Post Mortems

HTGAWM Post Mortem: EP Talks Godfather Moment, Annalise's 'Mask,' Asher-Connor 'Shippers

Peter Nowalk considers himself the luckiest showrunner working in television today.

Take that blistering scene from How to Get Away With Murder‘s Thursday episode — directed by showbiz legend Debbie Allen — in which Bonnie confesses to Annalise that she knew for months about Sam’s affair with Lila Stangard, and even suspected the murdered sorority girl was pregnant.

“What Liza [Weil] and Viola [Davis] do is add so much backstory and feeling that’s not written into the script,” explains Nowalk. “When I watched the dailies, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is so powerful! I could watch the scene over and over.’ I have to give them all the credit for that.”

Nowalk, however, has to take quite a bit of credit for creating the most buzzed-about drama of the fall TV season — one which has the watercooler and social media brainstorming theories both reasonable and outlandish about who strangled Lila and left her body in a water tank, and who later bashed Sam’s head in with a Scales of Justice statue.

As the show races toward next Thursday’s winter finale (10/9c on ABC), TVLine caught up with Nowalk to discuss the genuineness of Annalise’s tearful moments, Bonnie’s future in the wake of her firing from Annalise’s firm, some sneaking suspicions about Wes and Rebecca and, of course, the details on that delectable showdown between Michaela and her future mother-in-law.

TVLINE | Walk me through the big confrontation scene between Bonnie, or as I like to call her, Lurky McChurchmouse, and Annalise.
This is a major moment for Bonnie. To me, I always knew her allegiance deep down was with Annalise. Maybe there was a naïve, hopeful, romantic part of Bonnie that wanted to believe that Sam was this great man; more interestingly than having a crush on him, she just adored him. He gave her hope about her own life in terms of finding a man that could be that good. So, when Sam shows his true colors and he’s pretty much the opposite of what Bonnie thought, and it makes her distrust her gut instincts about people, the first person she’s going to run to is the rock in her life, Annalise.

What I would love to explore in future episodes is how Bonnie came to work for Annalise. It’s very interesting and mysterious, and she owes a lot to Annalise. I will say that. So, the fact that Bonnie tried to step outside the family circle and lie is embarrassing and shameful, and Liza Weil, who plays Bonnie, knew all that gutturally. Her instinct was to make this as painful a confession as she could. To me, it’s like a scene from The Godfather, and Debbie Allen, the way she directed it and the way that Viola and Liza performed it, [they came up with the idea of] Bonnie getting on her hands and knees and begging. It hurts Annalise so much, too. What I love about that fiery moment is it’s not about anger. Annalise is using anger to cover up the fact that she feels so betrayed and distrustful; she only wants to trust the people in her life, and the fact that she now can’t is just devastating to her.

TVLINE | Yes, it was interesting that Bonnie was not the only one with tears in her eyes.
Annalise is trying to shove them down, because one, she’s hearing the worst news about her husband ever. It’s all her deepest fears realized, and it’s also the fact that Bonnie’s the messenger, so she’s been double-betrayed.

TOM VERICATVLINE | I had wondered what was the worst crime in Annalise’s book: Bonnie not saying anything about having met Lila, Bonnie admitting Sam kissed her, or just the fact that Bonnie is the messenger of all this bad news.
Yes, it’s all of the above, and that’s what Viola plays with no words. You see all the pinballs going off in her head: “Wait, this is a three-fold, devastating betrayal.”

TVLINE | So if Bonnie no longer works for Annalise, and we resolve the flash-forwards of Sam’s murder in the winter finale, does that mean we’ll be seeing less of Liza Weil when Season 1 continues in 2015?
You’ll have to watch and see. I mean, there is a hint in the flash-forwards that we’ve already seen of [Annalise calling Bonnie to track down Sam’s whereabouts]. It’s not going to go where you expect. What I’ve always said is, everything that happens in Episode 8, it’s all different after Episode 9, because this whole night of madness has occurred. Very quickly, all the rules can change.

