The promos leading up to tonight’s How To Get Away With Murder endlessly teased Annalise Keating’s final nine words. Those words end up being “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?,” a hilarious phrase in any context, but Viola Davis sells the hell out of it because the real lesson this show teaches is that she can do just about anything.
The reveal however—that Sam was sexually involved with the student who turns up dead in the pilot—feels hollow, like a lot of this episode. We already knew Sam was probably involved in this murder—as evidenced by his shoddy alibi—and that he has had problems being faithful to Annalise in the past. So really, it’s just a cheap line that is kind of funny and totally ridiculous.
Again, Davis makes it work better than most could, and the look she throws Sam’s way makes me think she definitely has it in her to kill him. And it’s the scene that immediately precedes the highly anticipated nine words that stands out above all else this week. Having just seen the contents of Lila’s phone, Annalise sits at her vanity and slowly peels back her layers. She removes her wig, her eyelashes, her makeup, never breaking eye contact with the reflection of her natural self. It’s an intimate, powerful moment television doesn’t often show: A black woman removing all the elements white supremacy tells her she has to wear to be beautiful, successful, powerful. And let’s not forget that that wasn’t just Annalise taking it off: It was Davis, too—Davis, who remains brave in a world where a New York Times critic can get away with calling her “less classically beautiful.”
So it’s a damn shame that one of my favorite scenes of the series closes out one of the weakest episodes. The case of the week—about Marren Trudeau (Elizabeth Perkins), a high-profile woman accused of insider trading—once again, just doesn’t do much for me, mostly because it fails to fully connect thematically or narratively with everything else going on. And that makes the episode feel awkward and disjointed. It seems like the episode was written with the intention of being Connor’s episode but then at the last minute had a bunch of other stuff shoved in. We certainly spend a lot of time with the character, and he engages in one of the hottest sex scenes I’ve ever seen on network TV in primetime. But if the writers intended for this episode to give us a peek into the character’s psyche at all, it doesn’t quite accomplish that, and the ties between the two timelines feel even looser than usual.
“Does anyone know anyone?” Connor throws at his latest hookup, and the character rightfully mocks the triteness of the question. But it’s a question worth asking at this point: Do we really know much of anything about these characters yet? We see Michaela having a full freak out in the present timeline, and that’s at least somewhat supported by the flashbacks that show her completely losing her cool over an upcoming exam. Connor, meanwhile, also breaks down, but in a much more manic, terrifying way, and we’re not quite sure how he gets to this point. Or how Wes ends up so in love with a maybe-but-probably-not killer who he has exchanged maybe 20 words with.
There are some serious gaps in the psychological underpinnings of these characters, especially with Annalise. “I still know nothing about you,” Marren tells her. And we don’t either. Not much, at least. I’m not saying we need a lengthy backstory or flashbacks within flashbacks to better understand Annalise as a character, but learning more about what she wants—in the court, the classroom, and her personal life—and why she wants it will give much needed depth and emotional resonance to the character. Annalise strips down quite literally at the end of the episode, but the inner layers of the character remain concealed.
On the one hand, letting us learn about these characters slowly, bit-by-bit works because this is at its base a thriller, and the writers don’t want to give us too much information too quickly. Like the team meticulously piecing together one of their cases, we’re piecing together who these characters are, figuring them out.
But the problem that arises from all this is that it’s hard to forge emotional connections with characters we don’t know that much about yet. This show literally deals with life or death situations, which should make us feel something. I mean, an unexpected suicide happens in this episode and I hardly flinched. Death seeps throughout this show, but the emotional turbulence of death seems absent most of the time. Murder is a plot device, used to shock. But there’s more to the series than empty thrills; it’s just buried beneath a lot of spectacle and pops up in isolated moments. Teasing out those moments and bringing them centerstage will make Murder seem like less of a mess.
- The show keeps positioning Wes and Annalise in scenes that seem like they could, at any point, become sexual. Right? That’s not just me? It’s strange and just further confuses me about who these characters are and what they want.
- “Would you call a man a ballbuster?”
- Elizabeth Perkins is great as the filterless, spirited Marren. But this insider-trading plot never really evolves into anything all that engaging. When are the cases of the week going to start to add anything to the show?!
- Aja Naomi King gives the second best performance after Davis this week. I could watch her going off on everyone forever.
- Do all IT professionals have abs like Oliver’s?
- Of all the characters, I care the least about Rebecca. Have we ever been given a reason to care about her? Are there any diehard Rebecca fans out there? Please make your case in the comments, because I’m genuinely curious.
- I want to know everything in the world about Lawyer Paris Geller (Bonnie, for those unfamiliar with my pet names). But for now, I guess she’s only around for icy glares and lines that hint at her evil geniusness.
- I would like to reiterate just how hot that sex scene was. And between two dudes no less! Between that, the final Annalise scene, and the continued prominence of a queer Asian man’s narrative, this episode is full of subtle but powerful subversiveness…which would all be made even more effective if the writing were just a little tighter and the show wasn’t throwing in empty twists at every turn.