Photo: Mitch Haaseth / ABC

Flashback Whiplash

With so many moving parts in the latest How To Get Away With Murder, it's not clear what's going on or why we should care.

Only three episodes in and this show has already exceeded its flashback quota for the season. What month is it? Which subplot is it? When is that bonfire ever going to end? This week, Annalise reps a client with a secret past. She then represents the football player accused of the murder that's seemingly at the heart of the show and later flip-flops and represents Wes's neighbor in that same case. She flubs all these royally while her paid staff continues to be useless and her unpaid students just fret and twiddle their thumbs, seemingly sharing my confusion as to what's really going on. Let's count down the players from first to worst!

  1. Asher
    Asher is a real d-bag's d-bag. He's like that one guy who obliviously buys that offensive Urban Outfitters shirt that Jezebel is ranting about and legit does not understand what all the fuss is about. He's just so convincingly played with all his "Hell, yeah!!!" hyped-upness. He doesn't even really further the plot much this week, but he still earns his keep. From his cheesy, self-satisfied wall-leans to his ordering rounds of Buttery Nipples to his hilarious attempt at giving a black guy a pound hug -- he's the most fun character to watch in an otherwise frustrating show.
  2. Connor
    This smarmy jerk would probably make the best (stereotypically slimy) lawyer out of all of the students. He's skilled at button-pushing and goat-getting. When it's revealed that Mikaela's fiancé is a former boarding-school buddy, he hits the debutante with a little "If that's your boyfriend, he wasn't last night" shade and gets all under her skin. This Iago-ass dude needles her peevishly, both to knock out the competition and to amuse himself, making him one of only two characters with any sense of purpose.
  3. "Paula Murphy"
    The client du jour wears the mask of a milquetoast housewife who sometimes, just sometimes, gets caught giving strangers handjobs in the park. But her secret alter ego is "Elena Aguilar," a former rabblerouser in a protest cult that some hairy guy on the witness stand explains was "Occupy before there was an Occupy, man." The group was responsible for an accidental pipe-bomb homicide back in the day, and Paula's the only one who evaded capture. Once the feds nab her, Annalise takes her case because she's a "friend of a friend," or some meagerly explained reason like that. As the case unfolds, we learn the Lifetime movie twist: Paula/Elena is bored with her family and still in love with her incarcerated former cult leader.

    The whole plotline seems like a throw-away and only exists to mirror the relationship problems Annalise and Mikaela are experiencing. The only reason she's this high up on the list is because, by the episode's end, she slips out of the courthouse mid-trial, pulls on a hat, and hops an out-of-town bus to join her released (?!?) jailbird boyfriend. Props due. If only I had escape as an option while watching; I'd have gotten the hell out of Dodge, too.

  4. Annalise
    In the beginning of the episode, the university president flatly tells the professor, "We've given you unprecedented freedom in conducting your classes with virtually no oversight." It's a knowing nod from the writers to all of us viewers who are already exhausted from suspending our disbelief.

    Annalise inexplicably takes a student along to meet a convicted felon in prison. She picks up another student from the cop shop after he's caught impersonating an officer of the court, then she lets him off scot-free like an indulgent mom picking up a truant. She allows all her students to lounge on desk tops and ottomans while she hears the testimony of a suspected student-murderer. In class, she only calls on her chosen students to answer questions, as though the other dozens of paying students aren't even there -- so very Saved By The Bell. What is this law school?!?

    When Annalise later snaps at her assistant to "leave the lawyering to the lawyers," the whole world laughs. She's all about letting others do her job for her. The empress has no clothes and, even with all of the underlings doing her dirty work, she still can't come out ahead with her "Hooker Mom-turned-Bomb Mom" trial.

    BUT just when I'm so close to being over it all, this show gives me a little nugget of gold: Annalise lying in bed wearing a silk cap to protect her hair. Yes! They may not have gotten her wig right to date, but they sure did nail this. For all those folks who've heretofore been bamboozled by Olivia Pope's "woke up like this" flawlessness, this is how it's really done. This earned crucial keeping-it-real points, thereby bumping the character up a few spots.

  5. Nate
    Nate does all of Annalise's sleuthing, determining whether or not her husband has an alibi for the night of the college girl's murder (because that plotline's still alive, remember?). After all that footwork, he learns that the dude was not in the clear, but lies to Annalise about it anyway. Why? So he could be done with her paranoid hysteria and successfully kick her to the curb? Seems a bit short-sided, on top of being hella bad police work. But maybe he, like Paula, recognizes when it's time to get while the getting's good. Once again, he barks at Annalise to "go home." It was a great one-liner last week, but now it's growing stale. If he says it again next week, I'm through.
  6. Wes
    "Waitlist" is always snooping around corners, listening in on folks and hatching super-secret plans of his own. He watches as the football player pins the dead girl's murder on his neighbor/lady love, Rebecca, and comes up with the brilliant idea of impersonating an attorney so that he can sneak into jail and warn her. Encyclopedia Brown makes a fake ID, then laminates it using a hair dryer -- which I'd imagine zero single, natural hair-sporting black men even own. Later, once he's caught and Annalise comes to pick him up, he hits her with some weak-sauce whining: "I just wanted to do something!" It ultimately works on Annalise, who dumps the footballer and takes on the neighbor as a client. But for me, Wes's wide-eyed virtuousness is growing tedious.
  7. Laurel
    She rises among the ranks this week for showing compassion toward a spiraling Mikaela and for proving that she's not a complete loser who's willing to ceaselessly pine away over that bearded piece of office décor, Frank.
  8. Mikaela
    The only thing keeping this spoiled brat from being dead last on this list is her hot-ass fiancé, Aiden; if not for her, I'd never have discovered him (heyyy, boy!). I kept waiting for her to snap on Connor, but that moment never comes. Instead, she uses all her energy to throw hissyfits. She lashes out at her man over his high-school sexual experimentation. She freaks out over losing her engagement ring during the whole "pretending to go to the bonfire so we have an alibi for hiding a dead body" charade...because of course she does. Then, she shouts her man down again because she decided to take him back, but wants to make sure he understands that their relationship has to work because her wedding gown is bespoke Vera Wang, dammit. Ugh. She's like Gretchen Weiners, but not even as useful.
  9. Rebecca
    And while we're on the subject of immature, one-dimensional female characters, let's discuss this little brat. She sneers, she sulks, and she bites the hand that feeds her. For whatever reason, Wes is determined to rescue her, but she foils his efforts at every turn. Why is this a character worth saving? Let her rot there. She looks pretty good in orange.
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