TVLINE | So we should not count Bonnie out of the future action?
No. I’ll tell you that much.

how-to-get-away-with-murder-spoilers-annalise-killerTVLINE | OK, let’s talk Annalise. I’m always looking at her through the prism of someone who wants to win and is maybe three steps ahead of everyone in the room. And yet, that speech she gave about her fertility problems, and the guilt she feels for having been Sam’s mistress before they got married. Do we take her tears and vulnerability at face value, or is it…
You know, I don’t want to answer that for anyone. I want people to interpret it as they want, because the show is about mystery and not knowing people. But I will say she’s human, and Annalise isn’t… everything she does isn’t an act. It can’t be. She’s a person, and sometimes things will get to her.

TVLINE | On that same subject, one of the buzziest scenes of the season was Annalise taking off her wig and her makeup and getting ready for bed — right before confronting Sam with irrefutable evidence of his affair with Lila. I read an interview where Viola Davis talked about that moment partly being about a woman going to bed at night and removing her mask. It seems to me there are two Annalises. There is that public face, the hard-charging woman that says, “prayer is for the weak” and does whatever she has to do to win. She’ll plant a rape story in the paper to pull off a victory in court. And yet, at the same time, it’s surprising, because we see this vulnerability in her personal life — and this almost naive wish to believe that her husband is something he’s not.
Since Viola signed on for the role, she wanted that dichotomy of the public versus the private. Annalise is obviously a more exaggerated version than most of us are in our lives, but we all have a public face and a private face, and I don’t know a person who can wear a mask all the time. Annalise has deep, deep emotions that she can cover up or use in different ways in public. I don’t think being vulnerable is interesting to her. [Laughs.] She is about winning, but she’s also about doing her job really well and being a dynamic, successful person. In her marriage, the fact that she has to accept that Sam is lying to her, it blows a lot of her foundation up. She’s invested a lot of herself in this marriage and the image of it, but also the actual love she felt for this man.

I get the question a lot, “Why did she defend Sam and stay with him?” For starters, she was having her own affair. So, yes, she understands that. They’ve been married for 20 years. We haven’t seen any of that history, but there’s history there. You don’t throw it away if you’re Annalise just because he cheated on you. And until you know for sure…it’s not a decision you make very quickly. Again, it’s only been two months between her confirming that he actually cheated and [the events of bonfire night]. It’s a big decision to take 20 years of your life and throw it away. And there’s also this fear that maybe [the marriage] was a big lie. For someone like Annalise who likes to be in control and know all, that’s not a good feeling.

KATIE FINDLAY, ALFRED ENOCHTVLINE | So in last Thursday’s episode, it sets up this chain of information about the discovery that Lila was six weeks pregnant when she died. Annalise tells Wes. Wes tells Rebecca. Rebecca tells Nate. Annalise had to know Wes would pass the information along, so who’s zooming who in this scenario?
You’ll see who’s zooming who. To me, that sequence is so real in terms of, “I’m going to tell you this. I’m going to trust you’re not going to say it.” There’s a part of Annalise that maybe believed Wes wouldn’t tell Rebecca. Or maybe she wanted to see what would happen. We’ll answer that question, but for me, it’s much simpler than maybe people have been reading into it. To me, it’s like, we’re all self-preservationists when it comes to our welfare and going to jail. And telling a secret’s really easy. It’s the repercussions of telling that secret that can shock people, but it’s really easy to say, “Oh, I’m going to tell you something. Don’t tell anyone,” and not completely understand how wrong it could go from there.

Plus, Wes is in love with Rebecca, good or bad. He’s in love with her, and he trusts her and wants her to get off because he doesn’t believe she did this murder. And then Rebecca now has information that will let her get away with it. I get each of them in their own way. Are they dysfunctional? Yes, they’re all dysfunctional.

TVLINE | We got glimpses of Lila and Rebecca’s relationship in flashbacks, and Rebecca proved to be a very good listener – almost suspiciously quiet. What’s in that dynamic for her?

