With a title like “Skanks Get Shanked”, this week’s episode of How to Get Away with Murder was sure to include some burning at the stake. As Team Keating find themselves dealing with a case of brutal murder within a clique of teenage girls, Annalise (Viola Davis) continues to feel the comeuppance of her own reputation as the team begins turning against her. With Wes (Alfred Enoch) already conspiring with Nate (Billy Brown) to uncover Annalise’s involvement in Rebecca’s (Katie Findlay) disappearance, Connor (Jack Falahee) begins to suspect the real intentions of Annalise’s mentorship. All the while, Asher (Matt McGorry) has agreed to make a deal with his father and Assistant District Attorney Emily Sinclair (Sarah Burns) to testify that Annalise murdered her husband, Sam (Tom Verica). In the midst of all this, Annalise confronts perhaps the only person she’s afraid to see: Nate’s dying wife, Nia (Enuka Okuma). All of this made for an episode that provided intriguing set-ups to Annalise’s ultimate fate, and some interesting questions as to who will shoot finally Annalise, but which was largely bogged down by a lackluster, cliched main plot.
The most engaging scenes in the episode involved the conversations between Annalise and Nia, who doesn’t have the reaction to seeing Annalise one might expect. Heavily debilitated by ovarian cancer, Nia expresses a surprising amount of sympathy to Annalise, saying she admires Annalise’s strength in being able to pursue a man whose wife is dying, despite the depravity of such a course. Even from a hospital bed, Nia manages to keep Annalise cornered and on edge, asking her if she loves Nate. When Annalise refuses to answer, Nia says it’s okay if she does. In fact, she needs Annalise to love Nate when she’s gone. She then drops the bombshell: asking Annalise to help her commit suicide by obtaining some pills for her.
“Be a good person for once, and get me the pills” she says. “You owe me this.” While Annalise has been indirectly complicit in murder often enough, whether by defending guilty clients or protecting the ones who killed her husband, to see her directly confronted with the chance to kill, ironically to help someone, is a compelling turnaround. Her struggle with this decision even manages to distract her famous stone-cold focus in court. Annalise, for most of the show, hasn’t been one to let her guilt interrupt her work, however hard it weighs on her. Within the past two episodes, we’ve finally seen her pain begin to break through to the surface, and to see Annalise struggle with the weight of both her job and the person she’s set out to be in public, makes for compelling drama.
The episode’s case involves a girl named Zoe (Sammi Hanratty), who is convicted of murder after stabbing her best friend Rachel more than 50 times. Annalise and Team Keating decide to argue that she was brainwashed by Rachel’s friends, after Rachel was supposedly flirting with the boyfriend of one of the girls, Molly. There isn’t much more to the girl’s background or motivations than that, and we’re basically left accepting the uninspired notion that a teenage girl would willy-nilly brutally murder her friend over jealousy. This makes the girls, and their case, more frustrating narrative cliché than drama, especially when the team finds out that Zoe was actually the brains behind the plan, via a video of the girls and Zoe openly mocking and condoning the murder.
Perhaps the most outlandish moment in the whole episode is Zoe’s final reaction to Molly’s statement. Annalise questions Molly on the stand, trying to fix the damage done to Zoe by the video. Molly begins speaking to Zoe’s manipulativeness, and how she evidently sought to control the group. Zoe, unable to control herself in the face of the slander, stands up in the middle of court to openly spew venom at Molly. “You were just a stuck-up bitch who was nothing without me!” she screeches, throwing to the wind any notions that she isn’t a sociopath, and bringing the case crashing down.
The case and girls are largely uninteresting, and only really serve as a foil to Connor’s belief during trial that Annalise’s argument, that Zoe was brainwashed by the other girls, is roughly what Annalise has done to him and the Keating Five. Once the team has discovered Zoe’s maliciousness via the video, Connor refuses to follow Annalise’s order to destroy the evidence, claiming the immorality of letting someone so openly murderous go free. After Zoe’s case falls apart, Annalise determines it was Connor who gave the video to the prosecution in the first place. Connor admits he did it, and would do it all over again. Still standing by his stance that Annalise has brainwashed them all into her schemes, Annalise responds with something Connor definitely doesn’t want to hear: that she’s never forced any of them into anything, including the murder of her husband. They did it all on their own. The question of whether Annalise influences those around her, or that they see themselves in her, has never been completely clear throughout the show. With the Keating Five’s seeming involvement in the eventual attempted murder of Annalise herself, it’s definitely not hard to see they have it in them to kill yet again.
Annalise’s own chance at killing in the episode goes unfulfilled. Getting the pills Nia asks for via Frank, Annalise reveals that she’s thought of killing herself frequently since she was a little girl. But yet, here she still is.
“You’re a better woman than me,” she says to Nia. “And if I don’t deserve to die, then you definitely don’t.” It’s an equally sadistic and sympathetic statement: telling Nia to bear her pain like everyone else, but also knowing how much Nate deserves her. It’s another facet of Annalise’s sense of compassion that has slowly been revealing itself throughout the course of the show.
Leaving the hospital, Annalise stumbles upon a scene that stops her in her tracks: Wes and Nate talking across the street. It seems Annalise is slowly realizing just how few allies, if any, she has left.
The fourth episode of How to Get Away with Murder’s second season provided a number of interesting plot points and build-ups towards the season’s end, all of which found themselves squeezed between an unremarkable court drama. Hopefully as pieces fall more into place in next week’s episode, the story will get back on its feet.