TV REVIEW: HTGAWM Turns its Lens on Rebecca in “He Deserved to Die”

By Chelsea Hensley

 

Like Asher, Rebecca’s probably had some of the less satisfying development HTGAWM has to offer. She’s not much different from every other alternative, perhaps disturbed individual we’ve seen on our screens. She’s grungy, with facial piercings and something of a bad attitude. We’re supposed to draw on this aesthetic, like everyone else, and assume that Rebecca is lesser in some way, even capable of killing Lila. The show hasn’t done a lot to shake this perception, aside from offering alternatives in the forms of Grifffin and Sam who are both likely suspects as well.

“He Deserved to Die” follows Rebecca, but it’s a scattered hour, dipping its toes into myriad waters. There’s Michaela getting surprised by a prenup, Connor’s still-lingering affections for Oliver, Laurel and Frank, Annalise and Sam, and it doesn’t do all of these things justice by any means. In fact many of them are left hanging, little additions to the episode to give it the illusion of being well-rounded. But it at least manages to question what we already think about Rebecca.

When we’ve seen Rebecca in the flashforwards, she’s been mostly silent. The most words she said were last week, weighing the pros of getting Asher to stumble into their crime scene. She’s not as talkative this time either, spending most of that night on her own in a motel room waiting for Wes’ call, but you can tell a lot about a person from what they do when no one’s around to see them.

In a show where everyone has masks they’re wearing and perceptions they’re trying to uphold, Rebecca being on her own illuminates a lot of things about her characters. She offers to sacrifice herself to protect Wes since she believes her killing Sam was totally justified, and though he vetoes that outright Rebecca still calls 911 to turn herself in but hangs up at the last minute. There’s clearly something more benevolent under Rebecca’s surface than her initial introduction and exterior would have us believe, and her deeper characterization is probably the shallowest in this regard. Of course Rebecca’s more than her excessive eyeliner and nose ring, smarter than she appears, picking up on everyone’s respective dramas and needling Sam about being Mr. Darcy.

Rebecca and Wes’ relationship gets put under the microscope, everyone curious about why Wes is so interested in clearing her name. With nothing to go on other than that Wes thinks she’s innocent (though he earlier said he didn’t want to know either way) and wants to help her, the only conclusion anyone—including us–can draw is that he just has a crush on her. They end up sleeping together this episode, their sex scene intercut with the autopsy being performed. which is apparently where we hit our jumping off point for the events of the flashforward, with Wes making Rebecca’s protection even more of a priority.

The why is still confusing, but there’s so much we don’t know about Wes, even when he’s had more screentime than many of the others, that there’s probably an explanation lingering somewhere. We know little about his ambitions, outside from the fact that he wants to be a lawyer, and his past is just as murky. He’s the only one of the students who doesn’t have anything outside of Annalise and Rebecca’s case. Laurel has Khan and Frank. Michaela has Aiden and her lofty goals. Connor has his lively sex life and his sad, sad attempts at reconnecting with Oliver. Asher has…whatever Asher has (and eventually Bonnie), but we have seen his father. The first we hear of Wes’ family is when he’s lying in bed with Rebecca and announces that his mother committed suicide when he was twelve, a fact thrown in alongside his peanut allergy and love of mint chocolate chip ice cream. And that’s all we’ve got.

 (ABC/Michael Ansell) DEAN BUCHANAN, AJA NAOMI KING
(ABC/Michael Ansell)
DEAN BUCHANAN, AJA NAOMI KING

The character drama is one of the show’s strengths, but for a legal drama the law is the weakest element. No one’s expecting things to unfold realistically, but interestingly would be enough. Being inside the courtroom never lives up to what’s happening outside of it (with the exception of last week). The legal back and forth lacks energy and doesn’t even feel as smart as it should, like a law show written by people with only a basic understanding of the law that they got from television.

“He Deserved to Die” spends a large amount of time in a courtroom with D.A Wendy Parks (Orange is the New Black’s Alysia Reiner) and Griffin’s attorney (Gregg Germann, who’s played much better lawyers in the past). Their back and forth revolves around exhuming Lila’s body, and like much of HTGAWM’s courtroom drama it’s all fairly superfluous. We get through a whole thing about discrediting expert witnesses, turning to Lila’s grieving mother to oppose her daughter’s exhumation, Parks allying with Annalise for a hot second before turning on her, and Annalise and Rebecca violating their gag order.

It’s this kind of outside the courtroom shenanigans that works better than most of what we see inside it. Rebecca claims Griffin raped her, which destroys his reputation enough in the court of public opinion that Parks backs out of the plea deal that would likely condemn Rebecca. But this doesn’t even work, since the judge announces that Lila’s body will be exhumed anyway. As deplorable as Annalise and Rebecca’s plan, it’s the one thing the two agree on, and Annalise finds something to like about her “terrorist” client.

Unfortunately this does dim Rebecca a bit in Wes’ eyes…sort of. Though he was fine with Lila’s phone being planted in Griffin’s car, he takes some offense at Rebecca lying about Griffin raping her. There are odd moral lines being drawn everywhere. No one’s moral compass is pointing due north and some of them just keep twitching around, including Wes’. Rebecca argued against Annalise and Wes planting the phone, but she has no qualms about persecuting him this way. And Annalise doesn’t care either way just as long as Rebecca’s case is solid and Sam is also protected. As these goals continue to bump against one another, it starts to look more and more like Sam’s the killer after all.

If that’s the case it will undermine any attempts HTGAWM has made at being original in its murder mystery. The suspects they’ve offered us are fairly rote in general: the jealous and controlling boyfriend; the grungy, perhaps-jealous drug dealer; the married man who didn’t want his wife to know he got another woman pregnant. None of these options are going to surprise anyone, but Sam’s the most obvious. It’s Sam’s murder the show is quickly approaching, and Rebecca claims she did so because he was going to kill her, perhaps because she takes Nate up on his offer to help prove that Sam was the killer.

But what if it didn’t go down that way? If Rebecca had to explain to Wes what happened with Sam, we can assume no one else was there to see it. If Rebecca killed Lila and Sam figured it out, killing him would save Rebecca some trouble especially with Wes on reserve to help her. We can’t forget about Michaela announcing her suspicions about Rebecca being able to make Wes do anything she wants, and we can’t forget Wes’ and Rebecca’s sex scene being intercut with Lila’s autopsy which makes it more morbid than sexy and seems to imply something very complicated about Wes and Rebecca’s new relationship status.

 

Stray Observations

 

  • How old is Frank? He calls Laurel a “freaking millennial” so how not millennial is he? This ship almost had me last week, but their interactions this week weren’t good. And did they have sex on Annalise’s porch because that’s…an odd place to do it?
  • Why didn’t Bonnie come out there at right that moment, as she’s prone to doing, and tell them to knock it off?
  • Sam is such a cliché. At this point all you can is shake your head at him.