I get what’s in it for Rebecca. One, Lila is a girl who’s innocent and sweet and comes from the opposite world of where Rebecca’s from. There’s something really refreshing in that, of just getting to be around someone who’s normal and not f—ed up. Lila was a very all-American girl really, and that was a relief for Rebecca. She doesn’t have to be “on.” She doesn’t have to have her big defense mechanisms. She doesn’t need to be worried that some guy’s going to take advantage of her. It’s like a breather in Rebecca’s life in a way that she hasn’t had before. So I understood their friendship.

TVLINE | The other moment from Thursday’s installment that we simply have to discuss involves Michaela. At the top of the hour, she threatened to bash Asher’s head in with the trophy, and she raised her hand to her future mother-in-law in one of the most delightful scenes of bitchery I’ve seen in a long time. Talk me through what we saw — and if you can, tell me about casting Lynn Whitfield as Aiden’s mom.
It was actually a scene that we discussed a lot. It went through many different versions. It needed to feel real coming from Michaela, who is a person that’s very together, and I wanted it to feel like a clash of two equals. No one’s being evil, and no one’s being ridiculous, but you have two very strong people sitting across the dinner table from each other with strong points of view about this pre-nup. And casting Lynn Whitfield was a no-brainer. You’re like, “Lynn Whitfield? Well, we’re not going to get her, but try.” Then, when she comes up on the screen, it’s just like, “Charisma! Charisma!” She brings a real character to these two little scenes.

We talked about the dinner scene a lot — why Michaela would do this in the moment. We had a version where Michaela actually did accomplish the slap. Did it feel real? The line right before the slap is what is revealing, what Aiden’s mom says about her, about coming from bayou backwoods trash. That’s a reveal about Michaela, or at least how the mother-in-law views Michaela, and maybe that’s different than we’ve assumed about her.

TVLINE | So, next week’s winter finale, we will definitively find out who killed Sam and why. Is that correct?
Yeah, and you’ll find out even more. Well, we’ll see all of Murder Night and even some of the next day.

TVLINE | But the Lila murder mystery will be ongoing into 2015. Is that correct?
I won’t say one way or the other because I think, to a lot of the people in the show next week, it feels solved. They might be right.

STEVEN WEBER, JACK FALAHEE, MATT MCGORRYTVLINE | Last but not least, and possibly most ridiculous. A subset of our readers have been posting in our comments section that they feel like there’s an Asher/Connor chemistry beginning to percolate — particularly Asher’s fascination with Connor’s sex life. Are they onto something?
I will say for right now, no. What I love is Asher hasn’t had a lot of gay friends. So he’s just curious in the most intellectual and funny way to me, and I think that’s very real. I’m a gay guy, and I have a lot of straight guy friends. They have great chemistry, Jack [Falahee] and Matt [McGorry], on screen together. So we like that, but right now, [sexual chemistry] doesn’t feel real to me.

TVLINE | Understood. I just had to ask. And you did qualify your answer with the phrase “for right now.” So, there’s always hope that in Season 2 the fan fic will come raging to life.

[Laughs.] It’s good that people have theories, because as they do know, anything can happen on our show. So they’re not wrong to wonder. I just didn’t realize the ‘shippers were that strong for them. [Laughs.]

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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  1. Tran says:

    I enjoy the first few episodes of HTGAWM but since then I had no choice but to give up. There were a lot of unanswered questions involving who killed Tom Verica’s character and some confusing plot lines not to mention the characters point of view. One question remains: Season Two or no Season Two for HTGAWM?

    • Tom says:

      Yes. Season 2, 3, 4, and 5.

    • stellalunaa says:

      How do you watch any show if you can’t handle a few episodes of unanswered questions? That’s what makes the show exciting!

    • Sara says:

      Answers that they are supposedly providing on the next episode. That’s nothing compared to a ton of other shows. And this is one of the most watched new shows. TVLine’s renewal scorecard lists Season 2 as a sure thing.

    • Will says:

      If you want something solved in the same episode, look to the NCIS shows, Scorpion, CSI, etc. HTGAWM isn’t a right fit for you.

      • Tran says:

        What are you whining and complaining about Will? It doesn’t matter whether viewers like HTGAWM or not. You guys better not get mad at me.

