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'How To Get Away With Murder' Premiere Recap

Kelly O'Mara |
September 26, 2014 | 8:58 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Viola Davis is Professor Annalise Keating in "How to Get Away with Murder" (ABC).
Viola Davis is Professor Annalise Keating in "How to Get Away with Murder" (ABC).
I am not necessarily an acolyte of the Shonda Rhimes school of TV. I stopped watching "Grey’s Anatomy" after the whole ferry accident thing. I never got into "Scandal," despite many people’s assurances that it was “my kind of show.” (My kind of show, evidently, being amazingly absurd.) Yet, it doesn’t take a Rhimes aficionado to know that "How To Get Away With Murder," for which she is the executive producer, caps off her triumphant Thursday nights on ABC. After all, it was even the subject of a slightly tone-deaf New York Times article.

And, it doesn't take more than a few minutes of the opening episode to know that "How To Get Away With Murder" is pretty much exactly what you would expect.

The show opens with quick blurry shots of a football rally, cheerleaders, half-naked bodies, and the tell-tale red cups of college students everywhere. Just to be sure we know what we’re getting. But, the scene quickly gives way to a dark grim forest where four students debate what to do with a murder weapon and body. Why are they in a forest? Who knows! But, don’t you want to keep watching?

One of them raises the murder weapon — an unmistakable golden trophy — for us to see and suggests cleaning it and returning it to the murder scene, hiding it right in plain sight. Another suggests burning the body. Two say no. Two say yes. They flip a coin and “three months earlier” flashes across the screen.

In this earlier, happier, and sunnier flashback, a young law student bikes through campus and enters a class in chaos as students find their seats, talking among themsleves about the nightmare professor they're about to have — clearly soon-to-enter Viola Davis. Our young student tries to make small talk, but is obviously in over his head. 

Viola Davis (Professor Annalise Keating) enters, commanding the room. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. “Welcome to Criminal Law 100, or as I like to call it…” she says, writing something on the board that we can’t see yet: How to get away with murder.

Isn’t this what school’s like for you too?

This is not a class about theory, says Professor Keating. In case you hadn’t guessed that. We are presented with a case, which we are to understand will make up the rest of this episode. It is the case of The Aspirin Assassin.

Here’s the basics of the aspirin assassin: Gina Sadowski was the assistant and lover to Arthur Kaufman. He breaks up with her and winds up poisoned, when his blood pressure pill is switched with an aspirin, to which he has a severe allergy. Did she do it?

As Keating grills students on the case, we meet the four who will three months later be burying a body in the woods. Michaela Pratt is our attractive, good girl first year. Connor Walsh is the douchey white prepster. Wesley Gibbins is the fresh-faced law student we followed in on bike. His status as naive and out-of-his-element is confirmed when he’s called on by Keating to answer a question, but must admit that he didn’t know there was to be homework on the first day. He only just got accepted to the university off the waitlist. The class titters. Laurel Castillo answers the question for him and Keating calls her a show-off. There, you've met our four future potential murderers.

Professor Keating reveals that the aspirin assassin is not a past case, but one she just took. *Gasp!* The whole class then traipses to Keating’s house, which also appears to serve as her office, to learn more about the case. And we meet Keating’s legal associates: Frank Delfino and Bonnie Winterbottom. We also get the final piece of the law student challenge: There are just four (four!) spots for jobs at Keating’s practice, for which she will choose the best students on this case. And, she will award the winner a trophy, to serve as an immunity idol on future tests. She holds up the trophy and it’s the murder weapon from three months in the future!

Back in Wesley’s apartment, he can’t come up with ideas for the defense he has to present in class. Loud music blares from next door, but his neighbor says she won’t turn it down. She also lets him know that the guy who used to live in his apartment had crazy loud sex and nervous breakdown. Wesley goes back to his room and looks at the sexy scratch marks in the wall.

