TVLine's Performer of the Week: Viola Davis

HowToGetAwayWithMurder_viola-davis-wig

A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Viola Davis

THE SHOW | How to Get Away With Murder

THE EPISODE | “Let’s Get to Scooping

THE AIRDATE | October 16, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | Much has been said about the boldness and bravery of Davis’ performance in this week’s episode of How to Get Away With Murder. And indeed, in a TV landscape where characters go to bed, wake up, and even pull through surgeries, comas and traumatic accidents with their foundation, blush and eyeshadow in resplendent condition, there was a wonderful audacity in the way Davis stripped her character bare of jewelry, wig and makeup right there on camera. (That the Oscar-nominated actress recently found herself described as “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington and Halle Berry in a dumbfoundingly tone-deaf New York Times piece made her lack of vanity all the more impressive.)

The real thrill of the performance, however, went much deeper than surface-level trappings. As her powerful law professor Annalise Keating removed her glamorous armor, Davis allowed us to see deeply into the psyche of a woman who — through the first few episodes of ABC’s new Thursday-night smash — has been all but unknowable.

In the last few minutes of “Let’s Get to Scooping,” Annalise confirmed that her sexy husband Sam had (once again) cheated on her with one of his students — only in this case, the coed in question was murder victim Lila Stangard. Without a single word of dialogue, Davis made us understand the depth of the betrayal felt by Annalise — the hurt that Sam had strayed, the disgust in herself for having believed his lies, the exhaustion of being a part of their fractured union, the anxiety over having to decide how to proceed (especially since she happens to be the defense attorney for one of Lila’s accused killers). Wiping away her cosmetics with a moist towelette, and removing her sleek auburn locks to reveal her natural close-cropped curls, Annalise came face-to-face with her bare self, compartmentalized her heartbreak and reclaimed her power as an unsuspecting Sam returned home and strolled into their bedroom suite.

“Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” Annalise asked flatly, holding up a screen showing her husband’s muscular, disembodied torso. It was breathtaking conclusion to an hour of gasp-inducing television — and a reminder that while Annalise may indeed be human, she’s a scarily formidable one. In other words, stealing a catchphrase from the great philosopher Beyoncé, Annalise — and the actress who plays her — woke up like this…flawless.

POTWHONORABLE MENTION | This was not the ending to the Matt Williams storyline that Hawaii Five-0 viewers were expecting. Procedurals tend to wrap up arcs in tidy ways, but as this roller coaster took a nasty turn, Scott Caan made sure we rode it out with him. Danny had found his brother’s stash of cash, only to discover that it was well shy of what Reyes was demanding. And the clock’s ticking. Danny was loath to reach out to Ko, of all people, for a loan (only to get shot down). His heart sank further when Chin Ho made an ill-advised bargain with Malia’s brother to secure more cash. Through it all, Caan made sure we felt how on-edge Danny was. But that was nothing compared to when Reyes fulfilled his end of the deal… by producing a barrel with dead Matt inside. Beside himself, Danny, with McGarrett’s help, overpowered Reyes’ henchmen, then aimed a pistol at the cretin’s cranium — and pulled the trigger. Because of the pained, angry look in Caan’s eyes, we understood Danny’s actions, as dark as they were.

POTW2HONORABLE MENTION | Mindy Project creator/leading lady Mindy Kaling was a madcap delight in this week’s episode, which found Dr. Lahiri lying early, often and with zeal. Kaling was on from the first moments of the cold open, fake sobbing with abandon to get out of a speeding ticket and then smugly basking in some roadside afterglow. Her performance picked up speed as Mindy and her new boss (Getting On‘s excellent Niecy Nash) had an uncomfortable romantic entanglement — Kaling’s read on Mindy thinking she might be a lesbian was great — and reached its peak when Dr. L was forced to admit she’s attracted to dudes. Our favorite moment, however, was one of Kaling’s quieter ones: when the actress, without words, communicated exactly how much Mindy loves Danny just by the way she gazed at him during his ridiculous faux-drunken rant. Mindy Lahiri may be rom-com ridiculous at times, but Mindy Kaling and her on-screen alter ego were definitely made for each other  — or, as Sleepless in Seattle fan Dr. L might prefer to state it, “MFEO.”

