How to Get Away With Murder Recap: Bonfire at the Vanity

Game, set, match, Viola Davis.

This week’s installment of How to Get Away With Murder contains crazy-steamy guy-on-guy sex, a blush-inducing post-coital chat describing said sex act, a horrifying suicide and brutal dismemberment of a corpse — not to mention those “last nine words” of dialogue ABC’s been teasing us about all week. (!!!!!!!!!) And yet the show’s Oscar-nominated star gives us the hour’s most riveting, unforgettable moment just by removing her jewelry, wig and makeup.

Annalise Keating, the unknowable law professor at the center of ABC’s “Oh. Em. All the expletives. Gee!” freshman drama, has finally been seen.

Oh, sure, she can go from blind rage to icy calm faster than you can shout “Shondaland Thursdays!,” but for all her steely strength in the workplace, for all her tightly clenched control (even in the rare moments she resists letting out a verboten chuckle), she can still be hurt. She can be tricked. She can be manipulated. She can sit alone in front of her vanity, contemplate her limited options in the face of the terrible, terrible truth and fall apart — even if it’s just for a moment.

Once she’s got your number, though, she’ll take it up to the butcher counter and ask for your vital organs in a tidy, white paper bundle — or at least that’s the plot thread I’m hoping will unspool during next Thursday’s episode. (Can we survive the next seven days of waiting?) The boss may have feelings and vulnerabilities, but she’s still a boss, still the boss, and you’d better not forget it.

Let’s pause here to contemplate the transcendent power of the performance by the flawless, gorgeous Ms. Davis — armed with only a moist towelette and a willingness to be possibly the first major actress to appear on network television without false eyelashes since 2008. In the still-present shadow of that wrong-headed, factually dubious, intermittently racist (whether accidental or not) New York Times piece in which critic Alessandra Stanely called her “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington and Halle Berry — among other groan-inducing muck — Davis strips herself utterly free of glamorous trappings to let us see Annalise’s naked shock and rage and grief after confirming that her husband, despite his protests to the contrary, was carrying on an affair with his murdered student Lila Stangard.

“Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

That line, on the written page, is a doozy — the kind of delectable, gauntlet-throwing barb that we all wish we could come up with on the fly, but failing that, will probably be quoting at cocktail parties and on social media and in text messages to our moms (it’s not just me, right?) for years to come.

But preceded by the removal of Annalise’s armor — raise your hand if you gasped as the camera closed in on the back of Annalise’s head as she lifted up her wig — that stinging question somehow pierced deeper.

“Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

And dammit, just when Annalise was kinda sorta basking in her longtime client Marren Trudeau’s bawdy compliment of Sam’s good looks: “Are you kidding? If this were my husband, I’d never be able to walk straight again.” (Slow clap and a refrain of Alicia Keys’ “This Girl Is on Fire” for Erika Green Swafford, who wrote the episode.)

Sorry, this recap is a little off the rails, but I can’t contain my excitement for the way the case of the week — Elizabeth Perkins crushed it, no? — tied flawlessly into Annalise’s personal dramas and those faced by our flash-forward-fallout foursome, especially Jack Falahee’s Connor, whose side of the dice (so to speak) landed up this episode.

So let’s get to the facts… while posing some questions about the various story arcs, shall we?

JACK FALAHEECASE OF THE WEEK | Annalise is called on to defend longtime client (and self-made millionaire) Marren against charges of insider trading, but not only does Marren maintain her innocence, she insists the malfeasance isn’t an inside job, that her employees are like family, and that she can’t relate to her attorney’s utter lack of trust in, well, everybody. Connor, though, winds up bedding Marren’s personal assistant Marren, then recording his subsequent phone calls. “He did things to my ass that made my eyes water,” Paxton tells an unknown associate, in a moment of post-coital bliss, before revealing himself as one of the guilty parties. Unfortunately, when Marren confronts and verbally eviscerates the kid, then swears he’ll do jail time (and give his family a real reason to disown him) he opens an office window and hurls himself to his death. I know we’ve seen suicidal-suspect scenes before, but this one, somehow, ranks among the most startling and sad — especially when we see the unflappable Connor rattled to the core, knowing his own role in the tragic events. Eventually, Annalise lies and berates two more of Marren’s underlings into a confession — a task she reveals is actually the “fun” part of her job — and let’s Marren send them off to jail with a gleeful, “Let’s hear it for the greedy little pigs!” Unfortunately for Connor, though, his tech-geek boyfriend Oliver finds out Connor loaned his power cord to Paxton, and promptly ends their increasingly cute relationship.

LILA’S MURDER | OK, so now we know for sure that Sam was holding office hours in Lila’s bedroom. No, I don’t think next week that we’ll find out the raunchy pics were just part of the coed’s dissertation on Comparative Wienerature, though I must two side observations: Didn’t Lila’s boyfriend say last week they were saving themselves for marriage (so either she lied to him, or he lied to Annalise & Co.)? And secondly, Sam’s abs need their own Tumblr page, or at least a relevant hashtag, yes? #VeryVericaNice? In other news, Annalise’s secret married lover – Hot Detective Nate — continues to dig for dirt on Sam’s involvement (while failing to tell her about it). But Bonnie sees him rifling through Sam’s car, keeps the intel in her handbag for a rainy day, then uses it to blackmail a police sergeant into giving her a tape of Rebecca’s confession. When the video doesn’t match her written statement — and it’s clear someone in the room was coercing part of her confession about walking in on Griffin and Lila having sex, and her being near enough to touch Lila’s legs. When the revelation leads to a reduction in Rebecca’s bail, she finally shares with Wes the code to Lila’s phone — leading to the age old question, “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” Interestingly, though, when Wes shares the evidence with Annalise, she suggestively strokes her desk, moves in very close to her young protege, and tells him how important it is to Rebecca — and to her — that he not share the information with anyone else. It’s pretty clear Wes would dive into a shark tank to retrieve a piece of chum if it helped Annalise win a case, but he earns brownie points instead of scorn by telling his Prof that he didn’t tell her about having the phone in his possession until he’d solidified his status with the possibly homicidal drug dealer with the pretty doe eyes (aka the actress formerly known as Rosie Larsen). “She trusts me now,” he says, with puppy dog enthusiasm. “Because I waited.” I half expected Annalise to pat him on the head — or one of his heads, anyway.

THAT DAMN CHEERLEADER (AKA SAM’S MURDER) | I know the coin-flip/flying cheerleader are used to signify the flash forward to our gang of four freaking out as they dispose of Sam’s body — but I grow a little weary of the that chick, I’ve gotta be honest. So this week, Asher arrives midway through the crime-scene cleanup, bangs on the door of Annalise’s place, and rages against his frenemies for not letting him in. That, plus the cop who caught them wrapping the body, plus carpet fibers in the car, plus all that DNA causes Connor to come unglued, and he winds up — after the body is burned and bagged, or is it bagged then burned? — going to Oliver’s and weeping. “I screwed up,” he sobs, hyperventilating. So maybe, deep down, he wasn’t so chill about taking an axe to Sam’s dead body after all? Also, back at the crime scene, Connor seems to be blaming everything on Michaela, but that might just be his usual brand of disdain/torment flashing through rather than an actual clue. Thoughts?

On that note, I turn it over to you. What did you think of Episode 4 of How to Get Away With Murder? Did Viola Davis just put herself on the 2015 Emmy Ballot? What do you make of the Laurel-Frank-Legal Aid Guy triangle? And what shocked you more: Paxton’s death or the fact that his post-sex quote made it past ABC’s censors? Sound off below!

GET MORE: Recaps