Perry Mason’s Lesbian Lawyer-in-Training Is the Highlight of Season 2

When Valerie Anne reviewed the first season of HBO’s Perry Mason, they nailed it: This reboot of the much-beloved, much-revived courtroom procedural is just a bunch of sad white men being sad, slowly, and one exceptional lesbian who makes it all worthwhile. And when Valerie said slowly, they weren’t joking. The first time I sat down to watch an episode, I was like, “Did I take a gummy or something? Why have I entered this languid time warp?” But no, that’s just the modern noir of it all. Season one landed gruesomely: with a murdered baby; got even weirder, with Tatiana Maslany as a silver-haired cult leader; and ended with Perry Mason trading his private investigator shenanigans for a job as the defense attorney of the murdered baby’s mother. He won with a mistrial. Season two, which premiered on HBO Max last week, picks up there, but comes with some much-appreciated adjustments.

You’re here for the homosexuality, which is good and right, so let’s start with Della Street (Juliet Rylance), who is not only holding down the offices of Perry Mason, Attorney at Law; she’s also managed to reappropriate their very limited funds to hire a secretary, so Mason will stop asking her to make the coffee. He promised her she could be in the room where it happens, see, and she is, at the office and in the courthouse.

Mason and Della talk to a grocery story owner they're representing in court.

At night, she’s studying for her own law degree while shacked up with her lesbian beau, Hazel, whomst she met last season. But Della’s got a wandering eye and an impulse for danger, so of course she ends up in the powder room flirting with an independently wealthy broad who offers to take her home right that second and ravish her. (Her name is Anita St. Pierre, played by Jen Tullock, and she’s based on real life lesbian Hollywood screenwriter, Anita Loos.) Della declines, at first, but she can’t say she’s not intrigued. There’s something fascinating about a queer character in a 1930s drama who’s working tirelessly for a more stable future, with the very limited options available to her, who has the truly uncommon luck of having a woman at home, but who can’t stop her wandering heart/pants.

Della is meant to be Mason’s assistant in court, but of course she’s the one doing all the work. The investigations, the briefs, the actual law research — and Mason’s dragging himself in late, with a satchel full of props, ready to unleash his showmanship for the jury. It’s very Peggy Olson/Don Draper, to be honest, but, unlike Peggy, Della’s never been able to keep her beautiful mouth shut. She shouts “OBJECTION!” over the defendant, his lawyer, the judge, and Mason’s eyebrows at one point, and even though she gets scolded, she can’t muster up a bit of remorse. She was right to object! And she’ll fuckin’ do it again!

Della and Anita St. Pierre stand together at a party

Della has lots to do this season, personally and professionally, and it continues to baffle me that Juliet Rylance isn’t receiving more recognition for this show.

Some improvements to season one include: A more focused over-arching plot that involves the death of a rich adult asshole, instead of a literal baby; more procedural-style weekly court cases, like the Perry’s of decades past; Mason struggling with the elusive concept of “justice,” along with his other struggles like PTSD from World War I, the loss of his family farm, and his inability to ride the motorcycle he accepted as payment from one of his clients. And a setting that allows Della and Mason to be seated right beside each other, playing off each other with their begrudging respect, genuine affection, and antagonism. It turns out Della likes to put on a little show for the jury now and then, too.

There’s still lots of moody music, endless melancholy gazing, and a drag to the dialogue that could lull you to sleep if you watch it at the wrong time of day, but at least you’ll doze off to the sardonic ASMR-ish tones of Della Street. And if you like this kind of thing, which I grew to do, well ring-a-ding-ding, sweetheart, let’s get dizzy with this dame.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1715 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. I got to a point towards the last few episodes of season 1 where I was invested in the plot and was watching for more than just Della Street being the smartest and most capable person in the room (she can subpoena me any time, etc.), but only at the very end! This season is already so much better! Excited to see where things go with the Anita romance, and also just excited about Della getting more of an individual plot in general.

  2. I bingewatched S1 up to the latest episode. And correct, the first season was sometimes painfully slow. But enjoyed Tat’s over the top shenanigans as well as Juliet Rylance being so swoonworthy as Della. Gosh, that radiant smile she offered in S2 when looking at one Anita St. Pierre. (Not so cool, not coming clean to her gf.)

    Anyhow, I did watch a fair amount of the OG Perry Mason, and I think, my overall memory is that it was slow, with lots of talking, little action. Not so much my cup of tea.

    I appreciate that the new Perry Mason is fully supportive of Della’s ambitions and her love life. Even though he annoys the hell out of of his work partners. Get a grip, dude.

  3. Della was my great grandma’s name, so I had a fondness for her right off the bat. Just caught up on this show and hoooo are you ever right about pacing…
    Thank goodness at least they changed the lighting from the first season, it was really unflattering for the POC actors.
    I don’t know if I can finish season 2, the storyline and pacing just isn’t cutting it for me.

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