I really shouldn’t announce intended topics, because I always seem to be delayed in writing them up. I’ll definitely get around to Deputy D.A. Sampson, but right now I want to discuss something that’s been bothering me for a while.
My dad certainly has a valid complaint in wondering why there kept being episodes season after season where Mr. Burger, Lieutenant Tragg, and even sometimes the deputy D.A.s suspected Perry of wrongdoing. His argument is that after so long, they should know better. Mine is a bit more complex than that.
I feel torn on the issue, really, even though it’s starting to annoy me too. The dilemma is that in season 1 and early season 2, Mr. Burger and company honestly had legitimate reasons for believing Perry was up to legal trickery. It’s been repeatedly noted and cited by others that Perry’s behavior in some of the early episodes walked a very fine line. In escapades such as The Curious Bride, he was tampering with evidence, no matter what his reasons or how he tried to justify his actions by having bought the property before taking out all the doorbells in the apartments. (That episode will get its own post sometime, as it’s one of my favorites and one of the most intriguing where Perry and Mr. Burger are concerned.) And I ask, how can one fault Mr. Burger for being upset over something like that (even though it was hilarious to hear him exclaim that he was going to indict Perry for theft of the doorbell)?
My main complaints come in when the accusations start to taper off after season 1. It’s gratifying that the number lessened, but why did there continue to be a number at all? In seasons 2, 3, and 4 at least, there are, perhaps, one or two or less per season, as opposed to likely over ten or more in season 1. Season 1 can be excused on the basis that it was more closely associated with Gardner’s original books, wherein Perry and Mr. Burger remained definite adversaries and nothing more. However, what’s the excuse when there’s been obvious character development and then there’s an abrupt backslide?
Cases in point: season 6, and the episodes The Shoplifter’s Shoe and The Golden Oranges. Perry and Mr. Burger have been, over the course of all the seasons leading up to 6, growing steadily closer. And Perry has long ago stopped the majority of his eyebrow-raising behavior. In both the above-mentioned episodes, Perry and Mr. Burger have a very easy-going relationship. Mr. Burger even comes into the courtroom when he hears Perry defending a dog in The Golden Oranges, curious to see how that plays out. Following the hearing, he approaches Perry in a nonchalant, friendly manner and talks with him.
It is highly unlikely that such a thing would have occurred in season 1. The seeds of their unique friendship had been planted in season 1, but they still tended to keep each other at arm’s length for the most part. Mr. Burger gives Perry a cold reception in The Daring Decoy towards the end of season 1. He also, later, makes another accusation in court.
Season 2 made many attempts to show that they are no longer the bitter enemies they often came across as in season 1. The Purple Woman, which contains my most favorite Perry scene to date, is an exciting mystery and showcases Perry’s and Mr. Burger’s talents in court without ever needing to have Perry accused of something. And the epilogue features Mr. Burger congratulating Perry on the case, something it’s hard to feature him doing in season 1. He was far too prideful then.
The Lame Canary is another classic example. In the epilogue, Mr. Burger and Tragg both drop by Perry’s office to visit and help clear up loose ends. Tragg has been there before, but this may very well be Mr. Burger’s first casual epilogue visit. (I have seen him make another in season 4’s The Fickle Fortune, and I imagine there are others.) Mr. Burger feels so relaxed that he even makes the wry comment that closes the episode (and sets everyone laughing). Never has one scene made all five principles come across as friends as much as this one, amongst all the episodes I have been reviewing.
The entire tone during court is different in the majority of the season 2 episodes. In season 1 there is often a certain coolness in attitude, particularly on Mr. Burger’s part. Season 2 more strongly introduces the idea that something has changed in his feelings. Of course he continues to be Perry’s rival and objects to many things during the hearings and trials, but in general he is not as frosty in his behavior. This continues in succeeding seasons.
Despite all of his frustrations over some of Perry’s methods Mr. Burger has come to greatly respect the defense attorney and his abilities. In season 1 we do not see many, if any, signs of this respect; The Sun-Bather’s Diary is, perhaps, the strongest case for Mr. Burger’s respect in season 1, and it quietly develops over the seasons. By season 3 he even goes to Perry for help when his friend is in danger in The Prudent Prosecutor.
Given all of this evidence, and more, how in the world do the writers suddenly justify something like Mr. Burger’s explosion in the last episode, The Final Fade-Out? I was honestly, absolutely shocked when it suddenly seemed that we were transported back to season 1 again. Mr. Burger, after walking into a trap laid by a witness, completely goes to pieces. He accuses Perry right in court of encouraging the witness and deliberately setting him up to be the fool. He remains so furious throughout most of the episode that at one point Lieutenant Drumm tells Perry he’s escaping from the district attorney’s company.
Now, after so many episodes and seasons, one really would think Mr. Burger would know better. It’s not the accusation that Perry was involved with the trap that stunned me, but the idea that Mr. Burger would think Perry was purposely trying to make him look like a moron. I can’t help wondering if Gardner wanted the last episode to hearken back to season 1, especially since he was going to appear in it. Maybe he desired the final episode to be more like his books again.
Of course, thankfully, the episode finally did bring in some of the TV show Mr. Burger’s most endearing traits, which the book version did not have. By the end he has calmed down, seemingly without even having learned the truth that Perry was not involved in the trickery, and feels awkward and guilty. He invites Perry, Della, and Paul to dinner, although he’s too embarrassed to deliver the invitation when he tries and has Lieutenant Drumm do it instead. Drumm says it’s the closest to an apology as Mr. Burger will ever get (which actually isn’t true, according to season 2’s The Lost Last Act, but Drumm hasn’t known Mr. Burger for very long and can be excused on those grounds). Perry and company forgive Mr. Burger and accept the invitation.
One has to wonder why Mr. Burger calmed down so inexplicably. Maybe he learned the truth off-screen. Or maybe he was just humiliated at having been shown up as he was and he blamed Perry in his anger and mortification without actually believing Perry was responsible. Then, upon calming down at last, he was ashamed of his outrageous behavior.
The Final Fade-Out is not the only example of preposterous accusations flying after the character development fully began to sink in, but it is the most shocking example I’ve found so far as I re-watch every episode I come across. (Season 3’s The Singing Skirt provides another, less shocking example. And Deputy D.A. Chamberlain takes a crack at accusing Perry in season 4’s The Wintry Wife.) What with the way the writers continually fell back on the concept, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if there are others on the level of The Final Fade-Out.
Perry and Mr. Burger are wonderful sparring partners without ever needing to return to the days when Mr. Burger often accused Perry of illegal and unethical activities. Countless episodes prove this. So then, why did the latter keep happening now and then? Just to keep the formula as predictable as possible? Did most of the viewers like seeing Perry get accused over and over?
If the character development had never happened, on both characters’ parts, it wouldn’t be such a troubling issue. But it did, and therein lies my disbelief. I’m not sure what to make of the subsequent accusations. Should they be dismissed as bad writing? Or accepted as part of the show’s “canon”? Should it be thought that Mr. Burger still remembers Perry’s actions from the early episodes and is never sure if Perry will fall back on those tricks once more? (Albeit that would not explain his blow-up in The Final Fade-Out.)
I hope to resolve how I perceive this stumbling block when I write my next Perry story. But my confusion over why it exists in the first place will persist.