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In the present, the four students are wrapping the body in a carpet in Professor Keating’s living room and cleaning the trophy off with bleach. Michaela makes it well-known that she wants nothing to do with this, but they need her help. As the four carry the body out of the front door, with the football rally giving way to a campus-wide party that just happens to be right outside, a police officer walks up and asks if the car on the sidewalk is their’s?

As the officer becomes suspicious of them — What are they doing in the professor’s house? With a giant rug? — Michaela comes to the rescue, selling a convoluted story. “Where the hell has this girl been all night,” asks douchey Connor.

Flashback to three months earlier: We get Michaela’s story. She’s standing up pitching her proposed defense in class. Pin it on the wife instead. As everyone else pitches their ideas, Wesley is crossing out his list. No one can have the same defense idea and he has to go last. Finally, it’s his turn and he suggests the bizarre story of self-defense and Stockholm syndrome. He knows it’s a loser, but Professor Keating tells him no, he’s still in the running for the four spots at the firm. Gee, I wonder if he'll get it.

Then, we’re in the courtroom and someone is testifying that Gina gave their boss the fatal aspirin. Michaela rushes in late and whispers something to Professor Keating. What could it be? Keating then cross-examines the witness. The woman is testifying the pill was yellow? Like that man’s shirt over there? The witness says, “Yes.” But the man’s shirt isn’t yellow! The woman is color-blind! How would she know if the pill was the fatal aspirin or not! Exclamation points everywhere!

In the hall, Michaela reveals she got the key color-blind information by looking at facebook photos and calling all the woman’s optometrists. Keating tells the rest of the students to step up their game. 

Back at Wesley’s apartment, his surly neighbor is watching a TV news report about a missing girl, Lila Stangaurd. This seems like it’ll be important. No one on TV shows ever watches non-important TV.

Next door, Wesley gets an idea and rushes to Keating’s house/office. He rushes in on her — because that’s always what I do late at night at a professor’s home. And, opens the door to a man going down on the good professor behind her desk. Wesley rushes out. Naturally, though, the great Professor Keating is not embarrassed by her sexual proclivities. Good for her. She follows him into the hall, asks why he’s here, and then tells him his idea is terrible — it doesn’t matter what it was — and calls him Seth as she closes the door in his face. Aww, poor Wes.

Back in the murderous present day, the four of them are in an SUV at a gas station, with the body wrapped in the rug inside. Connor sings Christmas songs to himself. He might be losing it, or he might not have ever fully had it. Flashback to his story.

Three months earlier, Connor’s in a bar, hitting on a guy. We know Connor’s lying to this guy, but why? Then, we realize the guy works in IT at defendent/possible poisoner Gina’s office. Ahhhh.

Next, we see Connor handing Professor Keating a piece of paper in court. “How did you get this?” she asks. By having the sex, obviously! She does some tricky legal maneuvering (also known as lying) to get it admitted into court documents. It’s an angry email the business partner sent Kaufman, the poisoned guy. Could this be another motive? Isn’t law exciting?

In the hall, as Keating commends Connor, Laurel (the last of our four future murder cover-up-ers) walks into the bathroom. Through the crack in the door she sees the grieving wife consoling Gina. From this she concludes that the two of them must have conspired to poison the guy.

At Wes’s apartment, his neighbor is fighting with a football player-looking-college-student, who storms out. Wes asks if she needs help, but she slams the door in his face. 

All the law students go to a reception, where they meet Professor Keating’s husband. But, it’s not the same guy Wesley saw in her office the night before! She glares at him, saying ‘shut up’ and other things with her eyes.

We flash forward to the dark woods, where they drag the body through the trees. A drunk couple starts making out nearby, but Laurel’s phone goes off and they leave. Frank, Keating’s sleazy associate, is calling her. Why? Why?? So many questions.

Flash back to Laurel telling Frank what she saw in the bathroom. But he says there’s nothing to do about it, even if the wife and the girlfriend plotted together. She’s so naive! She probably went to Brown or Berkeley! She storms out and Bonnie, Keating’s other maybe less sleazy (maybe more sleazy, we don’t know yet) associate, tells him to stop sleeping with students.

