We learn one major fact about How to Get Away with Murder from its second episode: this show has buckets of plot, and it enjoys emptying them with as much shock value as pig’s blood at a prom.
Most second episodes define the show better than the premiere. Shot on a high budget with the sole purpose of convincing producers to buy the rest of the season, a pilot episode usually has bigger twists and turns. That goes double for a show as strongly serialized as Murder. However, the ongoing mystery—who will murder the victim two and a half months in the future—gets not one, but two shocking twists.
I stayed away from spoilers in my review of the first episode because I hate finding out too much before I even start a show. But I’m not even going to try avoiding spoilers with this one, once again due to all that plot I mentioned. We need to start analyzing it now if we hope to keep up with this season’s breakneck pace.
The fast-paced, intercut shots still appear in full force. If you find the establishing shot of the murder scene, in which a dozen images of various blood spatters shoot by in two seconds, to be too much, you won’t be able to handle this series, no matter how strong the plot twists. There’s a great plot twist in this episode’s case-of-the-week, though, and one crazy enough that I can’t recall seeing a comparable reveal in other legal thrillers.
The case: A wealthy man’s second wife was stabbed 16 times, and the husband is on trial for it. The solution: get the husband to confess to murdering his first wife—escape proecution for that under double jeopardy—and then prove that the two murders couldn’t have been done by the same killer. It’s a simple answer that is, nevertheless, completely insane. Like the early scene where the suspect casually visits the crime scene to “reenact” it with a law student, this unlikely scenario is part of the show’s charm.
The comforting case-of-the-week format stops ten minutes before the episode does. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) exonerates her man, knows the victim’s step-daughter is guilty, but lets her go free, and returns to her home in time for an extended scene with her husband, Sam (Tom Verica, also CoExecutive Producer/Director on ABC's Scandal).
Here we see more of Keating’s Achilles' heel: her inability to handle relationships. Not only does she suspect her husband of cheating on her, but she breaks down about it in front of another man…the one she’s cheating on her husband with. Granted, it’s because she’s afraid her husband also may have murdered Lila, the missing student whose body was recovered in one of the first episode’s dangling plotlines. I suppose even hardened defense attorneys are allowed to freak out at the thought of their husband executing a co-ed.
However, last episode saw Keating start crying to her student Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) about her husband and their fractured marriage even before she came up with the whole murdering thing. That’s two breakdowns in two weeks, from the show’s hardest-nosed character. There’s nothing wrong with her getting emotional, since she shouldn’t have to be a strong, angry stock character. But the show’s big misstep here is not giving us enough reason to care or understand why she loves her husband this much.
So far, we’ve just seen the power couple side-hugging in public and, in private, fighting as much as they make up. The husband comes across as a gentle soul, so perhaps their love grows out of the way he sands down Keating’s hard edges. But if that’s the case, you should be seeing that on the show, not reading it in the opinions of some TV reviewer you’ve never heard of.
Keating obviously has some psychological issues surrounding her concept of marriages. If the show likes delving into the dark side of its characters as much as it claims to, we might get to see why in the future. It’ll have to be this season, though, since last week’s huge plot twist revealed that the husband is the rug-wrapped corpse being covered up in the future!
Meanwhile, the episode’s other main plot point centers on Wes’s goth flatmate, Rebecca (Katie Findlay). Her seemingly pointless introduction last week pays off as she gets arrested in suspicion of Lila’s murder, and therefore, all-too-coincidentally tied into the main plot. In the last flash-forward scene, we see that Wes is romantically involved with her, and is helping cover up Sam Keating's death for her. (Side note: I love the driving, upbeat end-credit music. If it doesn’t jump in immediately after some cool plot twist every single week, I’m going to complain to someone.)
This highlights one of the show’s strengths: using the suspense of an audience knowing the future. We know who dies and who falls in love. Now we just need to see how, and that’s a disconnect that’s even more interesting than just seeing whodunit.
Murder has already laid down enough plot that I can see an obvious answer to the series’ precious mystery: Keating’s husband was indeed having an affair with Lila, murdered her to cover it up, and in the future, Lila’s goth friend Rebecca will get revenge in a similarly bloodthirsty manner, leaving our main characters to clean it up and possibly hide it from Annalise. With this scenario, all the main plot threads are accounted for. The only good way to extend the drama is to add an arrest, trial, and exoneration for the husband in the middle in the established timeline, which would take some time-jumping that seems like the show’s style.
Still, that’s a problem inherent to the show’s plot-heavy style. Right now, it could easily be wrapped up in a third episode. In order to justify number of hairpin turns Murder wants, it needs to be able to go the distance.