Missed the season premiere of How To Get Away With Murder? No prob. I've written two recaps: 1) a short, entertaining piece for The Root and 2) a longer, thought-provoking piece with spiritual overtones. Here's the latter:
She’s Back! Annalise Keating: Priestess, Savior, & Chief Sinner
School’s back in session for season 3 of How To Get Away With Murder, with Professor Annalise Keating proudly telling her Legal Clinic students, “You finally get to be me.” Two years ago, her students would have jumped at the opportunity to be her, but now it sounds more like a derogatory threat than an inviting proclamation. For in choosing to be like Annalise, to be made in her image, the Keating Five have to decide to be either a savior, priestess, or chief sinner—depending on the day or the occasion.
The Starting Bell
The new school year sounds off with an alarm, the murder of Wes’ biological dad. Of course it happens right before Wes’ father can even respond to Wes’ paternity claim, and of course it happens right in front of Wes, the blood spattering on Wes’ jacket the proof of their brief physical closeness and eternal separation. The blood on his jacket, the blood from his mother’s death… things ain’t looking good for Wes.
A Pack of Wolves
Wes tells the police that he was simply asking for directions when he witnessed Wallace Mahoney’s death; Annalise picks him up from the police station, his how-to-get-away-with-lying-to-the-police get-away-driver. Yep, Wes lies to the police again (which could land him in jail for obstructing justice) and yep, once again Annalise is there to save him. She tells him what sounds like a very tall tale: Frank is the one who killed Wallace because Frank wanted to make up for the fact that Wallace (and Frank) were responsible for the death of Annalise’s son. Frank is the evil one; Frank took Wes to meet his father, just so Wes could watch him die. Makes total sense.
Wes doesn’t question Annalise, though. In his grief, he accompanies her to the woods, where they howl at the night like wolves who have been maimed. Their grief is raw and visceral. Their primal howls soothe their emotions as much as they bond them together. Iyanla ain’t there to fix it, but Annalise is. She wants to—no—she needs to be Wes’ savior. And too do this, she must ensure that his loyalty remains with her alone.
You Look Like a Streetwalker
She saves Michaela from the police, too, when she picks her up on the side of the road after Michaela is pulled over for drunk driving. “I’m not normal anymore,” Michaela declares, blaming Annalise for her drinking and inability to cope with life after murder. “You were never normal,” Annalise retorts. Case closed. Now get in my car.
Annalise isn’t set on being everyone’s savior, though. When Asher begs her for a loan to cover school tuition now that his dad is dead and his mother has abandoned him, Annalise shows no sympathy and instead throws three words of advice: “Get a job.”
She refuses to accept blame for his financial condition because she refuses to be under anyone’s power. She is the one who saves, but only when she wants to. So when Connor asks her to not let Oliver get more enmeshed with the firm, Annalise promises Connor that she won’t. She will save his relationship.
But fast-forward to Oliver pitching himself to Annalise as their chief cyber security expert and resident-hacker. “I can be bad, too,” he assures her, and shares that he hacked into the Stanford University email system to hide Connor’s acceptance there as proof of his bad-ass-ness.
His confession isn’t one of penance; it’s one of self-aggrandizement. Annalise is his unholy priestess, and her office an unholy confessional with dried-blood beneath its wooden planked floors. She accepts his confession, shares it with Connor, and then hires Oliver. Her justification to Connor goes something like, “He’s further down the rabbit hole than we thought. We can keep an eye on him and protect him if he’s close to us.” This makes perfect sense ‘cause clearly you’re much safer inside Annalise’s kingdom than outside of it.
Pass the Tissue, Please
Have you ever seen two grown men cry on TV? At the same time? Well Connor and Oliver cried, and I grabbed a Kleenex ‘cause it was beautiful. Connor isn’t mad when he learns that Oliver covered up his Stanford acceptance. Instead, Connor apologizes because he believes that Oliver’s hacking is evidence that he hadn’t really listened to Oliver when Oliver said that he didn't want to move. He is essentially on that, “Love covers all” tip. In a strange plot twist, Oliver breaks up with him! Why? Well, Oliver is essentially like, It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s just that I’m worse now because of you. I lie. I hack. I cover up. I love you, but I hate who I am with you.
Ouch. That’s the worst kind of break-up. It’s not a You complete me, but… or an I want someone to complete me, but you’re not that someone. No, it’s a You incomplete me. You take away all the good that was inside of me and leave me cold, vacant and dirty. Sorry, Oliver.
In the end, Annalise is not able to save their relationship. How will she spin this to Connor? How will she spin her transgression in the most positive light to prove that it was all for Connor’s good, a painfully necessary part of some grand salvation plan that he just has to have faith in?
Vengeance Is Mine
This episode also centers around Annalise avenging the death of her baby boy. Wes, along with Laurel, must be allies. “There’s no gray area,” Annalise warns Laurel, “It’s him (Frank) or it’s me.” “He’s dead to me,” Laurel assures her, only to be seen leaving a voicemail for Frank minutes later. I guess her cell phone conducts séances? Sprint has a ghost-calling-plan with unlimited nights and weekends?
Laurel best be careful, ‘cause Annalise has declared that vengeance is hers, and hired a hit man to bring it on Frank—but not before Frank finds him first. This hit is not wrong, no. It is righteous judgement for betrayal of the savior, who seeks only to save. Oliver put is best when he pleaded for the job, “I see you help people who can’t help themselves.”
The Flawed Heroine
Viewers may not need saving, but we can’t help but get lured into Annalise’s kingdom. Despite all of the dirt that she does, she always finds a way to ignite sympathy. She struggles and flails like the rest of us, and we get to see that she does care about what others think about her:
- We see her desperation when she finds out she’s facing demotion. The new President of Middleton University (a black woman) tells Annalise that they are transitioning her from teaching law to a research position because the Keating Five, who typically rank in the top 10% of their class each year, ranked in the bottom 10% the prior school year. Annalise literally begs for the Legal Clinic class as a compromise, a chance for redemption.
- And when the campus (and her classroom) is postered with flyers of her face and the word “Killer” underneath in red, you see her trying to keep up appearances with a dismissive remark, “At least they chose a good photo.”
- And when the season premiere ends with her house in flames and a dead body in the ambulance, we see Annalise bent over in grief, wailing like an ally cat who lost the fight. Her pain is real. It makes her relatable.
This season, Professor Annalise Keating is who she’s been every season before—a savior who has sinned, but is the first to throw stones. All of them.