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HTGAWM Returns to Prove Why Viola Davis Won that Emmy

By on September 25, 2015

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

By Chelsea A. Hensley

“Statistically, if you’re going to be murdered, your killer will be someone you know.”

And so begins the season premiere of How to Get Away With Murder, with Rebecca (Katie Findlay) pleading for her life before her mouth is taped and a plastic bag is placed over her head. Still riding the high from Viola Davis’ history-making Emmy win, the show returns with plenty of expectations to live up to, all related to its ability to maintain the momentum it built up last year.

HTGAWM may have plenty to worry about: developing the ambitious (but woefully dumb) group of law students it counts as main characters, coming up with better cases of the week to occupy our time with, and answering last season’s burning question of who killed Rebecca. The only thing it doesn’t have to worry about is the level of commitment and undeniable skill from its leading lady as Davis returns to Annalise Keating’s wigs for another season.

“It’s Time to Move On,” despite its title, is forced to contend with the past. Annalise and Frank are keeping Rebecca’s death a secret and trying to casually find her killer, the students are coping with the uncertainty that comes with Rebecca’s disappearance, and someone from Annalise’s past makes a surprise entrance into the fold. But even in a premiere that reveals Rebecca’s murderer, and flashes two months forward to another someone dying on the floor of someone’s house, it’s Annalise Keating who steals the show.


It’s An Annalise Keating World

Viola Davis’ Emmy speech is one that made the rounds on social media after the Emmys last Sunday night. It was an inspiration to viewers who had watched How to Get Away With Murder with the same thoughts expressed by its lead actress. Taking home the award for Best Actress in a Drama, as the first black woman to do so, Davis quoted Harriet Tubman and thanked Hollywood producers and writers (including HTGAWM creator Pete Nowalk) for giving new meaning to “what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black”. The premiere is an episode that, for anyone unfamiliar with HTGAWM, proves exactly what Davis was talking about. Annalise Keating is a character with a multitude of layers, some of them profoundly messy.

Since the pilot premiered last fall, one of Annalise’s most enduring habits has been her attachment to Wes, and now she remains strangely protective of Wes, adamant that he didn’t kill Rebecca, which makes his disinterest in her and her class – a signal that all is not right in Wesland – particularly grating. The premiere doesn’t waste time in getting them back to the status quo, as Annalise confirms Wes’ innocence (he’s not a killer, just heartbroken) and dances the night away with her star pupil (even throwing in some of her trademark chest caressing). Yet her protectiveness of Wes sits alongside her determined framing of former flame Nate, her covering up of Sam’s murder and her casual tossing aside of another old love, death row attorney Eve (X-Men’s Famke Janssen).

Eve, who Annalise requests to take an innocent Nate’s case, surprises Annalise at her office. Janssen and Davis have an electric rapport, a loaded history between them immediately apparent. Underlined is Annalise’s mistreatment of Eve in the past and the boldness of a request for help in the present day. The quiet revelation of Eve and Annalise having once been a couple (until Annalise left Eve for Sam) is exactly the reason HTGAWM has garnered so much positivity from critics and fans alike. Annalise’s bisexuality is quietly revealed, minus slack jaws or wide eyes. It just is. The novelty of such a character is what makes Annalise, and other characters like Empire’s Cookie Lyon and Being Mary Jane’s Mary Jane Paul, such an anomaly in the current television landscape. And with Eve accepting Annalise’s confession about framing Nate and protecting Sam’s killer, it’s the first partner we’ve seen Annalise have who isn’t put off by her questionable decisions and embraces her anyway. Annalise’s rekindled flame with Eve (and hot makeout) is casually incorporated into the premiere, but is less of a revelation than Bonnie killing Rebecca. Or even Annalise, in two months, lying shot and bleeding in the house of her new clients, a pair of Maybe Murderous Siblings.


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