‘Perry Mason’ Revealed Its Season 2 Killer Early, but Landed on Their Identity Late

"Perry Mason" showrunner Michael Begler told IndieWire how he and his co-writers worked toward the shocking reveal of the series' true villain.
Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason
"Perry Mason"

Just before the end of the seventh episode of Season 2 of “Perry Mason,” the writers expose the mastermind behind the murder that Mason’s defendants — a pair of poor Mexican brothers — were paid to commit. It’s the perfect reveal in that the villain’s identity feels shocking yet inevitable upon reflection, given how intricately it’s interwoven with everything that has come before. Yet according to Michael Begler, who took over showrunning duties on “Perry Mason” this season with his writing partner Jack Amiel, the identity of the antagonist came fairly late in the process. “I think the last part [we figured out] was who done it,” Begler told IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “When I really think about how we broke the season, we were rewriting and rewriting. It was changing constantly.”

Coming on to the show, Begler’s desire was to expand the series’ vision of Los Angeles. Giving “Perry Mason” a broader scope was one thing; figuring out how to plot a murder mystery was another. “Jack and I had done ‘The Knick‘ and some other pilots between that and this, but we had never done a courtroom drama or mystery before,” Begler said. “It was definitely daunting.” Rather than begin with plot, the writers asked themselves what kind of story they’d like to see Mason in. “We just started out from the place of, what’s the most interesting story to tell, and what haven’t we seen before? And when you think of Perry Mason, you think of him defending the innocent.”

Therefore, Mason would defend guilty clients this season — but the true motivating factors behind the murder would remain obscure until late in the season. “We thought, what if he defends the guilty, and what does that look like?” Begler said. “That was our germ, and then we were adding on the layer of all the historical research we had done — it was so arresting to think of L.A. as an oil city and go down that rabbit hole. From there, we started to build out this idea of the very wealthy and the people in Hoovervilles and how they intersected.” Only then did Begler and Amiel figure out who their primary villain was, and the details continued to shift. “We were rewriting up until they called wrap.”

Perry Mason HBO Season 2 oil derricks production design
“Perry Mason”Merrick Morton/HBO

The reveal of the villain continued to be finessed in the editing room, leading to the unusual choice to disclose the killer’s identity in Episode 7 rather than the season finale. “There are a lot of shows where you would wait until the last possible minute, and we were doing that,” Begler said. “We were holding off and holding off and holding off, but it wasn’t working.” Begler realized that even after the reveal, there was plenty at stake for Perry and his clients and that those issues could drive the final episode.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Stitcher. The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

“To me, that was what was so interesting about that last episode. It was not the big ‘Scooby-Doo’ take the mask off. It was [Perry saying], ‘Now what do we do with this information, and how do I use it to my advantage?'” That led to an immensely satisfying finale, in which Mason takes a fall for his clients and for justice. “That combination of cynicism and honor at the end took a long time to find,” Begler concluded. “And that’s a great moment for Perry.”

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