What performances rocked your TV set this week? Sound off below and let us know!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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79 Comments
  1. Tran says:

    Viola Davis definitely deserves that honor.

  2. J says:

    I would have included HTGAWM’s Jack Falahee on the honorable mentions too

  3. shaw says:

    Haven’t watch murder yet but danny with Hawaii 50 I didn’t see that coming at all at to rewind and watch it again and again. Great job Scott.

    • Kvivik says:

      I agree. And as many times as I’ve wanted to see Anthony Ruivivar’s characters die in the past, this one deserved it the most. I am looking forward to seeing how Scott plays through the aftermath of what Danny has done.

  4. Matt says:

    Viola was great but I would have given it to Jack Falahee as Connor Walsh. His emotional breakdown to Oliver was riveting.

    • abz says:

      Agreed. Jack Falahee is doing a great job on the show. He and Mickaela are the most entertaining to me of the five interns.

      • Nick says:

        Honestly Mikaela is the most annoying character of them all – even worse than “doucheface”. I don’t find her entertaining at all. But everyone opinion is welcome, of course :)

        • abz says:

          I get why she can seem annoying. I don’t know, I just think there’s more to her hopefully. I enjoy her interactions with Connor and its hilarious when he taunts her. The others haven’t really done anything to entertain me. Wes is already annoying to me because of the obsession/romance with Rebecca (a character I just don’t seem to like). Asher/doucheface is funny sometimes but pretty much irrelevant and Laurel at the moment is just boring and hasn’t done anything memorable.

  5. JWB says:

    Viola Davis is a very good actress but having to saying “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” with a straight face is ridiculous. The whole show is kinda beneath her.

    I would have picked Ruth Wilson in The Affair!

    or

    Michael Kenneth Williams(Chalky White) in Boardwalk Empire.

    • Lei says:

      OH I SO agree with this comment that the show is beneath her. This show is so over-the-top unbelievable (suspend disbelief) and stupidly written. I watch the Good Wife, and OMG, the acting and the writing is miles ahead of Murder.
      That scene where Viola stripped her makeup was laughable IMO. How? did she get the dead girl’s cell phone? From her (cheating with) detective boyfriend? Unbelievable.
      And her law students are the worst actors on TV, laughably poor actors.

      I watch this show for the laughs and the over the top so-bad-it’s bad stories.

      • Nate says:

        And yet you still watch it

      • Shadowcat85 says:

        Annalise was given Lila’s cell phone by Wes who had found it in his bathroom where it was hidden by Rebecca.

        • S. says:

          Yeah, that’s not overly convoluted and complicated for a show on it’s third episode, and all for a cell phone.

          • Nick says:

            It kinda make sense. Rebecca is clearly somehow linked to the murder, and she hid the phone in a place she thought no one would find – under Wes’s furniture. Probably she needed to keep it because of its content, but couldn’t afford keeping it in her place in case it was searched. When she hid it, she had no idea that Wes was working for an attorney.

      • Sean says:

        Bye, Felecia.

      • Tony says:

        Clearly you didn’t watch the episode, or you didn’t pay attention enough to see that she was given the phone by Wes after he made the decision to tell her that he had found it. And that entire last scene was brilliant, the stripping of the makeup, and the revealing to her husband that she knew he had once again cheated, was thrilling. I don’t watch The Good Wife, so maybe the acting is generally better there, but it doesn’t mean Viola Davis and Jack Falahee didn’t do an amazing job acting this week!

      • Chimera says:

        So you are commenting on a show that you clearly didn’t watch. That is so sad. Next time just don’t type anything at all.

      • jordan says:

        She hopefully got paid extra to strip down to ugliness. Dont think her white counterparts would have agreed w/o more $$$. It was similar to being naked.

      • ldm says:

        Laughable? Not really… it showed that even though she puts this face on for work and class she’s still human and have regular problems. We our so use to seeing t.v characters be so perfect that the minute someone humanized them it’s too much..Look deeper into the characters… but maybe you should go to a comedy and not drama… because this maybe be too much for you…

  6. Ron says:

    So many yeses to Viola!!!

  7. KC says:

    Totally agree with Viola Davis.
    Mindy doesn’t deserve to be mentioned though.

