How To Get Away With Murder

Earlier this week, Louis C.K. gave a strange endorsement of Hillary Clinton, in which he essentially asserted that Clinton should be president because mothers are better than fathers. “A mother’s just got it,” C.K. said on Conan this past Tuesday. “She feeds you and teaches you, she protects you, she takes care of shit.” He doubled-down on that statement, adding that “a great father can give a kid 40 percent of his needs, tops. Tops out at 40 percent. Any mother, just a shitty mother, a not-even-trying mother? Two hundred percent.” According to C.K., mothers are infallible. They’re saintly, intrinsically good, selfless. Even the shitty ones protect their children. C.K.’s words, while intended to support women, belie an insidious form of sexism that holds women to different standards than men. Women are expected to be infallible. They’re expected to be moral examples for men to follow. And becoming a mother is seen as the ultimate goal in that path toward virtuosity. Maybe C.K. should watch How To Get Away With Murder. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s a very real takedown of the notion that women are or should be morally superior to men. While male antiheroes still outnumber female antiheroes on television, Annalise Keating stands tall as a woman on TV who is dangerously flawed. How To Get Away With Murder has an equal opportunity approach to selfishness, narcissism, greed, and manipulation.

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In “Call It Mother’s Intuition,” the show makes a direct comparison between Annalise and an abusive mother. For the first time in weeks, there’s a strong case of the week that’s discernibly connected to the show’s overall story and emotional arc. Annalise and her clinic are tasked with defending three siblings, all accused of attempting to murder their aging mother, who they also work for, with antifreeze. Their mother psychologically and emotionally abused them for their entire lives, but the children have to suppress all that, actively ignoring their own feelings and lying about their lives and their relationships with their mother in order to convince the court they didn’t have motive to kill her. In actuality, their mother has pulled off the ultimate form of gaslighting, poisoning herself in order to teach them a lesson about valuing her.

Annalise figures out the truth, because she relates to the woman on a certain level. New kid Simon Drake first points out that he gets an “Annalise vibe” from the old woman, who is controlling, sadistic, verbally abusive, and lies to her kids. Yep, I’m getting Annalise vibes, too. And Annalise has just enough self-awareness to see the connection, too: In the episode’s most intense sequence, she asks the Keating Five to give her their worst, literally plopping down in a chair and asking them to unload everything they’ve been wanting to tell her about how she has ruined their lives. As she puts it, she doesn’t want to end up poisoned. They hold nothing back, letting Annalise know just how hurt, broken, insane, and toxic they feel ever since their lives intertwined with hers. It’s an instance where How To Get Away With Murder’s bluntness works. I love any time character actually express what they’re feeling on this show. It keeps the stakes for the rest of the story high and the relationship dynamics complex.

The episode balances the case of the week and the Annalise intervention with a more grounded story of motherhood through Soraya Hargrove, the university’s president, who opens up about her personal life in one of Annalise’s mandated alcoholism counseling meetings. After weirdly ignoring the issue last week, tonight’s episode resumes portraying Annalise’s struggle to remain sober and her ongoing denial that she has a problem. She still insists that she’s only there because Hargrove’s forcing her to be. But this is also the first episode that develops Hargrove beyond just being another enemy to Annalise. She shares her story of losing custody and admits how angry it makes her even though she understands why her children are angry with her. She doesn’t come off as the King Lear-ish type that antifreeze mom does. She doesn’t see her children as ungrateful; she just wants them to know she would do anything to get them back. “Call It Mother’s Intuition” is nuanced in its portrayal of flawed mothers. It ultimately doesn’t make antifreeze mom into some sort of perverse martyr. She’s the episode’s extreme; the evil mom who has tricked herself into thinking she was doing the right thing.

