“Oh my god, I hate her.” —Laurel, and also everyone in the world, about Rebecca Sutter
I firmly believe that characters do not have to be likable in order to be good characters. Obviously, right? The golden of age of TV is defined by the flawed antiheroes who lead its dark dramas. “Unlikable” has become a rather meaningless word in criticism. Worse, it has become gendered. Flawed women on TV are “unlikable,” and flawed men are antiheroes. You’ll find more people discussing the likability of Megan Draper or Betty Draper than you will of Don Draper.
I love the very flawed women of ShondaLand, the Shonda Rhimes-led production company behind How To Get Away With Murder. They go against conventions of how women should or should not behave; they’re imperfect; they’re fucking human. It’s why I love Scandal’s Mellie Grant more than any rational person should love a fictional character.
But How To Get Away With Murder’s Rebecca Sutter is a truly unlikable character. And by that, I don’t mean that she’s someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with. Some of my favorite characters on television are people who I wouldn’t spend a second of my time with if they were real. I dislike Rebecca because she’s, simply, a poorly written character. And that’s a pretty huge problem considering just how much of the season’s main murder arc turns on her, her actions, and other characters’ relationships to her.
Rebecca is little more than a loosely drawn sketch of a rebel girl at this point. She’s got the piercings and the dark hair and the zero-fucks-given attitude that all scream: I’m misunderstood! I’m edgy! I’m from the wrong side of the tracks!
But beyond the fact that she loves to point out just how different she is from the other characters of the show, we really don’t know who she is at all and what motivates her. Wes seems entirely convinced that she’s innocent, but I really have no idea, and what’s worse, I don’t care. Because that’s the fundamental issue when it comes to Rebecca. She can be unlikable for days, but if the show doesn’t give us some sort of reason to care about her, there’s little reason to care about the case.
And I’m even more confused about why the other characters care about her. This week’s episode seeks to provide context for Rebecca and Wes’ romantic relationship that we’ve been seeing for weeks in the flashforwards. All along, I’ve wondered why Wes seems so in love with her, why he’s willing to bend over backwards (slash possibly be convicted of murder) to protect her. And if this week was supposed to provide answers, I must have missed something. All I can really come up with is that Wes wants to protect Rebecca because he has some sort of knight in shining armor complex that makes him feel like he needs to save troubled women. Rebecca basically accuses him of such, but then quickly falls into his arms. If these two are really, truly in love, I really, truly don’t get it. Just as I still don’t really get Annalise and Sam’s relationship.
There’s some interesting, nuanced commentary on courtroom politics and the media going on in how Annalise defends Rebecca for most of the episode, which begins with a leak to the media that co-defendants Rebecca and Griffin had sex on the night of Lilah’s murder. Annalise argues that the information was leaked by Griffin’s lawyer in an effort to defame Rebecca. “It’s a woman who gets vilified in these scenarios,” she points out, showing the judge that it’s Rebecca’s face plastered all over the news instead of Griffin’s. The episode subtly conveys the sexism at play in the courtroom, where Rebecca has to appear without her usual dark makeup, without her piercings, and with her hair all curled up, looking like what many think a “good girl” should look like. Annalise accuses the prosecutor of trying for the easier conviction. After all, it’s easier to paint the “towny slut” as a murderer rather than the “virgin quarterback.”
But all of this is completely undermined by, again, the fact that we’re not exactly rooting for Rebecca. And then undermined even more so by Annalise and Rebecca’s plan to shift blame to Griffin: Annalise has Rebecca defy the gag order put in place by the judge by telling the media Griffin raped her. Now, I really, really, really wanted to find a way to explain that this could actually be true, that Annalise figured out that Griffin had assaulted Rebecca and wanted to bring it to light in the court. But there’s absolutely nothing in the episode that indicates that. In fact, the writing completely suggests that the accusation is merely a strategy, a dirty attempt to defame Griffin in the same way the first leak defamed Rebecca. And the show doesn’t seem interested at all in dissecting just how harmful a testimony like Rebecca’s could be for survivors. In fact, none of the characters seem affected by it at all. Wes is mad for like a sec but then has sex with Rebecca in a very confusing and disturbing montage that flicks between their sex scene and the round two autopsy of Lilah Stangard. (Can we please just get more Connor sex scenes instead? So much better.) Annalise has shown she has a do-anything-to-win philosophy, but advising her client to publicly lie about rape is too far of a step into depravity for the character.
I didn’t hate everything about this episode. In fact, I really liked most of the moments when Rebecca was nowhere to be found. Drunk Asher and Connor going out on assignment in the club provides plenty of comedy (although Wes, as usual, is a complete wet blanket). And all of the side plots going on this week embody the recurring theme of controlling your own image. Michaela doesn’t let on to the others when her interview with a law firm turns out to actually be a meeting to discuss the terms of her prenup. And Connor let’s the rest of the team believe he’s still Middleton’s top playboy when really he’s pining over Oliver. Meanwhile, Laurel let’s her do-gooder boyfriend believe she would leave Annalise to help him out at Legal Aid, but then she’s making out with Frank on a porch.
All of these stories work nicely together, showing just how badly these characters want to control the way they’re seen by others. They also really start to get at what these characters want, which is what I’ve been begging for more of from this show. Most of them are searching for impossible things: Michaela wants to be the perfect student and the perfect fiance, but she also wants total control over everything. Connor wants to be the ultimate player, but also, it would seem, longs for the security Oliver provided. Asher wants people to think he deserved getting where he is on his own merit, but he’s also a privileged asshole to the bone. Laurel, since the beginning, has wanted to be on the side of the morally good, but she’s starting to realize that that isn’t so easy.
I’m reminded of the pilot, when Michaela says “I want to be her” about Annalise. While I still have a lot of questions about the psyches of these characters, I think they all, in a way, want to have what they perceive Annalise has: power and prestige. But little holes are being poked in all their hopes and dreams, and they’re starting to realize the fantasy of it all.
Then there’s Wes. I don’t really know what Wes wants. All I know is that he likes mint chocolate chip ice cream.
- I will never not be amazed at how Viola Davis can so perfectly sell the most ridiculous lines. “Speak of the devil, and she shall appear” is so soapy and melodramatic, but you know what? She makes it fucking work.
- I’m also amazed at just how much dialogue is packed into every single episode of this show. It’s hard to keep up a lot of the time, and there’s hardly a moment of silence. But that’s also why it’s so frustrating that we still don’t have many answers by way of character motivations. They’re talking a lot, but are they really saying anything?
- Rebecca gets all teary eyed after Lilah’s mother testifies and claims that Lilah was her friend, but then why is she so damn flippant about it all the time?! Rebecca, I just want to understand you.
- Oliver has moved on! I’m rooting for you, Oliver!
- The miscarriage reveal felt a little hamfisted, no?
- If you’re looking for my #WhoKilledSam theories, just know that most of mine are completely absurd. I’d love for it to be someone unexpected like Michaela or Connor or Frank’s beard, which during the course of this episode, basically became a character on its own. Honestly, anyone could kill Sam, because Sam sucks. I volunteer to kill Sam.
- Who misses a pregnancy in an autopsy?! I have some serious doubts about the medical professionals in this show.
- “Millstone meatsicle.”