial still haunts him

Audiences knew Emily's mental health deteriorated, but the show's first season ended with a note of tentative, if somewhat disturbing, hope for the woman. Yet a rather dramatic sequence in the new episode shows Mason driving his motorbike at full speed in the night while he goes over and over the messages she'd been sending him: postcards asking for help and absolution. The lawyer didn't answer her pleas. Also, he crashes his motorcycle.

By killing off Emily offscreen (but bringing Rankin back for another great, intense performance), the writers of "Perry Mason" effectively wash their hands of the entire season one plot – even if Mason's own hands still seem dirty. The open-ended conclusion to that case could've led to a re-trail, but the show seems to want us to know that, with the new murder scene we see at the end of this hour, that's definitely not going to happen.

"Perry Mason" novels and the classic radio and TV show were rather procedural, with cases that typically were solved by the episode or book's end. The prestige TV version of that, it seems, involves an eight-episode case instead. Season one characters played by Tatiana Maslany, Lili Taylor, John Lithgow, and others all had their plots tied up somewhat neatly (if often sadly) by the end of those episodes. Emily Dodson was the last loose end, but if we hear from her again, we now know that it'll be in the form of an unheard plea from beyond the grave.

"Perry Mason" airs on HBO and HBO Max on Mondays at