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At the reception, Keating corners Wesley. He says he won’t tell about her husband what he saw. She apologizes. She and her husband have been talking about having a baby. It’s been hard, lots of pressure. She starts crying and apologizes again, caressing his shoulders. Like really caressing them. Wesley leaves and Viola Davis/Professor Keating stares at her tear-streaked face in the mirror. Being an ethically-ambiguous fabulously scary lawyer is hard work.

At Keating’s office, Bonnie watches a tearful press conference from the boyfriend of the missing girl (Lila Stanguard, in case you forgot, because you totally forgot). But, wait, we’ve seen him before. It’s the guy that was fighting with Wesley’s neighbor! Keating’s husband comes into the office and kisses the good professor. Bonnie watches the two of them meaningfully. Is she sleeping with him? Where is Lila? Who is Lila? 

Back at Wes’s apartment, he fingers the teeth marks in the bed frame. Evidently, the guy who lived here before had crazy sex, but not crazy enough for Wesley to buy a different bed. There’s a knock at his door. It’s a bottle of whiskey and a thank-you/sorry-for-being-mean note from Rebecca, the neighbor. But, she can’t come in for a drink right now. 

The case — oh yeah, you remember the actual case that’s happening with the murderous assistant — continues and it’s going badly for Keating. Footage from a convenience store was just found and shows Gina buying aspirin the night before. She must have used it to poison him! No one ever buys aspirin for non-sinister reasons!

Keating yells at her associates some and then announces that she’ll have to fix this herself. And, of course, she does.

She calls Detective Nate Leahy to the stand. The detective walks into the courtroom. It’s the guy who was going down on her in her office/house! Keating asks some pointed questions about where Nate was two nights ago, even though she knows perfectly well where he was. (On her!) She even mentions his nice, lovely, cancer-striken wife. And, then, she suggests that the chain of custody must have been compromised while he wasn’t in the office supervising, since he was otherwise engaged. She asks him if he’s ever known video surveillance footage to be altered by his department? Could this footage have been altered? Has he ever seen an instance of footage being altered? He, very reluctantly, says yes.

The case is won! Justice prevailed. Or not. Whatever. Professor Keating walks in slow-motion through the halls and gives a press conference. “I want to be her,” says Michaela. Do you? Do you, really?

In class the next day, Keating announces the four students who will join her firm: the winner of the trophy, Connor; Michaela; Laurel; and who is this last person, Asher Millstone? But, don’t worry, there’s a surprise fifth spot, which she gives to Wesley. Naturally. 

After class, Wesley asks if that detective was her boyfriend and if he lied on the stand. Wes tells her he doesn’t want the job if he’s only getting it because he knows these secrets. She says that’s not why she picked him, but if he thinks so poorly of himself then maybe he shouldn’t be here. You can either turn down the offer, get a boring corporate job, and hit on chubby paralegals until you put a gun in your mouth, she says (or something to that effect), “or you can join my firm and become someone you actually like.” It’s ironic, see. Not to her; to us. 

The missing girl, Lila, is found dead in the water tank of a sorority on campus. Rebecca, Wes’s neighbor, watches this news meaningfully on TV, as does Keating’s husband. Did he do it? Did she? The husband says to Keating it’s so sad, what must the parents be feeling. She bets the boyfriend did it. “I guess we’ll see,” he says. I guess we will.

Back in the woods, in the present day, the four students — where is that fifth guy who got picked? — get ready to set the body on fire, to burn the evidence. Are they all in, says Wes. They’re all in. The light from the fire flashes onto the face of the dead body and we finally see who it is: Keating’s husband!! (In case you couldn’t make that connection, they flashback to his face multiple times just to make sure you get it.)

Who killed him? Who killed Lila? Who is this fifth law student that we haven't really met? Will Wes finally crack through Rebecca's hard shell? So many questions! Like: How do you get away with murder?

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