How to Get Away With Murder Recap: Be As Punishing As Possible

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Photo: Mitch Haaseth/ABC
How to Get Away With Murder
Episode Title
By the Skin of Our Teeth
Season
1
Episode
2
Editor’s Rating
3/5

Last week, How to Get Away With Murder set up major endgame, the literal murder mentioned in the title, which is told in flashbacks (and thus, we’ll dub it déjà vu!). Alongside that, the show laid out a breakneck procedural within a thriller kind of case-by-case vibe, slashing together lessons and legwork and court time to create a comprehensive case. One thing though: While Annalise is meant to be the central, formidable focus, this is feeling very ensemble at the moment. Let’s step that up, please. I want Viola Davis to OWN this.

With the groundwork laid, the speed of things feels more comfortable this week. Otherwise, we can settle in, sip our wine, and keep up without fretting that we’ve missed something. But kinda hoping we missed something delicious? And if we’re presuming that the impeccable Annalise never truly loses a case, we’re two for two — but tonight’s was a close one. 

Things start with a flashback: two-and-a-half months earlier. Chipper psych-professor-husband Sam catches Annalise reading about the dead student, Lila Stangard, in the newspaper. Sam tells her the dean asked him to be part of the grief counseling. She ponders this, and things spin in her head. She clearly doesn’t trust him.

But for Annalise, everything feeds into work. In class, she talks about her clients — and the fact they lie. "Ask yourselves, do you know who anyone really is? Your instincts better be good, or you’ll find yourself choosing the wrong people to make a study group with, to sleep with, or even to marry.”

Which brings us to this week’s case: that of one Marjorie St. Vincent, a wealthy housewife who was found stabbed 16 times in her posh mansion. The suspect: her husband, Max St. Vincent.

When Annalise and the interns depose Max at the mansion, he seems very much still smitten with his dead wife. Then he casually opens the master bedroom door, revealing an intact crime scene — signs of struggle, bloody sheets, the works, plus, super-creepy dead animal heads hanging on the wall. Max asks for a volunteer — Connor steps up — then re-creates the purported crime, proceeding to faux stab the boy 16 times with a pen. When Annalise asks if that’s the prosecution’s theory, Max laughs. “Theory? They’re not proving that.”

Back at the office — how can they work at all with all that antique wood and stained glass to drool over? — they’re digging through the murder book when Annalise asks Wes to step outside. This triggers a discussion amongst the others about why charity case Wes is actually there. Annalise’s Bitter Blonde associate, Bonnie, questions why any of them are here at all. Ouch.

Annalise saddles Wes with a task: go get the police report, without revealing his name or identity, which he manages to do because the cop he talks to mistakes him for a DA office lackey. When Wes presents the file to Annalise, it reveals that a drunk cop was the one who found the murder weapon. Cut to court, where they call the prosecution on their shadiness. A few more calculated digs like that, and they nearly have it in the bag. Right? Hold on to that thought.

When Wes gets home, Rebecca saunters in, wearing a towel, asking to use his shower. Later, he’ll recognize a face, Rebecca’s football-player buddy, as Griffin, the dead girl’s ex. He questions her about it, but she brushes him off, noting he’s not actually a lawyer.

Outside of court, Annalise runs into her hottie cop boyfriend, Nate, who is still smarting from last week’s set-up. “What do you want from me? You won your case, got laid. So how else can I be of service to you? You call me again, I swear to God I’ll tell your husband every dirty, nasty thing I did to you.”

Déjà vu again: This time it’s Wes buying lighter fluid at the truck shop — and all I can think is, should he really be wearing a hoodie while he shops? These days, for a black man, that’s more conspicuous than not! — along with an unmarked cell phone, from which he makes a call, tells someone they’re “taking care of it. We’re going to protect you.”

At home, while Sam’s in the shower, Annalise digs through his phone, searching for the name Lila Stangard. It comes up, but all she finds is a questions about things like late papers.