        • Alex says:

          What in the world do you mean by this: “It doesn’t matter whether viewers like HTGAWM or not.”

          Of course it matters, if people don’t like then they won’t watch and the show dies.

          “You guys better not get mad at me.”
          For what? Posting confusing comments? That’s merely annoying.

  2. raych says:

    ur interview was verrryyy revealing esp e part bwt annalise telling wes bwt the pregnancy and wes tellling rebecca. the producer says rebecca’s way of getting away with it(murder) i myt b reading too much into this but i love it rebecca is js too slippery and i want her to b the murderer also want wes to eat some humble pie. him and his self-righteous choirboy face kkkkkkkkk…..i love this show!!!!

  3. Mo says:

    I usually cringe when someone asks about ships, but I actually love the idea of Connor/Asher in a very cracky, train wreck, drunken hookup kind of way. It would definitely be entertaining to watch. Well, for me anyway.

  4. LNS1 says:

    I hope we get some more scenes on Wes and Annalise, their dynamic is woah – that tension!!!

  5. matty says:

    Does anybody else ever have a difficult time understand some of the dialogue from Viola Davis? Like sometimes she mutters and you can’t understand what she’s said?

  6. abz says:

    Am I alone in the fact that I just don’t get Wes/Rebecca? Aside from the fact that they’re both probably my least favourite characters on the show, he only knew her for a like a few days and he’s obsessed with her and has this weird blind faith in her right away. I just don’t get the two of them together and I’m kind of bored of it. Hope they both leave after the murder is solved and they add a new student to the Keating 5. And Wes just doesn’t fit in well with any other character outside of Annalise and Rebecca. With the other students, while there maybe some animosity or competitiveness, it feels like they actually interact with each other whereas Wes is always on the outside.
    I want them to go more in-depth into the student’s backstories and explore them more outside of the courtroom/Annalise’s house a bit. I really want to know more about Michaela, Connor, and Laurel’s story. And please more Lynn Whitfield because that scene was awesome.
    I’m starting to think it’s someone we least expect who killed Sam. Someone who we wouldn’t think has any reason whatsoever to do it. It might have all been an accident. The promo showed Michaela screaming and so far we know she was the last one with the trophy so maybe it could be her.

    • TigerLIL says:

      abz, I think Wes is fascinated with Rebecca because she is troubled like his mother and he may have a I need to rescue you from your destructive ways or before you kill yourself syndrome. The need could be the mental affects of not being able to save his mother from her self destructive ways that lead her to suicide just a theory. I mean Rebecca did use that metaphor when she offered to testify that she had to kill Sam cause he was trying to kill me line on Wes. Like she was setting up a self defense claim then she called 911 to set up an alibi kinda curious. In Wes case the rescuer is an personality trait some people have to a level of obsession even when the person they are attempting to save is someone not well known to them. Rebecca is manipulating Wes into first getting Annalise to defend her for her involvement with the roof top murder which I believe she was an accessory to before and after the fact. She seems to be wanting to get Sam back and I believe she set up Sam to get clocked because they seem to have some involvement other than I just met. Sam called Rebecca a terrorist sounds like he wanted to say a blackmailer which I believe she is. Sam killing seems like a revenge killing to me or maybe a passion type killing but more intense than a surprise bop on the head. After all in the highlights for next week the guy had been chasing and then winded up choking Rebecca and had previously chocked Annalise. I’m like I kinda can guess why he is choking Annalise after she just played him well sold him out as Nate put it to the DA. But for the life of me I can’t figure out why in the hell is he chasing Rebecca up the stairs and choking her at the bottom of the stairs. I’m beginning to think she bop him with the trophy while being chock and then got up and bashed dude head in after stunning him for the kill shot. Or maybe Rebecca got a whack in and Wes arrived to finish the job. It appears that only Rebecca, Sam and Michaela were at the house when the head whack took place and Wes, Laurel and Conner came in just after the final blow. It’s crazy can’t wait to see what happens next… hope my commentary wasn’t too long LOL

    • TigerLIL says:

      Oh abz, I’m so with you on the Lynn Whitfield as the protective mom a real lioness… that woman knows she is a cold actress and she can play the pitbull b…tch like no other. I love her she played one in they Tyler Perry movie Family reunion and she killed the same type of role on hit the floor this summer. I mean she and Debbie Allen who directed the episode also played in Stomping at the Savoy together so she bout thought that would be a good move to bring her on. Lynn Whitfield is savvy and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for her talent. I really can’t think of anyone else who could have pulled that scene off I mean short sweet and to the point. I was rolling on that one.