  8. Haley says:

    I agree that Viola Davis was incredible! She can do every emotion! But I also think that Jack Falahee (Conner) did an incredible job. From going to being the cocky-I-can-do-whatever-I-want to completely losing it at Oliver’s apartment. Pure genius!!!

  9. Edward says:

    Great Choice. I would also like to honor the work of Melissa Mcbride (The Walking Dead) and Ming Na (Agents of Shield) for being kicking some serious ass. Honorable mention for me goes to Katie Stevens showing some serious comedic chops in this weeks Faking it and Octavia Spencer for her work in Red Band Society but i think she can do so much better.

  10. Edward says:

    Great Choice. I would also like to honor the work of Melissa Mcbride (The Walking Dead) and Ming Na (Agents of Shield) for kicking some serious butt. Honorable mention for me goes to Katie Stevens showing some serious comedic chops in this weeks Faking it and Octavia Spencer for her work in Red Band Society but i think she can do so much better.

  11. Alex says:

    Kerry Washington was just as amazing!

    • abz says:

      Loved that scene where she threatened those disgusting parents. It was so nice seeing badass Olivia emerge again. Unfortunately any hope of that continuing was probably decreased the second she gave into FItz and let him kiss her. Why do the writers keep making her so weak?

  12. Simon says:

    I nominate Jonathan Jackson from Nashville this week

    • abz says:

      I’m sorry but I have to disagree with this suggestion. Aside from the snoozefest that is Zoey/Gunnar/Scarlett drama, Avery has probably been the worst part of Nashville this season IMO. At first, I felt sympathy for him because she did hurt him, but he’s become so pathetic and that scene where Juliet bailed him out of jail was laugh-worthy. Such over-the-top acting even for a primetime soap like Nashville. The crying was not believable and incredibly forced. He needs to either get over it and forgive her already or move on with his life.

    • MiaB says:

      Simon, I absolutely agree with you. That last scene with Juliette, he was amazing.

  13. Steven says:

    Viola Davis and Jack Falahee really knocked it out of the park this week. Connor’s reaction when Pax committed suicide was powerful.

    • Chimera says:

      He was reacting to having just dismembered and burned a body. That scene was a flash forward and had NOTHING to do with Pax.

      • abz says:

        There were two scenes. The one with his freakouts in the flashforward and the other one when Pax committed suicide and fell out of the window and the camera shifts to Connor’s face and you can see his reaction and the look of horror about what just happened.

      • J says:

        Clearly he’s talking about a different scene

  14. bj says:

    Great choices. I get that others actors we love all did good jobs this week too, or they wouldn’t have jobs, but you picked a great performance from Viola and an unexpected one from Scott too.

  15. Ange says:

    I’ve seen Scott Caan in many things but Friday’s Hawaii 5-0 was up there with his performance when Grace was taken. I was actually glad the appropriate back-up was there so Danny could make good on his promise.

    Viola Davis was good also.

  16. Hodan says:

    Viola Davis is beyond awesome. Enough said.

  17. Angelstorm says:

    What a performance from Viola ! Give that woman an emmy !! #Flawless

  18. While I felt a connection to Annalise while she took off her make up that I hadn’t felt so far in the show, the sexting reveal wasn’t all that powerful.

  19. Erica says:

    Hawaii Five-O, I agree that Scott Cann and the writers really did an amazing job with this storyline and I can’t wait to see if this creates a darker side for us to enjoy. And can I also say, Steve looked scared and confused and powerless and worried for his friend.

  20. herman1959 says:

    VIOLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Lily says:

    Can we give Tony Goldwyn some credit here? I know people love to hate Fitz but he was incredible in Scandal’s most recent episode. That dressing down of Mellie deserved an award of its own.

  22. tahina45 says:

    Viola did the vanity scene so genuinely believable that you feel the pain on Annalise’s face. This scene is already a classic, and it’s just a few hours old..and I’m anxiously awaiting many more classic scenes like this one to come!

  23. Can someone explain Viola Davis’ hair to me? Is her hair that short in real life, are we supposed to believe her character has cancer or that she just has short hair and covers it all up with a wig, eyelashes, etc.? I was just confused on what that seen was trying to convey.

