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Leave it to Cicely Tyson to bring on the best episode How To Get Away With Murder has done since the pilot. Tonight, she shows up on Murder as Annalise’s mother, in what I truly hope ends up being an Emmy-award winning guest star appearance.

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If I thought Marcia Gay Harden and Davis were giving an acting masterclass in their scenes together last week, well the combination of Tyson and Davis takes it to a whole new level. Everything from their line delivery to their physicality adds layers to the performances. The moments between Annalise and her mother are certainly the best parts of the episode and include both small and large details that are revolutionary for network television, like the intimate and honest image of Annalise’s mother combing out her hair. There’s pain in every one of their scenes, and Davis and Tyson handle that pain in a way that’s raw and doesn’t hold back. There are even unspoken things that cut as deeply as some of their words. It’s the most compelling story—and character—work Murder has done in a long time.

The rest of the episode is admittedly not as cogent. First of all, there’s a whole lot going on here, and a lot of the non-Annalise-driven plots going on are a bit muddled. With Annalise unable to work, Bonnie takes over the case of the week and quickly learns that she’s sure as hell no Annalise. It’s kind of fun to watch her fail, and Liza Weil gives her best performance to date, mostly because she’s finally given something to do. In the micro sense, it makes her contributions to the episode truly enjoyable. But zoom out and it only proves that she’s an under-utilized actor on the show. Bonnie hasn’t really been developed as a character. She doesn’t even really make a whole lot of sense as a character. So it’s a little jarring to see Bonnie take up such a large chunk of the story this week.

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She tries her best to represent a nurse who has been wrongfully accused of raping a patient, and she comes through in the end, although she plays her final card with a bit more frenzy and less slow-motion coolness than Annalise probably would have. The case itself probes many of the harmful assumptions about rape perpetuated by rape culture, especially when Bonnie tries to use the patient’s sexual orientation against him. The judge, thankfully, shuts that shit down. “This is a crime not about sex; it’s about power,” the prosecuting attorney in the case says in her opening arguments. “And anyone can be a victim.” Even though the whole case turns out to be a setup, these words are super important.

Once again, the students seem to spend more time off to the side this week, and I’m totally fine with that, especially since Davis and Tyson carry the episode so expertly. Connor is busy trying to be a good guy with Oliver. Wes is busy trying to figure out if his girlfriend is a murderer. Michaela tries to figure out what exactly Annalise is up to by framing Nate, even seeking out the assistant district attorney assigned to the case to try to get information. When Annalise calls her out for meddling, we learn the driving force behind Michaela’s actions: “He’s innocent…and Black.” That, along with the way she snaps at Laurel for telling her not to do anything stupid, are two of my favorite Michaela moments to date.

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And we finally have confirmation that Rebecca is evil. Well, maybe she’s not necessarily a murderer. But she is tracking Wes’s phone, and there’s definitely some sort of connection between Rudy, Rebecca, and the water tower Lila Stangard was found in (although, how Wes determines that just from the word “wet,” I’m not really sure).

Stray observations:

  • Annalise’s mother informs us that Annalise’s birth name was Anna Mae, which very quickly became a trending topic on Twitter tonight.
  • Humpr returns.
  • When Oliver accused Connor of not introducing him to his friends and Connor’s all “they’re not my friends,” I realized that no one on this show really has friends.
  • “I want to be boyfriends again.” I love Oliver so much.
  • Annalise clearly has a plan with Nate, but I have no idea what it is, because as Bonnie taught us, only Annalise can think like Annalise.
  • I know I’ve made this pretty clear, but Tyson and Davis just really blew me away tonight. They had the most riveting energy I’ve seen on TV in a while. If only the rest of the show could match their force.
  • This show loves vodka like Scandal loves red wine.

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