Viola Davis, the parallel arcs woven together, and that shocking reveal at the end!
Not all the regular characters had solid introductions but presumably that will come with more episodes.
Has Shonda Rhimes just taught us How To Get Away With Murder?!
ABC debuted Shonda Rhimes’ latest series, How To Get Away With Murder, and what a premiere it was! Right from the start, we were pulled in by the revelation that the show’s title is to be taken quite literally. Four of Professor Annalise Keating’s students are shown to be in a post-murder panic, first trying to decide whether to call law enforcement, or to dispose of the body themselves and attempt to hide the crime. A flip of a coin determined that no cops would be called, though they’re nearly discovered when a campus officer begins to question what they’re doing with their professor’s rolled-up
because there’s a body in it rug, and finally they burn it in the woods. Interwoven with this portion of the show’s arc, we see those students entering law school three months prior and beginning their studies and under the brilliant and also intimidating Professor Keating, who we learn has some secrets of her own. Let’s take a look at some of the stand-out parts of this juicy new Shondaland creation!
This just in: Viola Davis is EVERYTHING
This isn’t exactly breaking news. Viola Davis is a brilliant, well-rounded, experienced actress, even having been nominated for an Oscar twice. But in the role of Professor Annalise Keating, we not only see her in a contemporary setting, free from outlandish racial stereotypes, we are also treated to both powerful strength and emotional vulnerability from her in just the first episode. She runs her class with an iron first, and her students struggle to impress her. Her good opinion is not earned easily. Keating demands nothing short of excellence from her students. From the students’ jumping at the chance to answer the questions she poses on the first day of class, to the extreme lengths they’ll go to in order to help her with the “Aspirin Killer” case on which she is working, it is entirely clear who is in charge.
“Never take a learning opportunity away from another student, no matter how smart you need everyone to think you are.” ~ Professor Annalise Keating
Keating most certainly has a way with words, winning the first case we see her work, and Viola Davis delivers each line with conviction and precision. But it’s not long until we learn that Keating has more going on than a tremendously successful career. Her student, Wes Gibbons, catches her having sexual relations with man who we later learn is her boyfriend, despite the fact that she is already married. She confesses to Wes in private that the stress of unsuccessfully attempting to get pregnant has put a strain on her marriage. It seemed a bit off that she would convey such emotion to a stranger, especially a student, but no one can deny that Viola Davis performed it well. For a moment, we couldn’t help but wonder if Keating was faking the emotion in order to manipulate Wes into keeping her secret. Given her three steps given in her strategy to win the case, 1) Discredit the witnesses, 2) Introduce a new suspect, 3) We bury the evidence, it certainly seems likely that Keating and all these other (soon-to-be) lawyers will be sitting (un)comfortably in a moral grey area throughout this series.
Attention students, it’s time for role call
The four students who we see struggling to deal with a dead body are as follows: Wesley ‘Wes’ Gibbons (Alfred Enoch – yes, that’s Dean Thomas from Harry Potter), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), and Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza). The introductions to their characters in the flashback were solid, as each student was shown to be distinct from the others, despite their having all chosen to pursue the same field to study. Wes is the underdog, having been admitted to the university last-minute off the wait list, and has a great deal to prove to his peers, Keating, and himself. Connor is a gay narcissist, and arguably border-lining on sociopathic, as we saw him sleep with an unsuspecting man working for an advertising agency, just to pump some information out of him to help with Keating’s case. We couldn’t help but feel bad for this poor fool, who was clearly smitten by Connor’s devilish charm. But it also made us intrigued to see what sort of antics Connor will pull and just how far he’ll be willing to go in the name of his career and aspirations. Michaela is the overachiever, who majorly impressed both Keating and us, by extensively researching a tiny lead on the “Aspiring Killer” case, leading to the discrediting of a witness due to their being colour-blind. In that moment, we couldn’t help but raise a glass for hard work and girl-power. As for Laurel, she’s described as being idealistic, and perhaps a bit naive. Pursuing work in law will mean having to get her hands dirty. We’ll need to wait and see how her character develops on her journey through law school, and whether or not she will be cut out for it.
