BY LEXIE SCHAPITL
In the TV battle for Thursday night, ABC is putting all its eggs in one basket and that basket is executive producer Shonda Rhimes.
Following up Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal to complete the Shondathon that is Thursday night on ABC, Rhimes’s latest creation, the hotly anticipated legal drama How to Get Away With Murder premiered Thursday.
When I heard first heard the story line, I wasn’t instantly sucked in like I was when Scandal premiered three years ago. But I figured Shonda had earned the benefit of the doubt. Plus, it turns out Alfred Enoch, formerly Dean Thomas of the Harry Potter series, grew up nicely.
Anyway, the show opens with a scene of a college football tailgate, then quickly cuts to the
woods, where we find main character Wes Gibbins (Enoch) and three friends Michaela Pratt, Connor Walsh, Laurel Castillo, debating what to do with a dead body after apparently committing murder. Two want to dispose of the body while two want to leave it where it is.
And what do they do with the murder weapon, some sort of bronze trophy? You might be asking how we got here.
Rewind to three months earlier. Gibbins is seen bright eyed and bushy tailed biking to Criminal Law 100 at the fictional Middleton University Law School. He walks into a lecture hall where the other students are discussing their prestigious summer internships and how intimidating their professor is. Everyone else seems to be much more prepared for the class and life in general. As a sophomore journalism major whose only real work experience is five years as a camp counselor, I feel you, Wes.
It is later revealed that Wes has an excuse for his confusion: he was only accepted into law school two days ago, off the waitlist. A lowly peasant.
Enter Professor Annalise Keating: hard-ass extraordinaire who always seems to have it together despite, if I know Shonda, probably having a troubled past and a tortured soul.
The students scramble to their alphabetized seats as Keating, portrayed by Viola Davis, jumps right into questioning the students on a case study: second assistant turned mistress to a powerful businessman is accused of attempting to murder him with an aspirin.
Only it’s not actually a case study, but a case her firm recently took on. The class will be observing and assisting her and her team, Bonnie (Liza Weil) and Frank (Charlie Weber), with the case, and four promising students will be hired to work for the firm. One student will even win an “immunity idol” of sorts, a bronze trophy that can get you out of an exam and happens to also be the aforementioned murder weapon.
Back in class, Keating reveals her three-step system to winning this case. 1. Discredit the witness. 2. Introduce a new suspect. 3. Bury the evidence.
Keating and her team accomplish this quite easily. Michaela Pratt discovers that the prosecution’s star witness, the victim’s first assistant, is color-blind and therefore could not reliably identify the pill she claims to have seen on Gina’s desk. Phase 1 is complete.
Later that night, while home in his apartment, Wes has some sort of legal epiphany that he just CANNOT wait to tell Professor Keating about, so he jumps out of bed, bikes to her firm and walks through the unlocked door into her office, where he finds Keating mackin’ it with an unidentified half-dressed man.
Fellow student Connor Walsh seduces an IT guy for some emails between the victim and his business partner. Unethical at best, prostitution at worst, but Keating is pleased nonetheless. After sneaking the emails into evidence and reading them for the court, phase 2: introduce a new suspect, is also complete.
After court adjourns, Laurel is in a bathroom stall when the defendant and the victim’s wife both enter. The victim’s wife places her hand on Gina’s shoulder and the two share a look that says, “we’re in this together.” Laurel’s no dummy, so she later runs to Frank and explain that the two women are conspiring against the victim. Frank blows her off, already aware of what’s going on. She leaves in a huff, and Bonnie remarks that Frank should stop screwing the students. Fair point.
Wes comes home to find his neighbor, Rebecca, arguing with an unidentified male student. Then all of a sudden all the law students are at some sort of unexplained party with Keating and her staff. Pilots are hard to follow, man. Keating introduces her husband to the group and to Wes’s surprise, he is NOT the man he saw her canoodling in her office.
Keating approaches Wes in the bathroom, and he promptly states he won’t tell anyone about her affair. Still, she feels the need to explain herself. She tells him how her and her husband have been talking about having a baby, which has placed a lot of pressure on her, etc. etc. She starts to cry and caress Wes’s shoulders, and it was as uncomfortable as it sounds. Wes slinks out of the bathroom.