    • Will says:

      I don’t get the ship between Wes and Rebecca either! Haha…I agree – more Lynn Whitfield. I loved her in that movie, “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”. I played the preview in slow motion. It showed Sam chasing Rebecca up the stairs. Michaela looked like she witnessed Sam’s murder while on the phone with her fiance? Maybe Wes murdered Sam in self-defense or tried to stop him from killing Rebecca?

  7. Simon says:

    What I still don’t understand, and I feel like I missed something so you might be able to help me, didn’t Annalise say something like “it’s nice of me to tolerate you here “??! I don’t remember the exact words, but I feel like there is more of a history there. I don’t think that bonnie is Sam’s first wife though, in that case Annalise wouldn’t be in the powerful position in that relationship because she was a mistress herself.. I don’t know, it could be anything at this point

  8. Celesta says:

    Lol me and my friend were saying that Lyla and Rebecca had more chemistry than Rebecca and Wes do.

  9. Liz says:

    So I’ve recently come up with a new line of thought. Everyone’s been heavily focused on who kills Sam, and there’s not much of who killed Lyla. Could it be that Annalise killed her? I’ve never understood why she’s so upset about the affair; she had one herself. It just seems super hypocritical unless she’s playing it up for some reason. And it would make sense that she’s slowly diverting attention to her husband. To me what made Annalise the most upset would be the pregnancy; I think that emotion is very real and represented something she couldn’t give Sam. And that is, to me, a huge motive for murder.

  10. Drew says:

    I’ve been watching the show, but I don’t get why anyone would be super excited about it. It has all of the typical cliche elements of a lawyer series, with nothing special added. And it has all of the typical elements of a murder mystery, with nothing special added. Maybe if they dropped one of those elements and focused on making the other stand out in some way, it would be a better series. As it is now, I’ve seen it all before, and usually better.
    And to add insult to injury, they have all of the useless hookups, adding a soap element that has become almost comedic… Actually, maybe the show could work as a comedy.

    • Lyla says:

      I normally would agree with you – it’s unusual for me to like a law and murder mystery show. But what’s unique about it isn’t its genre, it’s that it’s done in a way that is more emotive than normal. They’re not characters moving through motions appropriate for a TV genre, they’re more like slight caricatures of people dealing with a condensed and dramatized version of what everyone deals with at some point in their lives (betrayal, love, hope, despair, work problems, horrifying realizations, etc.).

      The writing is quick, the actors are phenomenal, and it all somehow comes together to make something that to me is engaging and entertaining, but relatable enough that I’m drawn to the people in the show.

      Nothing I’ve seen on TV is very original. Everyone has ripped someone else off in some way (even Shakespeare ripped off a Greek myth for Romeo and Juliet). It’s how it’s done that matters, I think.

      I’m one of the people who is “super excited about it.” It’s so fun to watch, and really on a Thursday evening, that’s all I’m looking for.

      • Drew says:

        The thing for me is that the characters are so flat. If it were more of a Twilight Zone story where everyone represented something, it might be cool. Instead, they are just cartoon characters. The commercials keep playing up the mystery of it all, but I find it hard to care. Whereas with a show like Veronica Mars, you had types playing against type, and incredibly rich atmosphere, HTGAWM kinda falls flat.
        I agree that it comes down to how it is done. In this case, I think it is done poorly.

  11. Meredith says:

    I really love this show.

  12. lechatnoir says:

    Wes had this perpetual look of a confused puppy . I can’t help but think of those Wackel Dackel when I look at him.

