After praising the first two episodes from moving away from including cases of the week on top of the increasingly complicated serialized narrative of How To Get Away With Murder, of course tonight’s episode went ahead and threw a case of the week in there. But also, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Season two will have 15 episodes, and even though there are plenty of mysteries and twists to unspool before we get to the whole Annalise-dying-on-the floor thing, Murder can’t sustain itself on just those flashforwards alone.
The flashforwards are definitely working a lot better this season than last, mainly because there’s more at stake here than there was for Sam’s murder. The first season drew out Sam’s murder and its coverup for so long, and it was hard to care, because it was hard to care about Sam. He was a monster, and there was just no real reason to be emotionally invested in a lot of the show’s major reveals. But here in season two, the flashforwards provide plenty to invest in by placing Annalise’s life in danger. One could certainly argue that the stakes are lower in the sense that the chances of Annalise dying are extremely thin. But even just the fact that she comes close to dying is easier to get invested in than Sam’s murder.
Even though the Hapstall case gets the least amount of play it has all season, the episodic storyline that takes its place is one of the better side cases How To Get Away With Murder has handled in its entire run. For one, it helps that it’s backed by Sherri Saum, who is excellent as Tanya, who runs a sex club called Utopia Circle and is accused of involuntary manslaughter when one of her members has a heart attack during sex. Saum makes Tanya a very real character and gives a memorable, layered performance despite existing in a short episodic arc. And the ideas about sex, relationships, and sexuality that the case unearths make for a very compelling narrative that ties into some of Murder’s overall philosophies about human nature and desire.
Annalise makes it very clear in her classroom at the start of the episode that “It’s Called The Octopus” is about sex. But more than that, it’s about sex positivity. And the language used in the episode is far more complex, inclusive, and radical than a simple argument against shaming people for enjoying sex. That’s certainly a key component of sex positivity, but the episode pushes the idea even further by making an argument against shaming people for enjoying sex that doesn’t necessarily fit society’s normative definition of sex. In “It’s Called The Octopus,” characters—the regulars and the ones only here for this one episode—openly discuss different sex positions, sex parties, having multiple partners, lube, female orgasms, BDSM, and a whole slew of sexual preferences and experiences.
What’s more, the characters talking about their sex lives here aren’t all straight, white people in monogamous relationships. In fact, it’s mostly characters of color doing the talking. It’s one thing for a show to talk about sex, but Murder offers a range of different identities, making for a very inclusive episode that goes beyond simple representation. Oliver and Connor, two gay men in an interracial and serodiscordant relationship, have real sex lives that they talk about in addition to all of the emotional aspects of their relationship. That seems so simple and obvious, and yet it is still rare on network television when it comes to queer characters. Not only do the various diverse members of the sex party group Tanya runs express their enjoyment of sex, but Annalise Keating, the queer Black woman at the heart of this show does, too—and she has also expressed so in past episodes. How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t just try on sex positivity for an isolated episode; “It’s Called The Octopus” just underlines the show’s overall nuanced approach to identity and how people talk about sex.
The sex partygoers continue Murder’s acknowledgement of fluid sexuality that season two has hit even harder with the Annalise/Eve storyline. For network television, that’s all radical, and it just isn’t being done on other network shows—even ones on which characters regularly have and enjoy sex. Hell, this show has become so queer lately that I was fully convinced Michaela was going to hook up with that woman in the sex party…but of course she was just trying to manipulate her into testifying. (For the record though, I’m not ruling out a potential future hookup for Laurel and Michaela. Those two fight like schoolchildren with crushes, and Laurel also looked like she might cry when Michaela said she has never had an orgasm.)