Out of all of Simon’s characters, and out of the few who have died, I have suddenly come to the very odd realization that it was his Perry Mason characters’ deaths that broke my heart the most of just about any of them.
While Howard Walters from The Frantic Flyer is most certainly a bad egg and really probably deserved what he got, Captain Mike Caldwell from The Misguided Missile is definitely not a villain and did not deserve death at all. He is, perhaps, not a complete pillar of virtue, but he is a multi-faceted and complex character. This is quite a trick considering he has only scant moments onscreen!
The Misguided Missile opens with a failed missile launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. An investigation is promptly begun to discern the cause, and Captain Caldwell is the man they send. He is stern, serious, and determined to uncover the truth about what happened.
His dark side is that he has a grudge against Perry’s friend, Major Jerry Reynolds, and wants to prove that Jerry was responsible for the failed launch. It’s not an unfounded suspicion; it looks worse and worse for Jerry as the investigation proceeds. Captain Caldwell interviews others involved with the launch (and the very idea of Simon Oakland interacting with William Schallert is an epic thing of beauty) and finds evidence of the missile having been tampered with. But before he can do anything with this evidence, he is murdered on the test grounds the night before another launch. Jerry Reynolds is implicated and eventually tried for his murder.
Some of what happened comes out during the court-martial, as characters recall offscreen interaction with Caldwell. Jerry was almost the last person to see him alive, as they had a bad confrontation in the Officers’ Club that culminated with Caldwell insisting he knew Jerry wasn’t the great man everyone claimed and Jerry hauling off and punching him.
So what was the reason for Caldwell’s seeming obsession of proving Jerry guilty of sabotage? We don’t get the details; we never even hear the story from Caldwell’s point-of-view. It is only briefly mentioned by Jerry as he speaks with Perry and Paul. His explanation goes as follows: When they served together in the war, there was a time when Jerry gave an order and Caldwell did not carry it out. He was reprimanded and reassigned.
But it isn’t as simple at that. Caldwell always insisted that he never received the order. Did he or didn’t he? This mystery, sadly enough, was left unexplained. It’s possible that he was telling the truth. A messenger could have been at fault for Caldwell not receiving the order. Any number of possibilities could explain it. Caldwell could have been flying a plane and Jerry gave the order over the radio, but it was not received due to a faulty transmission. We simply do not have enough information on the incident to judge one way or the other.
It’s possible but unlikely that Caldwell received the order and simply ignored it. From the little we see of him, he is a dedicated officer seeking to locate the truth. He isn’t there to hurt anyone, he tells Helen Rand, the one in charge of public relations at the company responsible for creating the missile. Perhaps Caldwell is guilty of too much determination to prove Jerry’s guilt, but he isn’t focusing all of his time and energy into that one angle. He also investigates the two corporations that want the missile contract.
And who was responsible for the poor man’s death? As we finally learn, it was Dan Morgan, the rather batty inventor of the missile. Caldwell’s information would have stopped the second launch, and Morgan wanted his missile to fly. Ironically enough, by killing him on the test field, Morgan almost caused the launch to be stopped anyway. Such a pointless, senseless death.
In the end Caldwell may not have always made the best choices, and he did have bitter feelings towards Jerry which may or may not be founded, but over the course of the episode we saw, both firsthand and through others’ testimonies, Caldwell’s good side as well as his less favorable traits. Caldwell was, as it turns out, very human.
Rest in peace, Captain.