Friday, October 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'How to Get Away With Murder' - Annalise and the Team Talk About Sex in 'It's Called the Octopus'

ABC's How to Get Away With Murder - Episode 2.03 "It's Called the Octopus"

When Annalise takes on a new client, the team must investigate a very high end sex club to get answers. Annalise is still representing the siblings accused of killing their parents, but the case takes a turn for the worse when a new motive surfaces. Wes teams up with an unexpected ally.

In the early episodes of How to Get Away With Murder's first season, it used a case-of-the-week structure in order to highlight key personality traits of its regular characters. It never worked all that well because the show was juggling way too many things. That kept it from telling a comprehensive episodic story. So the characters largely remained broad archetypes circling around Viola Davis' magnificent performance. The character work of the show still leaves plenty to be desired. However, the start of the second season has been a vast improvement because the show has streamlined its interests a lot. There is still a complicated legal case. But the show has smartly made it something of ongoing concern as well as directly connected to the flash-forwards the show insists on having. Unfortunately, "It's Called the Octopus" returns to a case-of-the-week structure and the show suffers because of it.

This episode is a lot of fun and sexy. And yet, it also wants to shoehorn a theme into every single story. It builds everything around sex even though it's not all that natural. Revelations do occur but they lack value and substance. It plays as what the episode needs to do in order to connect everything around sex. It forces the thematic value ahead of the plot and characters. That's messy. Sure, sexy times are able to distract from that a little bit. This cast is very attractive. It's nice seeing them get it on. But that can only cover shoddy plotting up for so long. By the end of the episode, it's hard to understand why the characters do what they do. It can't even be blamed on passionate reasoning. Stuff happens to create shocking moments - even if they don't always make sense.

Annalise takes on the case of a sex club owner accused of killing a man during the act. It's a rather straight-forward case even though it once again goes for the theatrics of the courtroom. The women is guilty but Annalise is able to redirect all the blame onto the widow. It's horrifying watching how coldly Annalise is able to do that. And yet, it is also completely ridiculous. When she is questioning the widow, she is allowed to go much further and more over-the-top in her declarations than any judge would realistically allow. It's a part of the show's sensationalism of practicing the law. The details don't have to be right in order to create a compelling story. However, this one just never really comes together in an exciting way.

This story about sex leads to an open discussion amongst the law students. Their personal lives are still being actively explored by the show. They all have personal dynamics and storylines. It does lead to a semi-cluttered episode. Both Connor and Michaela finally get to enjoy some hot and passionate sex. They've been waiting for it and now it has finally arrived. Meanwhile, Bonnie and Asher break up because he poorly covers for his big lie of working with the prosecution against Annalise. It's a story that hints and suggests a tragedy in his past. But right now, it's all just cryptic dialogue with no substance to it. Additionally, Laurel wants to get to know Frank like he told her too. And yet, it's a very frustrating story because he doesn't seem to want to open up at all. He forced her into this position. He can't just withheld information now because he feels like it. That character is starting to make very little sense. Of course, that's better than what Wes is right now. Apparently, he's the guy Annalise feels comfortable with calling in the middle of the night to kill a rat. He's able to recognize Michaela's new boyfriend from the brief glance he saw of Rebecca's picture of him. The lingering feelings and search for answers with Rebecca isn't that strong of a story right now. It was way too complicated. The show was best to address it quickly and move past it. And yet, Wes refuses to do that and is getting in the show's way of moving forward.

Things become even more troubling for Annalise though. It's always fun watching her drink by herself. The loneliness of the character is very much a crucial detail. She is able to do all of these horrible things in court knowing that she returns home to an empty house and no one who loves her. And yet, that's not completely true because the first two episodes of the season established this huge love story between her and Eve. So that doesn't track well. The fear that comes from being in an empty house and hearing something that could be a burglar is a played out device used to add tension and suspense to the narrative for a little bit. Her drinking was fun. Her fearing that someone is in her house and may do her harm wasn't - especially when the payoff is just a rat and Wes coming to deal with it. Sure, it is explained later that Asher was there as well stealing her recording device. But that's inconsequential to Annalise's story. All of this talk about sex builds to her reaching out to Nate to see how he's doing. Apparently, she isn't done fighting for their big love story yet. That makes very little sense. It's understandable that she wants to do the right thing by getting his charges dropped and getting his old job back after she framed him in the first place. But their love connection never felt genuine. So it's puzzling why the show thinks it is right now when she has a much stronger bond with Eve. Just because she's gone doesn't mean she is forgotten.

Annalise showing up on Nate's doorstep pleading for the two of them to have a happy future largely happens to set up a surprise reveal. Wes has gone to Nate in order to get more answers about Rebecca. Wes and Rebecca's foster brother both want to know what happened to her. But that doesn't make this story or final reveal any more interesting. In fact, it just plays towards the flash-forward sequence in the very end that shows Nate calling out for Wes, Connor, Michaela and Laurel to get into his car. It establishes that that collection of people now know who each other are. But it's nothing more than a surprise that happens in the future while not offering any unique shading or nuance in the present.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It's Called the Octopus" was written by Joe Fazzio and directed by John Turlesky.
  • Isn't it hilarious that The Fosters star Sherri Saum pops up in an episode that introduces an adopted sibling romance story?
  • Who in their right mind brings their children to their father's murder trial when the primary focus is about his illicit sexual doings? That played simply for the shock value and to increase the value of the despicable thing Annalise was doing.
  • The hotdog bit with the one person from the deadly sex party was just horrible. It never should have been a thing produced - let alone make it into the episode.
  • Caleb and Catherine need to start becoming more interesting characters. They can't simply be the clients of the big case of the season and not have much personality to them. It should at least be possible that they are capable of committing this heinous crime. Right now, they are too passive to seem like viable candidates.
  • The show has truly embraced the idea that sexuality is fluid in these three episodes of Season 2 so far. It's a great approach to storytelling too - even if the characters aren't the strongest.