Friday, September 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'How to Get Away With Murder' - Rebecca's Killer is Revealed as a New Case Begins in 'It's Time to Move On'

ABC's How to Get Away With Murder - Episode 2.01 "It's Time to Move On"

Annalise and her students must move on with their lives, but the students are still reeling over Rebecca's disappearance. Only Annalise and Frank know that Rebecca was murdered and are determined to find out who killed her. Annalise takes on a case with a brother and sister who are accused of killing their parents. An old friend surprises Annalise at home and teaches her a valuable lesson.

This past Sunday, Viola Davis won the Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her work as Annalise Keating on the first season of How to Get Away With Murder. It is a tour de force performance that deserved the honor. She also gave the most memorable speech of the night marking the historic win and how important it is for the representation of woman and people of color in the medium. It was truly spectacular. And now, the show returns for its second season bound to be an even more impressive vehicle for Davis. This season premiere adds a whole new lair of representation for Davis to play. Not only is Annalise a dark-skinned leading lady who is complex, complicated and sexualized, she is now a bisexual person of color. That was a fantastic reveal in this opening hour and proves that there are still so many things to learn about her character.

Davis was often the best thing about the first season though. The rest of the narrative was a mess populated by characters who were all varying degrees of bland. Connor was the only other character who stood out in a good and meaningful way. But that largely came from his relationship with Oliver being the most personal story that revolved around any of the supporting performers. It had a purpose when everything else felt like plot mechanics. That quality still very much exists in this first episode of Season 2. No one else especially stands out even though Bonnie and Frank have significantly more to do than they did for most of the first season. "It's Time to Move On" spends equal amounts of time tying up all the loose ends from the previous year and establishing a new story for all the characters to get involved with this year.

It's a very good thing that the show revealed who killed Rebecca in this episode. That wasn't a mystery that deserved to be drawn out over multiple episodes. It creates tension for this episode while also maintaining a sense that these characters are smart. Annalise and Frank aren't able to keep it a secret that she is dead for that long - even though it's just suspicion on everyone else's part. Annalise is worried about Wes - which is more than any reasonable human being can stay. He has always been such a bland and boring character. Not even the illusion of him potentially being a killer for a little while is enough to make the performance interesting. That's a major problem that probably won't be fixed anytime soon - especially considering the show loves playing the awkward sexual/maternal moments between him and Annalise. But Wes is not Rebecca's killer. Bonnie is. That is a compelling twist. But it's never adequately explained why she felt she needed to do this for Annalise or even how Annalise figured it out. It's played for shock value. The character who's largely in the background listening to every conversation is the one with the monstrous tendencies. But the show takes some very clear narrative leaps here. They don't immediate pay off either. Annalise gets to call Bonnie a monster. But there's no clarity that this action will have any repercussions whatsoever. It will further alienate Annalise and Bonnie. But what purpose will that have for the future? It's very unclear and that's very unstable ground to stand out right now for the show.

Meanwhile, the Keating 5 are doing their best to get Annalise as the new attorney for a brother and sister who are accused of killing their wealthy adoptive parents. It's not a story that is wrapped up in the span of one episode. Trying to juggle a case-of-the-week structure was a huge detriment to the first season. It stopped the show from gaining any sense of momentum or confidence. The action always had to stop in order to address the weekly concerns of people who will never be seen again while not really informing the actions of the regular characters. This new story teases something that will be a major concern for the season. Annalise desperately wants to get onto this case in order to keep working while Nate's trial is getting started. But it's also being teased as the new season long mystery that will affect all the characters.

This premiere keeps the flash-forward framework alive as well. It's just a very brief glimpse at the end of the episode. And yet, that's all that needed to be teased in this episode. This hour had a lot of story to cover. The tease at the end was all that was necessary in order to fuel excitement for the upcoming run of episodes this fall. Something is clearly going on with the family at the center of this ongoing case. First the parents are murdered and then the aunt who testified against them is. It may be too obvious to think either one of the siblings did it. But the show wants to keep that suspicion and doubt alive as well. It's all going to lead to one fateful night in two months time where a gun shot is heard inside their mansion, Wes is fleeing the scene, and Annalise is laying on the ground bleeding out and clinging to life. That's a great final image for the premiere. It also proves that the creative team learned from their mistake last season. Annalise is so important to the show. And yet, the flash-forwards were one third of the early episodes and they had nothing to do with her. She wasn't seen throughout those sequences. It was noticeable and the action simply wasn't as good. She eventually joined them but by then it was too late. This year she is the focus of the flash-forward from the very beginning. That tease is enough to land the hook for the season - even though it's highly unlikely that the show would actually kill off its best character. It will still be interesting to see what's going to happen though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It's Time to Move On" was written by Pete Nowalk and directed by Bill D'Elia.
  • Famke Janssen also debuts as Eve, Annalise's close friend from law school who happens to be her former lover who she left in order to be with and marry her therapist, Sam. She's fantastic. She is able to stand up to Annalise in a way that feels genuine and is capable of bringing out a different side of her that is just as compelling to watch.
  • Annalise also takes her students out dancing which is clearly a way for her to prove that she is still capable of being a fun person like she claims to Eve.
  • The show was trying way too hard to recreate a scene from the pilot where Annalise is asking a question to Wes, who doesn't know the answer. It didn't work as well this time around despite the added knowledge of the relationship between the two.
  • Michaela is still very worried about the person Rebecca texted "Eggs 911" to. It's a low energy mystery for the premiere. Michaela worries but no one else does. She agonizes until she finally sends another message. How the other person responded will have to wait until next week - given that someone doesn't steal her purse before then.
  • Frank makes a passing reference about the type of environment Laurel grew up in because of her father. It has meaning for the characters but plays as just another meaningless mystery to be solved later.
  • Connor officially moves in with Oliver in order to show him just how he serious he still is about their relationship. Though that wasn't as great as him standing completely naked in front of Oliver.
  • Asher is a really horrible liar. If someone doesn't pick up on the fact that he is feeding information to the prosecution in Nate's case by next week, then maybe these characters aren't as smart as they claim to be.
  • Some extra got to speak in class for a change. That was very deliberate but the Keating 5 still dominated the screen time there. I still just don't understand why that setting continues to be important for the show. It's just so that Annalise can deliver her line about close relatives and lovers being the people most likely to do the crime.