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Annalise has a similar blind spot when it comes to how she sees her role in the Keating Five’s lives, still thinking them ungrateful for all she has done for them. But she’s finally beginning to face herself, finally beginning to think about things from their perspective. You can see it in her face during the intervention. That doesn’t mean she is going to completely change the way she treats them. I doubt the writers would try to pull that off, and they shouldn’t. Again, Annalise works as a deeply flawed antihero. But challenging the way this character sees the kids could provide a really fascinating turn in Annalise’s arc, especially if it’s tied to her coming to terms with her drinking problem.

Just as I was starting to maybe buy Wes and Laurel’s relationship, Wes had to go and say that he has wanted her ever since their first day in class. That felt more like a rewriting of history than the acknowledgement of a carefully plotted relationship arc. I know—and love—slow-burn romances, and Wes and Laurel ain’t it. I’m much more invested in Oliver and Connor, whose relationship does reflect really detailed and emotionally honest long-term plotting on the writers’ part. Their breakup has been full of the frustrating gray areas that many breakups not predicated on a concrete reason tend to be.

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In tonight’s episode, Oliver’s new boo Thomas swiftly rejects him when he discloses that he’s HIV-positive. How To Get Away With Murder organically works in important and radical—for network television—social commentary on the lived experiences of HIV-positive people. They can and do have thriving and varied sex lives and relationships, just like HIV-negative people. As Oliver points out, it’s safer to have protected sex with him than with someone who doesn’t know their status. His character subtly advocates for knowing your status and for destigmatizing HIV. As bummed as I am overall about Oliver dating people who aren’t Connor, it’s powerful to watch this character deal with relationship and dating problems just like anyone else, even though he deals with problems directly related to his status, too. Oliver isn’t defined by his status; it’s just one part of his journey. And his breakup sex with Connor comes from a very real place. Oliver knows he’s being selfish, but Connor can’t turn him away because he misses him, too. They both want each other, even though they don’t want them same things. It’s nebulous and contradictory, as love often is. They remain the show’s beating heart.

Overall, “Call It Mother’s Intuition” succeeds because of the honesty and richness of most of its emotional beats. Even the Bonnie and Frank stuff works, even though it doesn’t get much screentime compared to the other subplots, especially because of Liza Weil and Charlie Weber’s performance. Whereas last week’s episode was a dysfunctional, incoherent mess in terms of motivations and character interactions, this one brings cogent emotional context back to the season’s arc. The intervention isn’t so much a catharsis as reckoning. It’s all out there on the table now. They’ve tallied up their pain and suffering, and yet, things aren’t likely to change. Annalise has a hold on them. We learn Wes will turn on Annalise, providing the police with enough evidence to arrest her for first-degree murder. I mean, he did shoot her last season without really batting an eye. So are we really that surprised? Expected or not, it’s a juicy development—one that makes Wes a much more interesting player. Annalise points out they’re connected by the sacrifices his mother made. She says they both have to try to live good lives for her sake. But that’s yet another manipulation, another way for Annalise to convince Wes to stay on her side. She thinks she’s protecting them, but at what cost? Annalise Keating isn’t the Keating Five’s mother, but the analogy holds up. And on How To Get Away With Murder, being a mother doesn’t make you good. The show emphasizes that the notion of being “good” or virtuous or moral is rightfully much more complicated than that.

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Stray observations

  • I’m getting whiplash from reviewing this show because of how much it’s swinging up and down in quality from week to week.
  • “I choose you, hackachu.”
  • Eve gets name-checked again. I just like to keep tally.
  • Bonnie’s accusations against Frank are especially potent because they’re mostly true. He did go to Laurel first and only showed up on her doorstep when he found out Laurel and Wes are together. And then when Bonnie rejects him, he goes right back to Laurel.
  • So is Laurel being bankrolled by her evil father? How else would she be able to afford buying drinks for her entire class all night? Do we still not know if Annalise pays the Keating Five anything?
  • Michaela doesn’t do much in this episode, but holy shit, she is the most fiery in the intervention. Michaela is on a path toward graduating law school with a dual degree in dragging.

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