Adding another element to the affair, it becomes clear that Bonnie has a thing for Annette’s husband, Sam.
Back in court, things become a little tricky when the prosecution presents convenience store surveillance footage of Gina buying aspirin the night before the incident in question. Keating and her staff are like “Oh (expletive deleted), we’re really (expletive deleted) now.”
But then Keating pulls an Olivia Pope and is all, “I’ll fix this” and calls to the stand Detective Nate Leahy, who turns out to be none other than Keating’s lover. Leahy reveals that he was not at work when a fellow officer received the surveillance footage, but instead was “with a friend” (read: on a booty call with Professor Keating). It is also revealed that Leahy is not only married but that his WIFE HAS CANCER.
Keating asks Leahy if he has ever experienced the police department doctoring evidence to help the prosecution, to which he says he has. Has he though? Or is he just helping a girl out? That remains to be seen.
Keating and her team pull it off, Gina is acquitted and shares a smile with the victim’s wife, even as she is loading her now disabled husband into the car. Nice.
In class, Keating announces that they have chosen the students who will be working with the firm: star student Michaela, Connor, Laurel, and Asher Millstone, who has been unremarkable up to this point. Due to an increased workload, the firm will also be taking on an extra student: you guessed it, Wes Gibbins.
Wes, feeling like he only received the spot as a way to ensure his silence, approaches Keating and tells her he doesn’t want the job if he doesn’t deserve it. She assures him that he did win the job on merit due to his quick thinking, and that he should think more highly of himself. When he questions her about having her boyfriend lie on the stand, she basically responds, “Did I? And if I did, does it matter? Nope. Cause I won.”
Throughout the episode, we have also been flashing forward to the present day, where our law students turned murderers have been trying to dispose of the body. They retrieve the body from Keating’s law firm, roll it up into a rug, clean and replace the murder weapon, buy supplies, and take the body back into the woods, having several close calls along the way. While carrying their corpse-rug burrito out of Keating’s law firm. They are approached by a cop, because of course they are.
At this point I literally rolled my eyes and said, “How ya gonna get them out of this one, Shonda?” Turns out pretty effortlessly: Michaela Pratt spins a story and the crisis is averted.
Another storyline has been the disappearance of 21-year-old Middleton student Lila Sterngard, who was last seen exiting a frat party several days ago. Her boyfriend pleads for her safe return on TV, and “Have You Seen Me?” posters are displayed around campus.
Cut to a mechanic knocking on the door of a sorority house. A sister opens the door and directs him to their “water thingy,” (water tank) out back. Anyone who has watched as much Law and Order SVU as I have knows where this is going, and it isn’t good. He opens the water tank to find Lila Sterngard’s body.
As police report on the discovery, Rebecca watches in her apartment with the man she was earlier seen fighting with: Lila’s boyfriend. Keating’s husband, Sam, also watches the news broadcast sadly, and remarks to Keating that she was a student of his. Keating says, “I bet the boyfriend did it,” to which her husband responds, “I guess we’ll see.”
I guess we will see, but Sam won’t, because SPOILER ALERT: in a cut to the present day it is revealed that the body in the rug is in fact Keating’s husband. We get a glimpse of his face before Wes, Laurel, Michaela, and Connor set the body ablaze in the woods (Note: the fact that Asher is nowhere to be seen does not bode well for his survival prospects).
While it is hard to predict the success of a series based on only a pilot, I would say HTGAWM has promise. Seeing Keating and her team tackle an individual case within the frame of a larger storyline made me nostalgic for earlier episodes of Scandal. Remember the days of the OPA gladiators winning seemingly un-winnable cases with ease? Ahh, the memories.
I digress. I worry that Keating will essentially be Olivia Pope with shorter hair and a less impressive wardrobe. I also worry that after watching so many cumulative hours of Shonda Rhimes’s shock dramas, nothing she does will shock me anymore. But I’ll be tuning in every week to find out if in fact “the boyfriend did it,” how Keatings’s husband ends up dead, and what else Shonda has up her sleeve.