How to Get Away with Murder 1.03: “Smile, Or Go to Jail”

I’ve never been great at remembering people’s names, and this show is not helping. The main cast is composed of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), five law students, two associate attorneys, and a handful of others. This episode doesn’t feature any onscreen murders, so waiting until they all die off isn’t an option. Looks like I’ll have to learn one new character each episode.

This week’s: Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King). I’ve mentioned her before as a teacher’s pet, and she’s just as straight-laced and ambitious as ever. We meet her fiancé, Aiden Walker (Elliot Knight) who seems nice enough. There’s a little drama, as he turns out to have old-school sexual history with another law student, the gay Don Juan Conner Walsh (Jack Falahee).

Ultimately, though, Michaela isn’t given much development aside from the obvious fact that she’s too stressed out from walking the edge between school and her relationship. And in this episode’s flashforward, we see her pushed over that edge, as she is the weakest link on the murder cover-up crew. While they take selfies at the party to serve as alibis, Conner has to yell the episode’s title at Michaela to get a forced smile.

Meanwhile, the case of the week is gripping, but not for a great reason: the actual content of the case is in flux. First, the defendant is a soccer mom (Ana Ortiz) accused of public sex in a park, and then she’s revealed to be wanted for an act of domestic terrorism in the 90s, and then Keating digs up an old flame, a brigade (cult) leader in jail, who arguably brainwashed the accused to commit the crime and can therefore get her off of the charge.

The twist from soccer mom to terrorist is shocking, sure, but there’s no way to foreshadow that, and it therefore, doesn’t feel to me like a satisfying direction. To their credit, the writers put this plot twist in the opening ten minutes of the show, so they get it out of the way early. However, the first character-based plot development—that the cult leader Gabriel Shaw (Jason Gedrick) agrees to testify, but turns against his old lover on the stand—is too predictable. Cult leaders are self-serving? Who knew.

Then, the final plot twist saves the whole plotline: the cult leader and the defendant run away together, having planned the entire thing to help him escape. That’s the end of the story. Our heroes don’t solve the case.

That’s a good sign for the series, since it shows the breadth of the stories that can be told. In a similar manner, there is never any doubt about whether the defendant is the guilty one, as her fingerprint matches one found on a bomb fragment. Right now, Murder is establishing how varied its plotlines can be.

This episode’s theme encompasses two subplots in addition to the main case: this week we’re examining trust, and lack of it, in one’s spouse. The husband of the defendant spends the entire episode looking like a lost puppy: first his wife cheats on him, then turns out to be a terrorist, and in the end runs away with her lover. Similarly, Michaela’s fears of her fiancé lying about his sexual past highlight her insecurities and aren’t resolved, while Keating’s ongoing suspicions of her own spouse’s murderous nature still bother her.

Keating can talk back to the university president just as strongly as her students, but she still breaks down when considering her husband’s possible crime. Maybe that’s why her lover and confidant lies that the husband’s alibi is solid. At least, that’s the only good explanation we’re given. Keating ends the episode as confident that her spouse is innocent as the terrorist’s husband was at the beginning of the episode.

Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) in disguise as a real attorney.Two other ongoing plots are touched on in this jam-packed episode: In the future, Michaela loses her engagement ring while hiding the body; and in the present, Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) tries to help out his goth flat mate, Rebecca Sutter (Katie Findlay), who is being pinned for the murder of the girl who Annalise suspects her husband of killing. He goes to the precinct to see Rebecca, pretending to be her lawyer, and gets busted. Originally asked to represent the girl’s football star boyfriend, Griffin O'Reilly (Lenny Platt), Annalise picks the goth, Rebecca, to represent after Wes convinces her to help out the obvious underdog. 

Overall, there are almost too many plots being developed. I haven’t even discussed Annalise’s two associate attorneys, Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil), and their respective love interests, law student Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza) and Keating’s husband Sam (Tom Verica).

Out of all of this, the best plotlines so far are those with strong character development behind them. That means that the best subplot is the one starring the characters with the most screen time so far, and that’s the one with Wes and Annalise as they clash over whether to represent Rebecca or not.

When Annalise awards Wes the coveted class trophy, the statue of Justice, for his decision to stand up to her, it’s almost heartwarming. She even tries to smile at him, though the best she can do is a warmed-over grimace. Despite the show’s dark sense of morality and mortality, Annalise is still trying to help those who need it.

Adam Rowe is an information writer and science history enthusiast who runs Follow him @AdamRRowe.

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