After an intense, hour-long session with the return of Olivia Pope on #ScandalThursdays, Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s Anatomy executive producer and creator of Scandal, has blessed us with yet another drama that had us biting our nails. How to Get Away With Murder circles the lives of several law students enrolled in law professor Annaliese Keating’s (Viola Davis) “Criminal Law 101” class. This legal thriller pulled its audience in immediately with opening scenes of law students carrying a dead body in the middle of the night in a forest and to be quite honest, none of us were ready for what happened next.
1. University class setting.
When was the last time you saw such an edgy, diverse class with heated discussion? When was the last time your professor looked you dead in the eye and told you you were lying in front of 200 students? When was the last time that same professor unofficially renamed your Criminal Law 101 class, using a piece of chalk on the blackboard, to “How To Get Away With Murder” and repeated the phrase throughout the course? The incredibly sharp, witty banter between students and teacher adds to the heart-racing pace of the show, and stylistically? VERY Shonda.
2. “Scandalous” sex-positive tropes.
It seems like Miss Rhimes lives for passionate, steamy sex scenes and to be quite fair, I don’t think ANYONE is complaining. Cue scene where unprepared law student Wes Gibbins accidentally walks in to his professor’s home and catches Prof. Keating in the act…of…well…getting eaten out.
Or the pretty Connor Walsh seducing a potential witness in a gay nightclub in order to get almost-unlawful evidence. Yeah…
There is an unrestricted amount of seduction of all types, and speaking for a wide, vocal audience on Twitter and at home, I think it’s safe to say we are ALL here for it.
3. Everyone is covering for someone…
…or so it seems. Though it’s a little early on, there’s almost no way to tell who is who and who’s done what until the very last, telling moments of the show. Almost everything is left to our over-working imaginations to piece together who might be behind the death of sorority girl Lila Stangard, and just who might be responsible for the death of Annalise’s husband three months later. The only clues we are given is her mantra from the beginning: Discredit the witness. Find a new suspect. And bury the evidence.
4. Unafraid to shine a flashlight on student-teacher relationships.
We all know they exist. And they usually make us uncomfortable when they are touched on in media and television. But this is the first time we see the true dynamics of what a student-teacher relationship can mean.
The dynamic between Wes and Annalise is interesting, sure, but also slightly uncomfortable — it almost seems as if Annalise is trying to give Wes the upper hand in an emotional “breakdown” when she confesses that she cannot bear children. This exchange of power is a case in itself. Is Annalise blackmailing him, or truly being honest? If she buys his trust, what will she do with it? On the other hand, the relationship between Laurel and Annalise’s assistant professor Frank Delfino is a little different: it might be easy to dismiss his sleeping with students as an “addictive problem.” When Laurel presented the possibility of a woman working together with her husband’s mistress during a trial, the potential for her being right (and a relationship dynamic) is almost immediately shot down, putting the student back in her seat and teacher back at the board. No leverage there.
5. A win for representation.
For the black feminists out there, Viola Davis slays in a non-stereotypical, multi-dimension and non-linear role. Let’s face it: most black actresses on mainstream television are given roles that follow certain archetypes: the “mammy” role, the destructive “Jezebel” seductress, or the “ghetto” hoodrat/baby mama. Only up until recently have black women began to star with more complex leading roles on primetime television that not only show off their brilliance, strength, and resilience, but also their fragility, vulnerability, and *gasp* humanity (like Jada Pinkett-Smith on Gotham, Tracee Ellis-Ross on “Black-Ish,” Kerry Washington on Scandal, Nicole Beharie on Sleepy Hollow, to name a few). And now with a hot new murderous show featuring the brilliant Viola Davis, it might be safe to say things can only get better from here. Yes to representation, and kudos to Miss Rhimes, the Queen of all slays.