How to Get Away with Murder is my first foray into the world of Shonda Rhimes, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. The episode had many great moments (Alfie Enoch aka Dean Thomas from Harry Potter! Upended sexual tropes! Viola Davis!) and the twist at the end…well, I wasn’t expecting that.
Before I get into the recap, let’s lay out our cast of characters. There are quite a few we have to keep up with, so for that, I turn to ABC to help us.
Annalise Keating (Viola Davis)
Annalise Keating is everything you hope your Criminal Law professor will be – brilliant, passionate, creative and charismatic. She’s also everything you don’t expect – sexy, glamorous, unpredictable and dangerous. As fearless in the courtroom as she is in the classroom, Annalise is a defense attorney who represents the most hardened criminals – people who’ve committed everything from fraud to arson to murder. Annalise seems like she has it all – a successful career and a loving husband, Sam – but soon she will be forced to confront secrets about her life she never saw coming.
Det. Nate Lahey (Billy Brown)
Nate Lahey is a tough, respected Philadelphia detective who works tirelessly to uphold the law. There’s only one person that can get in the way of that… Annalise Keating. Assertive and sharp, Nate doesn’t allow people to play games with him. As a result, Nate is one of the only people Annalise can really be herself around. But that doesn’t mean they’re entirely honest with each other…
Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch)
Wes Gibbins is a born leader… he just doesn’t know it yet. With his boy-next door charm, Wes comes to Middleton Law School as an outsider. But under the wing of Annalise Keating, Wes will quickly learn the dark truths of the criminal justice system while stumbling upon some of Annalise’s most personal secrets. The more time he spends with her, the less innocent Wes becomes.
Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee)
Connor Walsh is the smartest person in the room… or at least he likes to think so. A sexy, sly heartbreaker, Connor is used to getting any prize he lays his eyes on, ensuring that he and Michaela will constantly be in competition with each other. No matter how dirty the deed, he’ll go to any lengths to earn Annalise’s admiration. But what’ll happen when she pushes him a step too far? Will his natural confidence be able to carry him through a much darker journey?
Rebecca Sutter (Katie Findlay)
Rebecca Sutter plays her music so loud the walls vibrate… which isn’t ideal for Wes, his next-door neighbor. A bartender at an off campus bar, Rebecca is no stranger to Middleton students…and their various vices. Her edgy, take-no-crap attitude scares most people away, but Wes recognizes that her pierced, intimidating exterior is just a cover for a much more haunted, vulnerable side – especially when she’s pulled into the mystery surrounding the murder of a popular campus coed.
Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King)
Nobody wants to impress Professor Annalise Keating more than Michaela Pratt. In fact, she doesn’t just want to impress her… she wants to be her. Michaela is an ambitious overachiever who was born knowing how to “lean in,” and she has the stellar resume and successful fiancé to prove it. Always the first person to raise her hand in class, Michaela is exceedingly over prepared and ready to amaze any professor or person of authority. But Annalise Keating? Will prove more difficult.
Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry)
Asher Millstone was born into a world of Ivy League educations and country club memberships. To his classmates, he’s an entitled, uber-prepared know-it-all, but Annalise knows something about Asher that will surprise the rest of the students – and end up making him a pivotal member of the firm.
Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza)
Laurel Castillo is a secret weapon in the making. A quiet, sensitive idealist who enrolled in law school to learn how to defend the less fortunate, Laurel manages to stay under the radar, making it easy for her fellow classmates to underestimate her. With a profound attention to detail and inventive mind, she’s talented – and darker – than anyone realizes, including Annalise.
Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber)
Frank Delfino’s a local Philly boy who never thought he’d be the type of guy who wears a suit to work. But he also never thought he’d get to work for someone like Annalise Keating. Forever loyal and armed with hometown connections, Frank is ready to do Annalise’s dirty work at every turn. His street-smart, tough-guy exterior makes him the ideal protector for Annalise. His number one vice though? Sleeping with the students.
Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil)
Bonnie Winterbottom appears sweet and kind, the perfect counterpart to Annalise, but she will show her claws when you least expect it. As Annalise’s dedicated associate, Bonnie works around the clock to do all the behind-the-scenes casework, as well as help guide the students. Though she may reprimand Frank about his questionable decisions when it comes to his personal life, she is his biggest ally and protector. Besides, Frank knows that Bonnie has secrets too.
Okay, official descriptions out of the way—let’s dive into the episode.
We’re seeing the episode from the point of view of Wes, who has been described as the “puppy” of the show. He certainly is, with his wide eyes and “Gee Whiz!” innocent attitude. Unfortunately, that amount of childlike wonder is going to be drained out of him after he’s finished with Annalise Keating, his Criminal Law 101 teacher.
Viola Davis is astounding as Annalise, who is at once commanding and intimidating, alluring and mysterious. She puts Wes and the class up to the arduous task of helping her defend her client, the “Aspirin Assassin,” or would-be assassin; the description of the client is that she used to be the secretary/lover of a prominent law professor. The professor still had the wife in the picture, and the client, in an alleged jealous rage, switches his blood pressure medicine for plain aspirin, leaving him nearly brain dead.
