Perry Mason's Chris Chalk Found Excitement In Paul Drake's Emotional Season 2 Arc

This post contains spoilers for "Perry Mason" season 2.

The "Perry Mason" season 2 premiere starts with the perfect representation of the show's renewed focus. Whereas the first season was an unrelentingly grim affair that started with baby murder, this time we open on a lively speakeasy boat party. But a fire soon engulfs the boat and the jazzy dance number is replaced by the screams of its patrons. In those opening moments, the episode encapsulates the theme of this new season and of its 1930s Los Angeles setting. While everything appears ok, there are sinister forces at play beneath the carapace.

Former showrunners Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald were replaced by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler for this new run of episodes. The pair spearheaded this shift in tone from an unapologetically dark and violent slow burn to a show that celebrates the allure of its 1930s setting while confronting the harsh reality of life for its inhabitants. That goes for the central characters as much as anyone else, as Matthew Rhys' Perry Mason finds himself leading a team consisting of his co-counsel Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and lead investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk). And as co-showrunner Michael Begler told /Film, "At the end of the first season, you have the super friends coming together and they're all going to work together and it's like the future is bright. But once the party's over and the dust settles, there is the reality of who these people are."

Throughout season 2, we discover the fraught personal lives of these "super friends," reinforcing the theme of how everything in this ostensibly halcyon era is about pretending things are fine when they're not. And for Paul Drake actor Chris Chalk, portraying that conflict was particularly exciting.

Behind Drake's false performance

Chris Chalk has spoken about how playing Paul Drake has been a double-edged sword, especially in season 2 of "Perry Mason." That's not necessarily because any aspect of the role has been negative for his career — quite the opposite. More so, that Paul Drake has been enduring a drawn-out crisis throughout the season that has seen him slowly disintegrate internally while trying to hold things together for his wife and preserve his new career as an investigator for Mason's burgeoning law firm. And for Chalk, immersing himself in Drake "at the edge and at his limit" was exhausting.

At the same time, the actor told Collider he also enjoyed getting to explore his character deeper. He explained:

"A lot of the first season, we see Paul's performance. We don't really see behind his performance very much because it's not required. But in the second season, we start to realize how false that performance is and how quickly it all can fall apart, when just the slightest thing comes out of place. I quite enjoy playing that displacement, that confusion, that being lost. And seeing some of the edges of his emotional range is pretty exciting."

Chalk has admitted he found it depressing to confront the reality of racism in 1930s Los Angeles and recognize elements of society that have changed very little since then. Still, there's no doubt the actor's been handed some meaty material this season. And while it was obviously difficult to play out events that are rooted in reality and recall the brutality of a bygone time, Chalk has thus far navigated his performance impressively, having seemingly reveled in portraying Drake's journey on a personal level.

Drake's story is the show in microcosm

Paul Drake's arc in "Perry Mason" season 2 is much like the season's opening sequence — which is, in turn, representative of the show and its renewed focus as a whole. While the former cop is seemingly coming into his own, having quit the force and embracing his investigatorial talents, there's a fire inside that threatens to consume him. It's a conflagration born of Drake's struggle to maintain his "performance," as Chris Chalk put it, in the face of mounting odds, pervasive racism, and multiple acts that have forced him to compromise his moral integrity.

Episode 6 of "Perry Mason" season 2 saw him haunted by a pair of orange Converse sneakers that represent his fraying internal composure. The shoes belonged to a young, low-level gangster by the name of Ozzie Jackson, who Drake was forced to beat mercilessly against his will. That particular moment was a low point for the character, who has been struggling throughout the season to support his wife as they shack up with her brother and his family in order to survive. In other words, Drake has really been through the wringer over the course of just six episodes, and his quickly-crumbling facade is representative of the season's overall focus on peering below the surface of 1930s Los Angeles. Watching Chalk's deft handling of that material has been simultaneously disturbing and delightful, and I'm sure we're in for a lot more of both as the season progresses.

New episodes of "Perry Mason" air Mondays on HBO.