ABC

As the show has become known to do, How To Get Away With Murder packs a whole lot of twists into its second season premiere. By the end, Rebecca’s murderer has already been identified, a few new murders are added to the show’s body count, and a flashforward reveals Annalise Keating collapsed on the floor, bleeding out from a bullet wound. Wait—what? We’ll get to that in a bit though. Because I first want to talk about the only moment in tonight’s episode that actually made me gasp and cover my mouth. Tonight on How To Get Away With Murder, Famke Janssen joins the show as Eve, a lawyer who happens to be Annalise’s ex-girlfriend.

I wouldn’t exactly call this a twist. “Twist” implies some sort of narrative trick. Twists are used to shock and often are the result of valuing plot over character. How To Get Away With Murder certainly pulls off a lot of impressive twists (and does so repeatedly in this premiere). Sometimes they work. Other times, it seems like the writers will do just about anything to get a strong reaction out of viewers—even if it means ignoring what makes sense for a particular character or relationship. The reveal that Annalise has a sexual history with a woman is more rooted in character than plot. The way Annalise’s history with Eve unfolds doesn’t play out like a schlocky plot twist. It’s nuanced and emotionally visceral. It has the emotional beats of honest, character-driven storytelling. There’s no fanfare about it at all, and as a result, it feels completely natural and not self-congratulatory on the writers’ parts. The only reason we didn’t know about it before is because we simply just don’t know very much at all about Annalise’s past.

The underdevelopment of Annalise was one of my biggest recurring issues with season one. Annalise, largely due to Viola Davis’s Emmy award-winning performance, has consistently been one of the best parts of the show. And yet, early on, we know so little about her—about her motivations, her desires, her emotions. Any time the show does uncover any of those psychological underpinnings of the character, it often leads to some of the best moments on the show. The vulnerability of the scene where she removes her wig and makeup last season certainly stands out. Annalise is often a larger-than-life character. Her students certainly view her as a god-like figure with all-knowing power. And sometimes she’s so good at her job that she does indeed have a superhero quality to her. But season one eventually made significant strides toward complicating Annalise and letting us learn more about this woman outside of the fact that she’s a tough teacher and ruthless attorney. Small character moments shed light on who she is and what she wants. This dynamic and history she has with Eve continues that work.

This episode, written by Peter Nowalk, really just proves how easy it is to write queer characters and queer narratives into a show. The fact of the matter is, most straight characters on television never explicitly state that they’re straight. It’s because heterosexuality in media, just as in real life, is often just assumed as the norm. Annalise’s past with Eve isn’t random or out of nowhere. Sure, her queerness was never explicitly stated before now, but neither was her straightness. The writers have as much freedom to write in an ex-girlfriend as they do an ex-boyfriend. The fact that Annalise is married to a man absolutely does not erase her queerness, and the How To Get Away With Murder writers understand that.

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The fact that I at all doubted the romantic subtext of the first couple of scenes between Eve and Annalise speaks volumes to television’s heteronormativity. Let’s be real: The second Eve enters the picture, she and Annalise speak to each other like exes. Eve tells Nate she and Annalise “were good friends” in law school, but everything about her body language with Annalise and the tension in how the two speak to each other says there’s something more than friendship here. The best moments of “It’s Time To Move On,” in fact are scenes between Janssen and Davis, which makes me believe the How To Get Away With Murder writers have become well aware of the show’s secret weapon: Put Davis in a scene with any other formidable actress, and it’s going to be magical. This was true last season with Marcia Gay Harden and Cicely Tyson, and it’s true for Janssen, who holds her own while sharing the screen with Davis, who continues to be a powerhouse in this premiere. Janssen and Davis do a superb job of subtly alluding to their characters’ past in their layered performances.

But again, I’m so used to watching shows that hint at queerness without ever fully taking the plunge that I still briefly wondered if I was seeing something that wasn’t there. Thankfully, I wasn’t. “It’s Time To Move On” takes the plunge and does so in a way that’s smart, satisfying, and so fun to watch. On television, queer characters are usually explicitly established as such from the top or undergo some sort of lengthy “coming out” process, so Annalise’s narrative feels radical for television. Murder has dealt with small but powerful radical moments since its pilot, and it seems poised to do so with even more confidence in season two.