Everyone has their way of getting information; Connor uses his body and sex appeal to lure Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) a nerdy, horny, lonely IT guy into giving up a vital email message (as well as a lot more in the bedroom). Michaela uses her wits and intense research skills to find out that the law professor’s other female assistant had colorblindness, causing her not to know if the pills were actually aspirin or blood pressure medication.
And poor Wes, who stays up all night and endures his snippy neighbor Rebecca’s heavy metal music, finally comes up with a theory, only to have it squashed by Annalise when he comes to her house.
But unfortunately, being called everything but an idiot isn’t the only thing Wes had to deal with while at Annalise’s. Wes, who is constantly in the wrong place at the right time in this episode, just happens to walk in on Annalise getting oral sex from a guy we had no idea we’d see later on in the episode.
While attending a college function, Wes and his law school colleagues also realize another harsh truth about Annalise. She’s married! Her husband, Sam (Tom Verica) is also a college professor, and Wes is once again confronted by Annalise while in the bathroom of all places. Annalise puts on an act—is it real or is it fake?—crying and blubbering to Wes about she and Sam’s marital stresses (apparently, they’re trying to have a baby). Wes is all too happy to promise not to tell anyone, but just to further seal the deal, Annalise lays on her gratefulness rather thick, almost to the point of nearly seducing the poor kid. When he leaves and she’s still there, wiping away her tears in the mirror, you wonder if she’s really as upset as she looks. As we’ve learned throughout the episode, she’s generally a hard nut to crack and knows a lot about human psyche (and how to exploit it).
All the while this case has been happening, another case has been developing. This case, surrounds the disappearance of Lisa Stanguard (Megan West), a popular co-ed who was dating the school jock, Griffin O’Reilly (Lenny Platt). Somehow, Rebecca is attached to Lisa and the events surrounding her disappearance, as, again, Wes stumbles upon when he finds Rebecca and Griffin loudly arguing. Griffin appears to be an abusive guy; we see Rebecca crumpled on the floor and as Wes goes to help her, she yells at him to get out.
It’s later on that Rebecca apologizes to Wes via a stolen bottle of booze from her bartending job. Wes sees a gentler side to her and perhaps there are some sparks there. But Wes has another woman who’s taking up a lot more space in his mind.
In the end, Annalise was able to save her client from jail by putting that guy we saw earlier in the episode on the stand. Turns out the guy that was with Annalise is Det. Nate Lahey. Nate was supposed to be logging in and investigating evidence when he was with Annalise, and, with his job on the line, he decides to tell as much of the truth as he can without getting himself or Annalise in trouble. However, if I were him, I’d really want to take her down if she’s going to backstab me. Why not just admit to everyone in the court that he was sleeping with her? She’d get in just as much trouble as him; there’s no need to save her neck. But perhaps I have a bit of a petty streak.
Did anyone catch the relationship there was between the wife and the Aspirin Assassin? If someone could clarify to me what was happening there, that’d be great. I’m assuming they were in cahoots to off the law professor and go about their lives together. Am I reading too much into it?
The Aspirin Assassin is saved, our main kids make it to an apprenticeship in Annalise’s office, and all is great, right? Wrong. Wes thinks he’s gotten his position because of what he knows about Annalise, and confronts her about this. She says that he got it solely on his own merits and because he’s a piece of moldable clay that can become something greater than what he is. She didn’t use the exact terms “moldable clay,” but she can certainly see that he is, in fact, someone she can mold to fit exactly what she needs for whatever purpose she needs him for.
Could that purpose have been having a hand in offing Sam? The whole time, I had assumed that either the body was a fake body the students were using to reenact a murder or the actual body of Lisa Stanguard. It was only at the end of the episode that we see it’s Sam in that rug.
If we rewind to when Sam is still alive, we’ll see that he taught Lisa and was distraught about her body being found in the water tower. Of course, when Annalise says, “I bet the boyfriend did it,” you might at first think she’s talking about Griffin. And she could be. But she could also very well be talking about Sam, which would give her lots of motive.
But is it Annalise who’s the killer? Or has she made Wes so loyal of a boytoy that he’ll be willing to kill for her? Or is it any of the other students? Or Rebecca? Or Griffin? We won’t know until Rhimes wants us to know.
I’ll end with this; I think it’s very clever and astute of Rhimes to subvert the usual sexual norms we see on television. Generally, in this Mad Men world we live in, we generally see the men who have prowess both in the professional and sexual worlds, with the women being the ones who service them (in whatever way you take “service” to mean). But instead, we have Annalise, a black woman, as this type of character. This character is so rare that I dare say she’s the first one we’ve seen on mainstream television.
What did you think about this episode? Who do you think is the killer? Write your theories below!
Descriptions and character photos: ABC
Episodic photo credit: Nicole Rivelli