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How To Get Away With Murder: “Freakin’ Whack-a-Mole”

Illustration for article titled How To Get Away With Murder: “Freakin’ Whack-a-Mole”
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If you had told me a few weeks ago that Asher Millstone’s episode of How To Get Away With Murder would be one of my favorites of the season, I would have given you my haughtiest Asher Millstone chortle. Him? The doucheface? But alas, here we are, at the end of “Freakin’ Whack-a-Mole,” and I’m feeling a little better about some of the problems I’ve been having with the show lately.

To be fair, Asher Millstone on his own isn’t exactly the reason this episode clicks, although it was nice to see Matt McGory’s range throughout the episode. For the first time, Murder’s storytelling technique of focusing on one of the Keating Five really works this week: It truly felt like Asher’s episode and not like the character’s development was just shoehorned in. The case of the week turns on Asher’s background and teases out bits of the character. At times, the writing screams “look, he’s more than just a doucheface!” a little too loudly, but overall, the episode sheds some needed light on not just who he is, but who he is in relation to the rest of the characters, who think of him as some privileged white boy. Their disdain for Millstone is kind of funny, considering just how privileged most of the members of the Keating Five are themselves, in one way or another. But who can blame them? Asher’s a poster boy for rich white boy privilege and all of its delusions. And he wears it on his freshly pressed sleeve, doesn’t hesitate to name check his own father when Annalise brings their new case to the table.

The case itself also works well this week, particularly because it seems more thematically and emotionally connected to the larger arc at play. Central to Annalise’s class (and to the series) is the idea of controlling your own narrative. When four of the Keating Five find themselves standing over a dead body, they need to change the narrative. Michaela texts Asher—the only member not part of the murder coverup crew—to tell him she’s at the library, keeping him from witnessing their involvement. They move the body and the murder weapon and plant themselves at the bonfire so they can all have alibis. Meanwhile, in the present timeline, Annalise is trying to control the narrative of Lila’s murder in order to protect her husband, so she has Frank plant Lila’s phone in her boyfriend’s car for the police to find, but not before Annalise wipes it of anything that can be traced back to Sam. And in the case of the week, she takes controlling the narrative to a whole new level: She’s trying to undo the past, right the wrong that was done to an innocent man. “We have been handed the chance to make an unjust system just,” she tells her team.

This week also makes it clearer that Annalise’s cases are extensions of her. She’s tied up in them in ways that transcend the standard lawyer-client relationship. Annalise’s motivations for winning this case run deep: She believed David Allen was innocent two decades prior when Asher’s father presided over the trial that sent him to death row, and she believes he’s innocent now. Annalise has talked about justice before, but here, she speaks with unprecedented passion, and it’s hard to separate that from the racial politics of the case: A white senator used Allen as a pawn to gain political power and gentrify an inner-city area for financial gain. Annalise loudly condemns the racialized nature of the Senator’s scheme in one of the best Viola Davis moments in an episode full of spot-on Davis moments (seriously, this is going to be her Emmy reel episode, right?).

But Annalise is also invested in this case because at this point, she’s losing control of a lot of things in her life. Her husband’s a lying, cheating asshole, her favorite student could call the cops at any point, she doesn’t know where her client is, and she’s juggling about a million flaming swords at once. While everything else is spinning out of control, she latches onto this case, which she sees as the perfect opportunity to do the right thing, to make justice and the truth prevail. And when she wins this week, for the first time, I really felt this victory for Annalise. Her motivations were so clearly drawn but still tied intricately up in her emotions that I actually cared, which has been something missing from recent cases of the week on the show.

Unfortunately, some of the problems I’ve been having also persist, particularly when it comes to Sam and Annalise’s marriage. “I need you,” Annalise tells Sam. But why? She says it herself: He has caused her so much pain. So why is she bending over backwards to protect him? I’m still not totally sold on her loving him enough that it would cloud her better judgement. Lucky for me, my concerns about Annalise and Sam becoming the next Olivia and Fitz are put to rest by Sam’s murder, which we know is only a few weeks away. But so much of Annalise’s arc right now is attached to him and this Lila case, and I’m having trouble making sense of a lot of it.


“What do you want?” Wes asks her. I still have the same question, dude.

Stray observations:

  • Point of business: I’ve become a little careless with my language when it comes to setting up the timeline on this show. In early reviews, I referred to the scenes that take place after Sam’s murder as “the present,” because we technically started the series with one of these scenes, so I categorized everything else as flashbacks. But since I don’t want to fall into any Lost flashbacks-within-flashbacks danger zones, let’s from now on call the bonfire/Sam’s murder scenes “flashforwards,” the scenes where Annalise is training her little murderers-to-be “the present,” and anything prior to that as “flashbacks.” Maybe this is obvious. I don’t know. Time jumps can get confusing, even when the show does use deliberately different lighting and coloring for the two main timelines.
  • I remember noticing early on that Asher was mysteriously absent from the plan to hide Sam’s body. But then I promptly forgot, because the show gave me little reason to care. But I guess he’s sleeping with Bonnie? That felt like an underwhelming reveal. I do love that Annalise was just as convinced Bonnie was sleeping with Sam as we were. Annalise isn’t usually wrong like that.
  • The latest addition to confusing character motivations: Why does Bonnie care so much about Frank’s feelings? My first thought—and this should surprise approximately no one—was that Bonnie was coming from a place of jealousy because she has feelings for Laurel. But that theory isn’t that crazy in the context of how a lot of these characters seem to be making really dumb decisions based on crushes.
  • It’s hard not to compare this show to The Good Wife because of the gold standard the latter has set for legal dramas. I think the main reason How To Get Away With Murder isn’t close to being on the same level has to do with the details. The Good Wife has created such a wonderfully detailed world, and that kind of careful character work and writing started early on. The judges and clients and other secondary and tertiary characters are written with as much care and specificity as the main players. On How To Get Away With Murder, good luck remembering the names of anyone outside of Keating’s immediate circle, that is if you even have those down yet. The judges are little more than rough sketches and seem almost laughably meaningless (loved the Annalise monologue in court, but come on, does that judge have no control over his courtroom?! All I know is Judge Abernathy would have never let that happen).
  • Annalise and Wes continue to have awkward tension that seems maternal and sexual all at once.
  • I’m starting to really love how crazy Connor is in the flashforwards.
  • Asher’s father is just as awful as I would expect him to be, but the fact that he calls Annalise “that Keating woman” made me hate him all the more.