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How to Get Away With Murder, Ep. 1.06, “Whack-a-Mole” addresses race and injustice head on

How to Get Away With Murder, Ep. 1.06, “Whack-a-Mole” addresses race and injustice head on


How to Get Away With Murder, Season 1, Episode 6: “Whack-a-Mole”
Directed by Bill D’Elia
Written by Michael Foley
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on ABC

Six weeks into fall and How to Get Away With Murder is the biggest hit of the new season and one of the most watched shows on television.  Viewers are connecting with its potent mix of legal procedural, murder mystery, and soap opera. They also must be connecting with the character of Annalise Keating, a woman as complicated as has ever been seen on network television, and where the question of her likability, or lack thereof, is deemed completely irrelevant on the strength of Viola Davis’s masterful performance. Annalise is an idealist and a hypocrite, passionate and calculating, funny and terrifying. But is she a good person? The creators trust their audience’s intelligence not to even bother asking that question.

So far, the cases of the week have often seemed superfluous, a way to kill time between solving the twin murders of Lila Stangard and Sam Keating.  But in the most recent episode, “Whack-a-Mole”, the appeal of a death row inmate convicted of killing his girlfriend 21 years ago is integrated into the characters’ lives and allows the show to address themes that have been percolating below the surface for some time. Asher, the buffoonish law student played by Matt McGorry –a role that gives the actor so much more to do than his blank slate prison guard on Orange is the New Black – learns that his father, the judge on the original case, allowed perjured testimony to convict a black man of murdering his white girlfriend in order to get a job promotion. Asher has to face the fact that his charmed life has partly come about on the back of some one else’s misery.  The case also touches on less dramatic but equally damaging examples of institutional racism, such as housing discrimination.

What makes all this so electrifying, aside from the fact that race is rarely discussed so explicitly on network television, is that it’s so personal for the characters, especially Annalise. This is a woman in an interracial marriage trying to help a man who is in prison due to his interracial relationship leading to murder. Of course Annalise’s husband had an affair with a young white woman, now also a murder victim. So Annalise can crusade for justice at work while also calling her husband’s mistress, a dead college student, a “white whore.” That moment, totally intended to shock (and blow up Twitter), works only due to Davis. She has the ability to wring emotional honesty out of dialogue that reads completely over-the-top on the page.

At the end of last night’s episode, the announcer promised that in two weeks we will know the identity of Sam Keating’s murderer. Hooray for that, because the flash forwards of the law students transporting Sam’s body have become almost insufferable as the weeks go on. It’s puzzling that an otherwise propulsive show would be treading water this badly. At this point there’s no way to fix the monotony, just end it and hope that this structure is something they don’t carry over into the second half of the season. Perhaps the problem with these scenes is that Viola Davis isn’t in them.  Her career, from Doubt to The Help to HTGAWM has proven that she can do anything, make good writing great and mediocre writing believable. Let’s hope that these writers take advantage of her gifts and continue to give her something to say.

Other thoughts:

We finally know what Asher’s up to in the flash forwards. Sleeping with Bonnie!

Wes grows a backbone for a whole scene. “You’re disgusting. You disgust me.”

Did you see the photo of Asher’s dad with George H. W. Bush? Perfect.

“It’s not just white people that go to Kennebunkport!”

David Allan might not have killed his girlfriend, but he definitely still belongs on death row for liking his steak well done. Gross.