  13. cas says:

    I actually am starting to really like Rebecca so I hope she isn’t the murderer. I think Wes and her are cute. I mean sometimes love is crazy. I hate the idea of Asher/Connor. I swear anytime there is a gay guy on a show shippers constantly try to get them to hook up with a straight guy. I liked Connor and his last BF even though I can’t remember his name. Maybe we will see more of them because they are cute together.

  14. Suz says:

    Only “law” comment: each side who sign a pre-nup must have own lawyer. Her lawyer cannot be paid for by him/future MIL. Otherwise it would get tossed in a heartbeat when she divorced him and challenged the prenup.

    She’s a law student, that’s 1st year info!

  15. Brendan says:

    “Rebecca now has information that will let her get away with it.”

    Uhhh…. did you just accidentally spoil that Rebecca is the killer?

    • TigerLIL says:

      hmm.. that might be a red herring too. I think Rebecca is involved in both murders but I don’t think she murdered either person but she knows both the killers. Rebecca for me is a wild card. She is the only person connected intimately to every character on the show. I think she was blackmailing Sam, Lila and the football player. She is now going to be blackmailing, Annalise, Nate, Michaela, Laurel, Conner and Bonnie. Rebecca trades in information and likes to make people “feel uncomfortable” as she put it. People or sociopaths like that usually use and jam other people. They rarely murder themselves. Like she is manipulating and using Wes to get Annalise to defend her to get her out of any trouble she might be in as an accessory to the first murder before the fact and in the case of Sam’s murder an accessory after the fact or maybe even before the fact as she was gunning to set Sam up to bring him down but got him killed instead to protect a secret or as some crazy revenge. Rebecca once said to Nate that she wanted to be acquitted of the Lila’s murder but she never said she wasn’t a part of it which makes me think she was at least involved. Who ever killed Lila and Sam did it to protect something (information or a secret) or someone, or out of jealousy. I certainly don’t think it was an accident its gonna be good because people kill for those reasons on the ID channel on the daily and that is real life or as they say art imitating life…STAY TUNED…LOL

  16. Weezy says:

    Really? Asher and Connor? When I read that people actually think their relationship has chemistry or whatever, it makes me wonder if these people have ever lived in the real world. It’s pretty natural for a straight guy (who doesn’t appear to be getting any) to be fascinated with any of his friends getting some, much less a pimp like Connor. Why do people always have to try to take things to weird places all the time? Can’t we just have two guys being friends? So weird…

    • Mo says:

      What are you talking about, guys being friends? Nope that never happens irl. All guys always want to be sexing up their buddies.

      Kidding, of course. But these two do have chemistry, even if it’s not romantic or sexual chemistry. I agree that Asher’s fascination with Connor’s sex life is not necessarily indicative of his secret desires or whatever. I think this is probably the first time he’s (knowingly) had such close contact with a gay person and just can’t hide his curiosity. Nothing wrong with that.

      But IF Asher’s curiosity led him to pursue a drunken hookup (probably the only context I could see it happening on the show) I would watch the hell out of that. It would be a beautiful, terrible, amazing mess. Right in line with every other relationship on this show… haha!

  17. TigerLIL says:

    Look before I completely lose my mind can anyone tell me why is Nate, the ex-lover of the main character and now the ex-employee of the police department trying to finger Sam for the murder. I’m just baffled. You dismissed the ex-mistress who was on the side begging her to return and be with the hubby. Then you doing your ex mistress a favor by spying on the hubby, you told her not to sell out, then lied to her about the results of your spy mission Now you done got fired from your job but still using old contacts to investigate the husband, what is up with that? This is crazy and defies any logic. What is he trying to get at and who is he trying to burn, really? You already smoked Annalise leaving her hanging on to many notes to count and why you care who Sam was banging and flat-lining that ain’t grounds for your reinstatement in the police department and after all you were having an affair with the woman whose husband you are investigating. You have made it clear you done with Annalise’s crazy so why you still in the photo? I mean you can’t hate Annalise that much for blasting you on the stand you should have told the truth if you knew it. He is the most annoying character on the show to me and he needs to get lost. You dumped the mistress, cut you losses and move on! Help me out here…LOL