HTGAWM Goes for Sex Positivity in “It’s Called the Octopus”
BY The Screen Spy Team
Published 7 years ago
By Chelsea A. Hensley
Shondaland’s first production Grey’s Anatomy premiered in 2005, and its pilot had Meredith Grey waking up from one-night stand with one of her bosses before kicking him out so she could head to work. Though Grey’s may have dialed back on some of its sex scenes, it hasn’t neglected them. Last night’s episode saw new addition Maggie Pierce lamenting her lack of sex and taking home one of the new interns as a temporary fix. Scandal’s arrival in 2012 went even further than Grey’s, producing some of the steamiest sex scenes to be allowed on network television, and even if there’s much debate surrounding the relationship between Olivia Pope and Fitz Grant, no one can deny the excellent sex they’re having. Now we have How To Get Away With Murder. In its first episode Wes walked in on Annalise receiving oral sex from Nate, and just last week Annalise and Eve were giggling over the great sex they had and going for an encore.
Shonda Rhimes has gone on record announcing her hopes that her shows are encouraging a more positive outlook on sex because “there are ways to represent women owning their sexuality and having a strong point of view about it and it not being this taboo thing that’s hidden in some closet somewhere.” But showing sex as lighthearted and natural is a risk, and before Shonda Rhimes became Shonda Rhimes network execs blanched at Meredith Grey’s casual sex, concerned that it was unrealistic and “nobody wanted to know” a woman like her. And it wasn’t so long ago that independent film Blue Valentine got slapped with an NC-17 rating, which would have kept it out of most theaters, for a scene in which Ryan Gosling simulates oral sex on Michelle Williams. The risk in showing sex onscreen lies not only in the clash of scantily clad bodies and creative camera angles but also in sex being natural and, for lots of people, fun. “It’s Called the Octopus” does what Shondaland’s been doing for quite a while now: proving sex is a good time.
Annalise represents Tanya (Sherri Suam, a long way from The Fosters), creator of sex club Utopia Circle. Charged with killing a man with too-rough sex, Tanya risks prison and her circle being shut down for good. Suam does great work, and though the courtroom scenes are a bit too much like last season’s silliness, this case of the week is superior to many others. To clear Tanya, the Keating Five are tasked with finding witnesses who will testify, but that’s difficult when the Utopia Circle members are desperate to keep their identities hidden. That’s understandable, especially when one considers the way “kinky” individuals are seen in less sex-positive circles. The Utopia Circle could very well be one of the most fascinating glimpses at a sex community primetime’s ever going to give us. Its members are varied in ages, races, genders and sexualities, united by their shared love of eight-hour orgasms. Such is also the appeal of Shondaland, which has been more than willing to depict sex regardless of who’s having it, but it’s not ignorant of what it’s working with as Annalise astutely notes that the jury would be happy to convict a “negligent slut” of involuntary manslaughter.
Tanya and the Utopia Circle just don’t fit in the box that sex is being shoved into. It’s supposed to be private and respectable. A sexually dominant woman engaged in unorthodox sexual acts with equally liberated peers, is beyond the comprehension of a jury with more limited ideas of sexual conduct. To them sex is between monogamous, committed partners. There’s no BDSM, no lube, no varied positions, no female orgasms, all things which are brought up in last night’s episode. So Annalise has her work cut out for her, especially when Tanya confesses to giving the victim a drug she knew would cause a heart attack when combined with his Viagra. Sure the killer ends up being Annalise’s client after all, but the way she owns her sexuality has little to do with the accidental murder of the man she loved. Lesser shows have featured sexual groups like Utopia Circle with less nuance, associating their sexualities with their murderous impulses. But not HTGAWM. Tanya’s a killer, but her love of sex isn’t mutually exclusive, and if you ask Annalise, Tanya’s giving the rest of the sex-lovers out there a bad name anyway. And HTGAWM is full of sex lovers.
Sex ends up being what makes interactions among the other characters more compelling. Their interactions with one another have rarely been as interesting as the ones this week. Aside from killing someone and covering it up together, they don’t have much in common, and sex becomes a nice topic for them to bond over. They reminisce about their best sexual partners, Laurel and Bonnie laugh over drinks, Wes cracks a joke about sleeping with another client, and everyone shares in the shock and horror of Michaela never having had an orgasm. Michaela’s situation is eventually rectified by Levi (Matt Cohen) and a sultry “Spell it,” but for a minute everyone’s very concerned (Laurel is particularly devastated). To them, Michaela’s missed out on a rite of passage, and their active, though teasing, encouragement of her to hunt down the Big O speaks to their casual acceptance of sex and their eagerness for everyone interested to be able to enjoy it.