    • Ange says:

      I wondered the same thing

      • Ozma says:

        Maybe I’m wrong here, but, I think the scene was supposed to be like her removing her armor. Many of the things the we associate with making us feel powerful are on the outside – we craft and image of a put together glamorous individual, but we in turn feel most vulnerable when all of that is stripped away. She was stripping down not only literally – we saw her feel vulnerable, and look vulnerable.
        As for the wig – I may be off point with this, but as a woman of color I speak from my perspective. Many of our hairstyles are not actually our hair that grows out of out skin. When you leave the house, you may also find that only do you put on clothes, makeup, shoes… you might also put on hair.
        Her hair was braided down to accommodate room for a wig. It’s not an unusual thing amongst some communities.
        To better understand, I’d watch the documentary “Good Hair”. It’s fun, and will explain a lot of things that some people are not aware of in relation to “black hair”.

        Hope I wasn’t making an assumption about what may have driven the confusion about her taking off the wig.

    • abz says:

      I believe she revealed that she has allopecia in real life.

    • Chimera says:

      Why would she go to bed with a wig and makeup on? Of course she would take it off. If I look at it symbolically/metaphorically; the makeup is a mask and stripping it away was a visual of how she felt inside at finding her husband was cheating and likely a murderer. Being betrayed makes some people feel vulnerable. To me that scene was all about truth and bravery. She wasn’t afraid to show her true self and she wasn’t afraid to challenge her husband.

  24. Viola Davis is a wonderful actress! Very well deserved!

  25. Rachel says:

    What about Octavia spencer, Jesse l. Martin, or even jack falahee for an honorable mention

  26. Valerie Tower says:

    Voila Davis outstanding!

  27. jm says:

    You all can mark this as historical event on tvline… but it is the first time ever that i think Viola deserves all that prize that everyone seem to think. i usually found her an overrated actress, but this time, she was unbeliavable great. beyond doubt she is a really excelent actress.

    But my best player of the week is a tie with her and Olivia in Red Band Society. Both of them were superb. And i cant choose between any of them this week.

  28. Well chosen! Ms Davis did an OUTSTANDING job.

  29. cetera says:

    seriously Mindy Kaling over Melissa McBride? ;/

  30. Ruiroxo says:

    Jack Falahee should’ve been a honorable mention!

  31. Rosy says:

    Viola is probably always a good choice because she is simply terrific. But “Murder” is (so far) a weak show with weak/ridiculous writing. “Lack of vanity” in acting has become more and more a method for easy approval among critics and it’s getting old (actually it allready pissed me off in The Hours when they chose Nicole Kidman over Julianne Moore, but that’s another story). “How To Get Away With Murder” is beneath Viola Davis and she deserves a better show. I personally would have picked Ruth Wilson this week.

  32. Fall says:

    Viola=A+Performance!

  33. Jax&Juice's Girl says:

    That was an A+++++++ performance by Viola Davis I freakin love her!
    I still think she killed her husband cause if you the clips for the next ep. it looks like there’s a struggle btw the 2 of them. Meaning I think Sam is trying to take the phone away form Annalise. Overall This show is Insane yet Confusing (due to TOO MANY flashbacks)……… well for me at least but will continue to watch!

  34. John says:

    Somebody knows the name of the song during that scene in HTGAWM?

  35. Alexandra says:

    Viola Davis is an incredible actress. I wish the show was better-written, but I’ll keep watching for her. And yes to Mindy too. She started off the episode as basically Kelly (her Office character) but, I agree, she was a great straight man in that last scene, something she is not usually able to be on the show.

  36. Chimera says:

    I cant wait to find out how Annalise’s husband ends up dead. I hated the 1st episode of HTGAWM but now I am hooked. I must admit that I prefer Matt McGorry’s OITNB character over his boring character in this show.

  37. Tiana says:

    These were good picks but I think that Jack Falahee(Connor) deserved an honorable mention for his performance in How To Get Away With Murder on Thursday night . He gave Connor’s character so much more depth than the kind of person he seemed to be on the surface. His acting and the commitment to his character was phenomenal! Hopefully their is more of his great acting to come!

  38. Veronica says:

    Great comedic performance by Mindy Kaling! Awesome that you’ve recognized her. And yeah, Davis goes without saying.

  39. Betty says:

    Great choices. I had to re-watch the Mindy Project episode because I missed so much of the non-verbal interactions the first time I watched. There has been a lot of enjoyable television so fat this fall.