And beyond just the radicalness of the Eve storyline, “It’s Time To Move On” is overall a very tight episode of Murder. As its urgent title suggests, “It’s Time To Move On” wastes no time. Right away, people get murdered, and people get accused of murder. The season premiere lays out a very similar floorplan as the pilot does for season one. No, there are no spinning cheerleaders this time. But overall, the setup is more or less the same: an interconnected web of murders leading up to a main mystery that likely won’t be solved until the season finale. Look: I’ve already said the word murder four—now five—times in this paragraph alone. That’s often how watching an episode of How To Get Away With Murder feels.

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But already, How To Get Away With Murder seems to have matured a bit. The characters still pull off implausible courtroom feats, and people seem to get away with murder a little too easily, but overall, “It’s Time To Move On” feels a little less messy than most of season one’s installments. “It’s Time To Move On” is balanced in a way Murder episodes rarely are, with just the right amount of time spent on each of the spinning stories. I’m glad the mystery of Rebecca’s murder isn’t drawn out too long, even though I’m not totally convinced by Bonnie’s motivations. Still, I think it would have been hard to become emotionally invested in the mystery of who killed Rebecca, and I’m glad the writers seem to understand what storylines require more time and which can get wrapped up pretty quickly. Because Annalise gasping for breath and bleeding out on the floor—that’s a whodunit I’m willing to take the long road for. Murder is almost always a very busy show, and “It’s Time To Move On” is no exception. But this episode feels a lot like organized chaos. There are strong character moments amid all the escalating plot developments, and there’s a sense that the writing is focused, even as a million things are happening at once.

Murder is always best when it leans more heavily on its serialized narrative structure, and this season premiere is almost all long-term plotting. There is technically a Case Of The Week that involves two young adults accused of killing their adoptive parents, but it’s a story that’s mostly on the sidelines. And when it is brought into play, it leads to some pretty fun moments like Annalise telling the defendants to call her when their current lawyer messes up (and then Team Keating ensuring that he does mess up via some classic sabotage). Plus, as we learn in flashforward, this case actually seems to tie into the seasonal arc. The pieces are pretty scattered as of now, but we do know some of the Clue details: Annalise with a gun in the library—well, it might not technically be a library, but it’s a fancy looking room in the mansion of the potential parent killers. And Annalise, it turns out, is the victim in this particular scenario.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to TV Club coverage of HTGAWM. I forgot how difficult it can be to review this show, and I got multiple hand cramps while taking notes for this premiere.
  • So about that final shot: I mean, Annalise was still breathing. Shondaland certainly is not a world where anyone’s fully safe, but I highly doubt this show is going to off its best character and only award-winning performer. With that being said, I still sure as hell want to know who would try to kill her. It’s a crazy twist, but then again it also isn’t: Annalise has at least two murderers on her team (Frank and Bonnie), so she’s pretty much at risk all the time.
  • Oliver and Connor continue to be adorable together, and their discussions here about HIV and PrEP feel a lot more real and nuanced than in the first season. This episode really isn’t playing around when it comes to smart writing about topics not typically brought up on network television.
  • I love a good dramatic entrance, and Eve’s is as dramatic as they get. The fact that she’s Annalise’s ex only adds more fuel to the fire.
  • Eve: “I lied. I think about you every day.”
  • I guess the Rebecca stuff isn’t totally wrapped up. There’s still the mystery of this Eggs911 person. I kind of hope Eggs911 is something who just really likes eggs.
  • The relationship between Annalise and Wes remains very perplexing and sometimes even nonsensical. Yes, the show has shed more light on Annalise’s ways over time, but I still haven’t really seen a reason to fully buy this special connection they have.
  • The slow-motion sequence of Annalise and her kiddos dancing in the club is pointless and yet perfect. I hope it’s the new spinning cheerleader.
  • I have said Lawyer Paris Geller a.k.a. Bonnie is in love with Annalise since the beginning, and I have renewed faith in that theory.

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