“Obviously you’ve never been to law school. This place is a dog fight, 24/7.” ~ Asher Millstone
In addition to these four law students, there’s Asher Millstone (played by Orange Is The New Black‘s Matt McGorry). We couldn’t help but wonder why it was that he wasn’t present during the scenes involving the dead body but this simply made us more excited to keep watching and have that three-month blank filled in. For now, seeing these students competing with one another is great material to work with. Competition will create conflict and fuel dramatic story lines, which we know Shonda Rhimes can pull off with both flair and substance. Plus, we are finally getting more of Alfred Enoch, which is never a bad thing. After getting a boost to his post-Harry Potter career with a guest appearance on BBC’s Sherlock, as well as a run in the Tom Hiddleston-lead production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (which we were fortunate enough to see live in London), there’s little doubt that he’ll make for an excellent supporting lead.
Mysteries, Murders, and Mayhem… Oh My!
So much content was packed into this episode, both to introduce the characters and story, but also to set up the direction of where the show is headed. Wes learns from his neighbour that the former occupant of his apartment was also a law student, but they were apparently driven mad. Wes even finds deep scratches in the wall above his bead and a bite mark on the headboard of his bed. This is far too intense and dramatic to not be something explored further and had us scratching our heads wondering what on earth could have happened in that room… on that bed…
From the murder that the episode started and closed with, the attempted murder in the “Aspirin Killer” case that Professor Keating wins, and the murder of the missing student, Lila Stangard, the show is certainly living up to its title. Hopefully, this is just a teaser for more content that will delve deep into the psychology of murder, and explore those questions of what drives people to commit such a horrific crime.
“Think carefully. Everything after this moment will not only determine your career, but life. You can spend it in a corporate office drafting contracts and hitting on chubby paralegals before finally putting a gun in your mouth, or you can join my firm and become someone you actually like. So decide, do you want the job or not?” ~ Professor Annalise Keating
I had high hopes for this series, given Shonda Rhimes’ track record for strong character-driven content that inevitably ends up eliciting strong emotions, and because Viola Davis was cast as the lead. Happily, the premiere didn’t disappoint! Writer Peter Norwalk managed to cover so much ground in just 43 minutes (taking away commercial time), introducing us to many of our leads, setting up the story, and providing teasers of things to come. Director Michael Offer was able to navigate the parallel arcs set three months apart seamlessly, without having one be disruptive of the other. One of the things I am most excited about regarding this show is that the lead characters are predominantly social minorities. Keating, Wes, and Michaela are black, Laurel is Latina (actress Karla Souza is Mexican), and Connor is gay. To have so many characters on one show providing that representation without being tokens or stereotypes, is truly ground-breaking. Also, in the reveal of Keating’s affair, to have her be the recipient of sexual pleasure is another case of Shonda Rhimes pushing forward the liberation of female sexuality, and more importantly WOC sexuality. Finally, the revelation that the dead body the students are dealing with is Keating’s husband Sam genuinely shocked me! I knew it couldn’t have been Annalise herself, because what would the show be if you killed off the top-billed star, but I truly wasn’t sure whose body it was. Now I’m eager as ever to keep watching and see what leads to his demise!
Thoughts, Questions, Comments, Concerns…
- That introduction of the murder weapon (pictured above) and then bringing it back to give context as to what it is was ace! Plus, Keating referred to it as an “immunity idol,” so I’m sensing some poetic writing and symbolism there!
- No but seriously, Alfred Enoch. Who turned on the heat in here? I’m going to need to start watching this show in front of an air conditioning vent if I’m going to be dealing with those dimples.
- Is Matt McGorry going to have time to still be on OITNB? If he’s going to leave that show, those writers had better write some closure!
- Connor is so bad. But so good. I want back story, writers! He is too intriguing for you to just string me along without giving me more so I can geek out and psychoanalyse everything he does.
- How does Viola Davis not have an Oscar yet? That’s a rhetorical question, but come on, she is phenomenal! Viola Davis is coming for those Best Actress Emmys and Golden Globes and you had better believe I’ll be watching from home and cheering her on!
- Shonda Rhimes, please make the next regular character you add to this show be Asian. I’m still not over no longer having Christina Yang’s ferocious drive and intensity to look up to and enjoy every week. But thank you for everything you’re doing. All this representation is phenomenal!
How To Get Away With Murder Review: Episode 1×01 – Pilot
Jenevia Kagawa Darcy