How To Get Away With Murder Would Be Sensational If It Cut The Mystery Crap
Forget the Agathie Christie stuff and focus on the social drama!
I know it would mean rejiggering the laws of physics or something, but what if How To Get Away With Murder stopped being a mystery series and instead just became a straightforward drama?
Wouldn't life be better if they just dropped the last-minute revelations that invalidate everything from the forty minutes that preceded them? These predictably unpredictable twists get stupider by the week, including this episode's disclosure that Wes WAS killed in the fire after all. That upends all our theories about who murdered him, I guess, but since I barely pay attention to the crime stories anymore, I managed to absorb that information without needing to breathe into a lunch sack. After all, what's the point in thinking about it too much, since some bullshit deus ex machina is just going to crop up by mid-February? We'll probably find out that Wes was killed by a character we haven't even met yet, or by a falling meteor, or by a Hi-C juice box that had turned rancid in the sun.
If this tomfoolery were called off, we could spend more time thinking about the show's tack-sharp evocations of how Americans are warped by sexism, racism, and classism. This episode in particular makes some exciting arguments -- some with just a single image -- so I'm going to rank the characters based on their part in them. The way I see it, the folks who are just about the mystery are less valuable right now than the ones who are pushing "the conversation."
- Dead Wes And Laurel
Present only in flashbacks, Dead Wes spends the entire episode having "red herring" scenes with every cast member.
He's sexing Laurel and got her pregnant...maybe that gave Frank motive to kill him! Meanwhile, he's cutting Annalise out of his life as he drifts toward Meggy! Maybe Annalise couldn't deal! He's even having conversations with Michaela about buying jewelry! Perhaps he fingered a brooch in a way that set her off! Then there's Laurel, who is just here to be pregnant and threaten everyone that she's going to expose their secrets to the D.A.
- Bonnie And Frank
Sure, Bonnie and Frank are both meditations on the long-term impact of sexual and physical abuse. They both default to self-abnegating behavior, and they're both drawn to people who reaffirm their private belief in their own worthlessness. (See, this week, the way Laurel tells Frank that she loves Dead Wes more than she ever loved him.) Right now, though, they're dedicated to figuring out who killed Dead Wes and when. Come back to me when you're shame-screwing each other, y'all.
As Philadelphia's most corruptible public servant, Nate betrays his D.A. girlfriend, continues digging up secrets that will clear Annalise's name, and announces that anyone who tries to fire or even reprimand him will be guilty of sexual harassment. That's over the top when it comes to the plot, but it does make an interesting point about how well-meaning and highly necessary attempts to protect worker safety can be exploited.
- Oliver And Connor
Though I still can't forgive Oliver for his self-righteousness, given that he secretly deleted Connor's Stanford admission notification, I'm fascinated by this couple's relationship. They clearly want to be together in an uncomplicated way, but the emotional baggage that comes with being a gay man keeps getting in their way. This week, we hear Connor talking about how he needs therapy to sort through his "gay stuff" and his feelings for Oliver, and we see Oliver flail as he tries to love Connor through the latter's self-loathing: this is true to life. Almost every gay person I've ever known -- myself included -- has had to accept that he or she is worthy of love before it's even possible to get down to the business of being in love. And sometimes, the encoded shame that comes from one's church or family or local community is just too strong to overcome, which deforms the ability to love. People get over this, of course, all the time. But it's a process of self-definition that art doesn't explore very often. To that end, I'd much rather see Oliver and Connor sort through their decades of pain than watch them decide how much data to steal off Annalise's phone.
- Michaela And Asher
Color me extremely interested! In a flashback, Michaela asserts her class privilege all over Dead Wes when she (lovingly?) mocks him for not having the taste to satisfy Laurel, who's from a wealthy family. But of course, Michaela herself was raised in poverty by an adoptive white mother who just used her for the state check. In that light, Michaela's own success and striving become theses on how wealth (or the appearance of it) can be as powerful as race in controlling someone's station in life.
But at the same time, the show isn't pretending race doesn't matter. That's partly why Asher's around. This week, we see him fighting with a black woman he mistook for Michaela, which calls up the notion that even well-meaning white people literally do not see people of color. Not only that, he grabbed this woman's butt, and she points out that no woman deserves to get goosed. But Asher -- white, privileged Asher -- doesn't get that. And later, when he beats up Connor for speaking disrespectfully about Dead Wes, he doesn't see how he defended his friend with the brute illogic of a dude who always gets his way.
AND YET, Asher and Michaela are a couple. They keep pushing and prodding each other on their various blind spots, and by extension, they ask us to think more deeply about them. If they were the stars of a fizzy dramedy, I'd watch it every week.
Obviously, though, it's Annalise who represents the show's deepest social and political thinking. But before we get to that, can we take a moment to appreciate Viola Davis's hair and makeup in the opening scene?
She looks ravishing! And of course, that's a pointed juxtaposition to all the scenes of her in prison, where she's robbed of her elegance and power, forced to use the bathroom in front of cellmates, and subjected to searches of her hair. Then comes the gut-punch moment. One of Annalise's cellmates (played by L. Scott Caldwell) remembers seeing Annalise in court and wondering why "this queen" wasn't able to defend her. Then the prisoner takes a moment to sadly reflect on Annalise's current state before saying, "No matter how high or how far we climb, they gon' find a way to pull us back down." In the aftermath of Hillary's loss and in the current, churning hell of President Horrible's commitment to hating everyone, those words ring hard and cold.
Not that Annalise only represents a black woman being beaten down by the system. She's too complex for that. She's made too many operatic mistakes to be considered truly innocent, and she's shown too much resilience to be counted out. But this week, the show really lets us feel what it's like for her to be degraded. It asks us to consider whether Annalise's condition is just a more theatrical version of the status that, at one point or another, all women -- and especially women of color -- are assigned by America.