With my growing unhappiness concerning season 9, I have been increasingly wary of its offerings. One unique episode, The Dead Ringer, I have also been uncertain of due to something I was told that sounded highly out-of-character to me. I could believe it might be true that it was intended that way, considering the odd way some season 9 episodes decide to handle characterization. Nevertheless, I still wanted to see it.
The Dead Ringer is sometimes put down by fans, who cite it as one of the strangest things the show ever did. Perhaps it is, but I do not share their displeasure. On the contrary, after having been given the chance to view this late venture (indeed, it was one of the final episodes), I am enthusiastic and thrilled and find it without blemish. And the part that I was lukewarm about I actually loved and found in-character. The intent behind it seems to be at least partially a matter of personal interpretation, depending, I suppose, on how one perceives the characters involved. More on that later.
The Dead Ringer is the episode where Raymond Burr pulls double-duty as both Perry Mason and his “dead ringer” from England, Mr. Grimes. Raymond’s voice talent is just amazing. His Cockney accent for Grimes is, as far as I can tell, flawless. And of course, Grimes is about as different from Perry as he could possibly be. He’s brash, loud, and uncouth. Just a poor sailor without much money to his name, he jumps at the chance to come into some green by helping the villains set up Perry and try to make it look like he was soliciting a bribe in a big case.
Both Della and Paul are furious, even moreso when they argue with Perry’s client over Perry’s suspected illegal activities. For one of the only times in the series, we see a very angry Della. It’s exciting and exhilarating to see her and Paul chew out the client, who is insistent on feeling Perry must be guilty.
Especially since it’s a season 9 episode, and they’re so unpredictable, I wondered what Mr. Burger’s reaction was to all this. In the first season, I could imagine that things might play out similar to The Sun-Bather’s Diary and he would be furiously trying to get to the bottom of things while not wanting to believe that Perry would be guilty of so terrible a crime. Or, in a worst-case scenario, he would wonder if Perry actually was guilty (either because of bad writing or because of Perry’s past track record of bending the law).
We don’t see a scene of him reacting to the scandal at the time. But there are things in the episode that indicate his feelings. A month goes by without the D.A.’s office making any move to prosecute Perry. And during the later hearing for the episode’s murder, Perry attempts to question Mr. Grimes about the impersonation. When asked by the judge why he isn’t objecting to the line of questioning, Mr. Burger says that everyone should have a chance to clear himself. It seems that Mr. Burger must have believed Perry’s innocence in the matter, or at least felt that there was not enough evidence to warrant a prosecution. With enough evidence against Perry, of course Mr. Burger would not have had a choice about prosecuting. If he had, I feel it would have been with as much reluctance as he prosecuted Paul in Paul Drake’s Dilemma. Despite the times when Mr. Burger has accused Perry, both with and without good reasons, I don’t recall him ever coming up with anything about bribes. (And then of course in The Sun-Bather’s Diary he outright says he doesn’t want to think Perry could be guilty of being an accessory to murder. I believe that's the time when he comes closest to getting Perry in serious trouble, and he is not savoring it at all. He just wants the truth.)
For me, the episode had gained a high point and I would have been perfectly happy if it had been left at that. But it only got better.
Mr. Grimes ended up being quite a philosophical fellow, as Perry even noted in the epilogue. He accused everyone involved in the case of being just as bad as him with their facades and their criminal acts. He also seemed to hold a great deal of respect for Perry and felt betrayed when Perry exposed him as the murderer. He is quite an engaging oneshot character. It would be fun to bring him back in a fanfiction story sometime, capturing both his unique speech pattern and his complex personality.
The epilogue concerns the bit that I was unsure what to make of before seeing it. It features Perry and Hamilton sharing a table at Clay’s restaurant. Hamilton tells Perry that Mr. Grimes has been sent on his way to San Quentin earlier that day. He then jokes that he supposes it was Grimes, and wouldn’t it be funny if there had been a mix-up and Perry had been sent up while Hamilton was dining with Grimes.
I saw no indication that Hamilton relished that thought, as I was told he seemed to, and indeed, if he had it would have been drastically out-of-character. He would like to catch Perry on his legal tricks, it’s true, but he would never want anyone convicted for crimes they had not committed. He made that plain once again right in this very episode. In the epilogue he just seems to be making a joke concerning the whole ridiculousness of the situation of Perry having a double. I could not see any malicious feeling in it at all, and Perry even smiles in amusement in response. I don’t see it as being any different than Perry joking in The Prudent Prosecutor that he would help Hamilton’s friend “even if he did save your life.” Perry didn’t mean that; he would not have wanted any harm to come to Mr. Burger. They just have a tendency to tease each other now and then.
After they and Lieutenant Drumm and Clay converse a bit, they suddenly hear a voice that sounds like Grimes, singing a song that he sang several times throughout the episode. They, especially Hamilton, turn to look in shock. And Paul descends the stairs, grinning in mischief as he continues his (impressive) imitation of Grimes. Hamilton is extremely relieved and amused and laughs. Perry appears more deadpan.
My conclusion is that the epilogue is one of those fascinating scenes I was intrigued by years ago and really depicts them as good friends out of court, moreso than even some other scenes do. The sheer relaxed nature of their in-character gathering is a joy to behold.
Overall, between Raymond Burr playing two characters and Della and Paul putting Perry’s client in his place and Hamilton being awesome and he and Perry dining together, this episode takes its place as one of my favorites of season 9 and is also quite high on the list of my favorites throughout the run of the series. I remember watching it years ago, as the confrontation between Perry and Grimes stood out to me when viewing it recently, and I’m very sure I was intrigued by it then as well as now.
This episode’s existence does rather knock out a possible story idea I had a few weeks ago after re-watching William Talman’s film The Hitchhiker, in which a double of Mr. Burger’s is wandering around causing trouble and confusion. I don’t think I’d want to write it with there having been a canonical instance of a double. But I’m just fine with that; The Dead Ringer is wonderful and fun and should be a treat for Perry fans. For me it was a breath of fresh air in the sometimes bewildering and contradictory season 9.