Perry Mason Season 2 Showrunner Explains How ‘Impostor Syndrome’ Factored Into Killing Off That Major Season 1 Character

Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson in Perry Mason
(Image credit: HBO)

Warning: SPOILERS for Perry Mason Season 2, Episode 4, a.k.a. “Chapter Twelve,” are ahead!

When we left off with Gayle Rankin’s Emily Dodson at the end of Perry Mason Season 1, the Charlie Dodson case had been declared a mistrial, allowing her to return to everyday life. And while the boy that Lili Taylor’s Birdy McKeegan claimed was a resurrected Charlie was clearly anything but, Emily nonetheless decided to accept the baby as her own and joined Birdy’s traveling church. Sadly though, it was revealed in the Season 2 premiere that Emily had later died by suicide, and showrunner Michael Begler explained to CinemaBlend how “impostor syndrome” factored into the decision to kill her off.

In “Chapter Nine,” viewers learned that Emily Dodson had drowned herself due not being able to overcome the loss of Charlie, and Perry was haunted by her because she’d contacted him for help, but he did not respond. Then in “Chapter Twelve,” the show flashed back to the moment when Emily decided to sink herself into a lake because the grief was too much. When I spoke with Michael Begler ahead of the most recent Perry Mason episode, I asked why he took what was basically a neutral ending for Emily in Season 1 and thrust her down a an even more tragic path. He shared that it boiled down to wanting to given the title character a struggle over his still-relatively new status as an attorney, saying:

We were really enamored by the idea of this impostor syndrome for Perry. Because at the end of Season 1, it really is like the Super Friends moment, where it’s like, ‘Here’s Paul, Della and Perry in the office together, here we go!’ But that dust is going to settle. It’s not going to be that easy, and very, I think, the idea of him just immediately saying, ‘Well, now I’m a lawyer.’ Especially after everything that’s been set up for this guy, this guy lives with these sort of hauntings, so we thought, ‘What would really propel that in him, that sense of impostor syndrome?’ And we thought, ‘Well, what if Emily didn’t survive? What if she was still troubled by everything that happened to her?’ So that also for Perry… it’s this idea that putting someone’s life in his hands and can he do that again was really important. So knowing that this was Emily’s end and now taking on these two kids, two men, really, but they look like kids, in the Gallardos… is he up for that and to wrestle with that? So we thought that that really punctuated it.

While “Chapter Twelve” primarily dealt with the twists involving the Gallardo Brothers case, Emily Dodson’s death was arguably the most haunting scene in the episode. But as Michael Begler and Jack Amiel saw it, her death was the necessary push Perry Mason needed to not only show viewers that the lawyer life won’t be easy for him, but also to prepare him to put the lives of others in his hands again. Unfortunately, he’s now in a position where he has to defend clients who are definitely guilty, because in the midst of Chris Chalk’s Paul Drake dealing with complications in his personal life, he discovered the gun that Rafael and Mateo Gallardo used to kill Brooks McCutcheon. 

Michael Begler and Jack Amiel came onto Perry Mason Season 2 in April 2021, nine months after HBO decided to renew the Robert Downey-produced show. While Downey was originally supposed to play Perry, Matthew Rhys of The Americans fame ended up playing this version of the character instead. He and Chris Chalk are joined in the main cast this season by Juliet Rylance as Della Street, Justin Kirk as Hamilton Burger, Diarra Kilpatrick as Clara Drake, Eric Lange as Gene Holcomb and Katherine Waterston.

New episodes of Perry Mason air Mondays at 9 pm ET on HBO. You can use your HBO Max subscription to catch up on episodes if you’ve fallen behind, or check out our 2023 TV schedule to learn what else is currently on the air/streaming.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.