Viola Davis (ABC)
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One of my only issues with the How To Get Away With Murder pilot was just how much was going on and how a lot of it didn’t really seem to connect. This week, we don’t necessarily get a lot of answers, but we do start to see that all of the spinning pieces like Sam’s murder, Lila’s murder, and the coverup and fallout for both aren’t necessarily spinning independently of each other but on some sort of shared space…which is also spinning. That’s all to say that there’s still a heck of a lot happening on How To Get Away With Murder, and it’s simultaneously impressive and somewhat worrying that the show is weaving such an intricate web this early on.

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The case of the week deals with Marjorie St. Vincent, a department store empire heiress found stabbed 16 times in her bed. The alleged killer is her husband Max (Steven Weber). He’s creepy, overtly sexual, and sardonic, even when accused of homicide. If you watch The Good Wife, that should all sound very familiar. Max comes off as a blatant ripoff of the eccentric “wife killer” Colin Sweeney. But Weber’s performance doesn’t come even close to that of Dylan Baker on The Good Wife, and Max ends up seeming like a deflated Sweeney. And because the character never quite clicks, the first twist of the episode—when Max pleads guilty to murdering his first wife in order to prove he didn’t murder his second wife—doesn’t have as much shock value as the dramatic camerawork and music might suggest.

But while the court case doesn’t add much this week, the other storylines work quite well. Again, we jump between timelines, and this week, the organization feels much tighter. In the present, we revisit some of the scenes we saw in the pilot but in slightly new ways. We see how the coin flip from the very first scene of the series falls: on tails, meaning the gang has to go back to retrieve the body of Annalise’s husband Sam and further implicate themselves in his murder.

We also see the other side of the gas station scene: Wes makes a call to the person who they’re all presumably covering up for. And the series doesn’t try to draw out the reveal of who the person on the other line is: At episode’s end, we learn it’s mysterious neighbor girl Rebecca… who’s also tied up in the murder of Lila… who was maybe sleeping with Annalise’s husband according to some suspiciously casual emails from Lila to Sam signed intimately with just “L.”

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Part of the reason why the back-and-forth between the two timelines works so well this week is because it’s even more clear that all of these characters have gone through major transformations in between. Most notably, covering up-a-murder Wes is a lot more fun to watch than sweet innocent Wes, who Bonnie rightfully refers to as “the puppy.” Alfred Enoch is doing a fine job, but he isn’t given much to do other than cock his head to the side in wide-eyed shock for everything happening around him. He’s the boring straightman in a series about wonderfully complex humans, but the Wes we see barking orders and lying and making out with someone who might very well be a murderer (although, who really cares at this point? Mysterious neighbor girl has yet to prove she’s anything more than a dark-eyeshadowed cliché) hints that there could be more to the waitlister.

But the biggest transformation from past to present that we’re destined to see unfold over the course of the season happens in the character dynamics. In the past, Annalise pits her student team against one another, teaching them to find each others’ weaknesses and compete for the coveted get-out-of-exam-free statue that goes to her top performer. But in the present, the students are thrust together, forced to work with each other to cover up a murder using what they’ve learned. They’re hardly a team: Wes lies to the others, who don’t trust his allegiances, and everyone’s shouting at everyone all the time. But they’re still in this together.

Viola Davis once again proves she’s nearly too good for this show, selling the hell out of a Shondaland monologue uttered almost entirely in a whisper. “We’re all capable of terrible things,” Annalise says to secret cop boyfriend, spelling out what is undoubtedly the show’s thesis. Anyone—no matter how quiet or nice or pretty they are—could be a murderer. Here, she’s specifically talking about her husband, and the way her fears that he could be a killer manifest in this moment of vulnerability with her side boo is extremely powerful. Annalise deals with murderers and gruesomeness every day. She doesn’t hesitate to show her young students photos of a bloodied crime scene. She doesn’t care about who really murdered Marjorie so long as she can get her client off. But it’s a whole different game now that the monster could be the man she shares a bed with.

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Stray observations:

  • Because I decided last week that Bonnie is actually Paris Gellar post-identity change, this week I’m following up with a new fantasy headcanon: Annalise was rocking some serious statement necklaces tonight, including a thick chain that she surely borrowed from The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart, because the two are awesome power lady lawyer pals. Again, let me have this.
  • “I look nice, I know. It’s just my face.” I love Lawyer Paris Gellar (Bonnie) so much, y’all.
  • For the second week in a row, Annalise and her team slow-motion strut out of the courtroom, and you know what? I’m OK with it.
  • I hope Annalise writes something on the chalkboard in every episode, because her chalksmanship is beautiful.
  • Matt McGorry plays a douchebag so perfectly. From “Kind of agree with her, yo” to “Wait, you’re gay?,” he has some of the funniest lines of the episode and also reminds me of every single guy I ever despised in college.
  • More interracial queer sex happens! (But I’m concerned about the fact that they completely forgot about their takeout food.)
  • There was a shoutout to Maria/Captain Von Trapp, which I’m always here for.
  • I really liked the detail that the students could hear Annalise yelling at Sam. Television often ignores the fact that most walls aren’t thick enough to block out sound. It’s totally believable that they would be able to hear (and that Annalise wouldn’t give a shit that they can).
  • I’m still referring to Annalise’s husband as Flop White Husband in my notes.
  • Was anyone else picking up on sexual chemistry between Laurel/Bonnie or was that just my wishful thinking?

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