Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Carefree Coronary: A five-star season 9 winner

I was going to rave about another wonderful season 8 episode, but since I was raking season 9 over the coals again I decided to turn around and praise one of the good season 9 episodes now. Anyway, I don’t think I could wait to talk about this one!

One thing Perry Mason doesn’t often have are instances where the main characters are in life-threatening danger. It’s usually the guest-stars who are in the worst trouble. I could probably name the episodes where the main characters are threatened on one hand. And when that happens, it rarely ever involves one of them actually ending up hurt.

The Carefree Coronary is quite an exception. It has not only this, but many other fascinating elements. All in all, it is definitely one of season 9’s best offerings. If every season 9 episode had been up to this level of writing, they would have been in fine shape.

The mysterious and twisted plot involves people who have been having heart attacks and surviving to collect disability checks. It all seems a bit too pat, so Paul sets out to investigate. He discovers that one of the “victims”, who had a heart attack a month ago, is very active in playing sports and such. He captures this on film. Perry then wants the fellow to be examined by his doctor again. The guy calls Perry the night before the appointment, frightened about something, but doesn’t get to say what’s wrong. The following day, he arrives at the doctor’s and promptly collapses and dies. His widow claims it’s from the stress of being called in and wants action taken against Perry.

Hamilton, while not feeling Paul’s film is conclusive evidence that something is amiss, also doesn’t feel that there’s a strong enough case against Perry. He doesn’t intend to do anything until the results are in from the coroner’s inquest.

Paul decides to go undercover. As he starts to find evidence that there is a crooked ring in operation, they get wise to the fact that he is not what he claims to be. They set him up with poison. He ends up taking it and collapsing, appearing to be having a heart attack.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes throughout the series, if not the most, is when Della rushes into the room where the inquest is being held. In tears, she tells a stunned Perry that Paul is dying and falls into his arms.

The rest of the episode is spent with them worrying over whether Paul will survive. Perry consults the doctor and learns that Paul was poisoned. He returns to the investigation, while Della wants to stay at the hospital and wait for news of Paul’s condition.

Hamilton has many wonderful scenes throughout. He is very levelheaded and fair to both sides, wanting only to get at the truth. At one point he is mobbed by reporters wanting to know what he is going to do and if he will press charges against Perry. He tells them what he told Perry and Paul, that he won’t do anything until the inquest is over. He handles the interview very calmly and maturely. Later, when it seems that at least some of the villains are at the inquest, Hamilton orders the room sealed until the inquest is over.

He isn’t shown reacting to the news about Paul, but it’s a safe bet that he’s shocked and horrified, especially judging from how reluctant he was to prosecute Paul in Paul Drake’s Dilemma.

I only have two regrets about the episode, both minor. The first is that of course I would have liked to have seen Hamilton’s reaction and have had him ask Perry later how Paul is doing. The second is that there is no reunion scene with Paul, Perry, and Della once Paul wakes up and is going to be alright. After the inquest, the epilogue shows him awake and recovering and being fawned over by three nurses. He deserves it, after everything he went through! But I still would have loved to have seen the reunion.

All in all, it’s an amazing, beautiful episode that shows the strong bond between Perry, Della, and Paul. Della’s heartache and fear over Paul lying at death’s door is so moving and shattering all at once. One wants to hug her and tell her everything’s going to be okay. And Perry, despite remaining composed, is no less deeply affected.

Character interactions are, to me, the most important thing in a series. My stories are filled with it and with many instances of what the characters do to overcome various trials. This episode comes just about the closest to the types of storylines that interest me when writing. Everyone is in top form and has a decent amount of screen time. This is a winner for not only season 9, but the entire series.

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