Laurel, in her annoyingly tentative way, approaches Bitter Blonde Bonnie. She tells her she knows why the others are here, top of their class, blah blah blah. And she knows why she’s here, too. Because Frank picked her. Bitter Blonde’s response? “I look nice, I know. That’s just my face.” Then she tells her to focus on impressing Annalise, instead of her sexuality. CLASSIC Shonda-ism. Love it.

Next lesson: pre-trial prepping character witnesses. Annalise’s example: Ellie, the daughter. The key is establishing credibility. “Be as punishing as possible.” And with Bitter Blonde on the job, they’re learning from the best when it comes to that. What we learn: Dead woman Marjorie is the step-mom. Ellie’s mom died in a car accident in Switzerland when Ellie was 3. Ellie was later committed at 15 for an eating disorder.

And Ellie performs well on the stand. But then, the prosecutor produces a Swiss death report, translated. It shows that Ellie’s mom died from stab wounds to the neck, via a hunting knife. Not unlike the manner in which Marjorie was killed. Tun tun tun! Even Annalise wasn’t expecting that. Turns out that Max was already with Marjorie at the time — and she was by his side as he faced a murder trial there, and was dubbed not guilty. More trouble: a scene outside the courtroom where Ellie declares her father a murderer and a liar. “I hope the jury decides to kill you.”

Back at the office, everyone’s still reeling when Sam shows up. Annalise downloads: “My client’s a liar.” But then the conversation turns: She asks if Sam was sleeping with Lila, and he insists he wasn’t. When he calls her crazy, she says, “Why shouldn’t I be? It’s happened before.” He takes her in his arms, calls her Annie, tells her again that it didn’t happen. She tells him she’s really fretting about the case. That they’re going to lose.

Frank interrupts with new findings. The new strategy: They prove that Max, even if he did kill his first wife, didn’t kill Marjorie. No easy feat. They comb through the bedroom, spinning things again. Then Laurel says it: “He’s a hunter. He knows how to kill.” Annalise’s reaction: "Speak up more, girl! You’ve got a brain. Use it."

Back to court: Annalise puts Max on the stand. He demonstrates how to kill with minimum discomfort. Bitter Blonde steps up as the victim. He demonstrates a humane, painless way of killing an animal. Then Annalise fires: “Is that how you murdered your first wife?” And Max is ready: “Yes, that is correct.”

The medical examiner notes that the two murders look quite similar initially — but after deeper digging, the second murder was not as neat and accurate as the first. In her opinion, it can’t have been the same killer. Wes thinks it has to have been Ellie — and Frank is already on it. The Swiss translated file? It came from Ellie’s IP address at Stanford. Like father, like daughter, it seems. And with that, Annalise wins. Again. But Max’s take: “Obviously, you have no children.” Ouch, bitch!

When Annalise gets home, Sam’s made a celebratory meal. When he goes to get wine, she checks his phone again, searching Lila. All the emails are gone. She bails on dinner, telling him she has to go see a client. Instead, she goes to see Nate — and tell him that Sam knew Lila. That they were close. He tells her that she’s freaking over nothing. “This is your job talking. It’s making you see bad where there is none.” She asks him to check Sam’s alibi — that he really was at Yale that weekend.

Back at home, Sam asks Annalise if they’re okay. He wants to talk about it. She doesn’t want to talk. And when they’re done, a single tear from the mighty Annalise.

When Wes gets home, he sees Rebecca being dragged away by cops. Apparently, she was a drug dealer on campus, selling heroin and cocaine. And, he frets, perhaps she stashed some in his bathroom earlier. But when he checks, no drugs. Just an iPhone. Locked. And then déjà vu again. Having bought the lighter fluid, Wes bikes to a hotel room. And Rebecca opens the door. She hugs him tight, then they kiss. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.”

So all in all, a solid second episode that continues to lay groundwork, but also hits its stride in the short-term storytelling. Murder is taking itself a tad too seriously, but Bitter Blonde adds a bit of that old Shonda bite. Now if Viola Davis’s Annalise would just step up and rock things like we know she should, we’re in for a real ride.