After praising the first two episodes from moving away from including cases of the week on top of the increasingly complicated serialized narrative of How To Get Away With Murder, of course tonight’s episode went ahead and threw a case of the week in there. But also, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Season two will have 15 episodes, and even though there are plenty of mysteries and twists to unspool before we get to the whole Annalise-dying-on-the floor thing, Murder can’t sustain itself on just those flashforwards alone.
The flashforwards are definitely working a lot better this season than last, mainly because there’s more at stake here than there was for Sam’s murder. The first season drew out Sam’s murder and its coverup for so long, and it was hard to care, because it was hard to care about Sam. He was a monster, and there was just no real reason to be emotionally invested in a lot of the show’s major reveals. But here in season two, the flashforwards provide plenty to invest in by placing Annalise’s life in danger. One could certainly argue that the stakes are lower in the sense that the chances of Annalise dying are extremely thin. But even just the fact that she comes close to dying is easier to get invested in than Sam’s murder.
Even though the Hapstall case gets the least amount of play it has all season, the episodic storyline that takes its place is one of the better side cases How To Get Away With Murder has handled in its entire run. For one, it helps that it’s backed by Sherri Saum, who is excellent as Tanya, who runs a sex club called Utopia Circle and is accused of involuntary manslaughter when one of her members has a heart attack during sex. Saum makes Tanya a very real character and gives a memorable, layered performance despite existing in a short episodic arc. And the ideas about sex, relationships, and sexuality that the case unearths make for a very compelling narrative that ties into some of Murder’s overall philosophies about human nature and desire.
Annalise makes it very clear in her classroom at the start of the episode that “It’s Called The Octopus” is about sex. But more than that, it’s about sex positivity. And the language used in the episode is far more complex, inclusive, and radical than a simple argument against shaming people for enjoying sex. That’s certainly a key component of sex positivity, but the episode pushes the idea even further by making an argument against shaming people for enjoying sex that doesn’t necessarily fit society’s normative definition of sex. In “It’s Called The Octopus,” characters—the regulars and the ones only here for this one episode—openly discuss different sex positions, sex parties, having multiple partners, lube, female orgasms, BDSM, and a whole slew of sexual preferences and experiences.
What’s more, the characters talking about their sex lives here aren’t all straight, white people in monogamous relationships. In fact, it’s mostly characters of color doing the talking. It’s one thing for a show to talk about sex, but Murder offers a range of different identities, making for a very inclusive episode that goes beyond simple representation. Oliver and Connor, two gay men in an interracial and serodiscordant relationship, have real sex lives that they talk about in addition to all of the emotional aspects of their relationship. That seems so simple and obvious, and yet it is still rare on network television when it comes to queer characters. Not only do the various diverse members of the sex party group Tanya runs express their enjoyment of sex, but Annalise Keating, the queer Black woman at the heart of this show does, too—and she has also expressed so in past episodes. How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t just try on sex positivity for an isolated episode; “It’s Called The Octopus” just underlines the show’s overall nuanced approach to identity and how people talk about sex.
The sex partygoers continue Murder’s acknowledgement of fluid sexuality that season two has hit even harder with the Annalise/Eve storyline. For network television, that’s all radical, and it just isn’t being done on other network shows—even ones on which characters regularly have and enjoy sex. Hell, this show has become so queer lately that I was fully convinced Michaela was going to hook up with that woman in the sex party…but of course she was just trying to manipulate her into testifying. (For the record though, I’m not ruling out a potential future hookup for Laurel and Michaela. Those two fight like schoolchildren with crushes, and Laurel also looked like she might cry when Michaela said she has never had an orgasm.)
How To Get Away With Murder might be the most unrealistic of any legal drama on television. I certainly have had a fair share of conversations with friends in law school who are so frustrated by the absurdity of the courtroom scenes that they can’t even watch anymore. And that’s certainly something I’m sympathetic to. In particular, the courtrooms scenes in Murder seem wildly out-of-control when compared to those on a show like The Good Wife, which certainly bends reality a bit for the convenience of story but does so in far less obvious ways than How To Get Away With Murder. Last week’s courtroom scenes stood on the emotional intensity of Annalise and Eve’s dynamic. This week’s are just as ludicrous and without the grounded character work to really make them all that engaging, which makes the lack of realism even more noticeable. It has gotten to the point where I think of these courtrooms as existing in some alternate reality where judges don’t really care about maintaining order or following procedures. This show demands suspension of disbelief in many other parts of its storytelling, and the lack of realism in its courtrooms just doesn’t bother me that much so long as the writing stays smart about things that really matter, like all the conversations that happen about sex and sexuality in this episode. In this particular case, the courtroom scenes do deserve the eye rolls they got from me, but they don’t detract from the overall story “It’s Called The Octopus” tells, and the episode overall remains sharp and intelligent, and the silliness of a few isolated moments doesn’t erase that.
The small part that the Hapstalls play here does tie into the overall theme of the episode. A tabloid scoop reveals what we’ve all been thinking: Sibcest, as the headline eloquently puts it. Caleb and Catherine deny it, but the photo is pretty conclusive, and one of the women who works in their mansion confirms that these two have always been a little off. The Hapstall case is a juicy one in the sense that it does make for great tabloid material, but as a serialized case on this show, it’s lacking substance. We know that it ties into Annalise’s fate, but right now it just doesn’t have the weight it should. Developing Caleb and Catherine a little more would be a step in the right direction.
- Eve is back in New York, but she sends a very classic “I miss your super comfy sheets…and you” email to Annalise.
- The major flashforward reveal is Nate’s involvement in the unfortunate events that transpire—though it’s not exactly clear in what capacity. What we learn in the present timeline is a little more interesting: Nate’s working with Wes, likely united because they were both betrayed by Annalise.
- I don’t really buy Frank’s sudden “get to know me” stunt with Laurel. It seems out-of-character, unless there is some other motive that comes along with it. I would like Laurel to get to know him better though, just so we can also learn more about who Frank is and what drives him.
- How cruel of the writers to make us believe Annalise was going to that sex party…only to have her show up at Nate’s doorstep. But yes, from a story perspective, it makes more sense.
- The vodka bottle in Annalise’s fridge literally looks like a water bottle. She is drinking even more this season than last, and I’m worried about her. Annalise needs a friend who doesn’t work for her.
- Asher is written as so stupid and ignorant that it is a lot for the show to ask us to become invested in whatever the fuck this Trotter Lake business is. Either he’s supposed to just be a dumb caricature for a laugh here or there or he’s a real, complex character. His dialogue is written with the former in mind, but his storyline seems to adhere to the latter, and it just isn’t working.
- Annalise calls Wes to kill a mouse in her basement, because Annalise and Wes’s relationship continues to be the most confusing part of this show.
- That hotdog bit was too much, and someone should have said so before it ever went to production.