Boob(s On Your) Tube: “How To Get Away With Murder” Is Getting Away With Stealing Our Hearts

It’s a light week for queer teevee on account of The World Series taking up three thousand hours and preempting all of the good stuff on Fox (and also the bad stuff on Fox; take that, Scream Queen) — but hey, How to Get Away With Murder aired a really revolutionary trans storyline, and there’s other stuff we need to talk about, too.


American Horror Story: Hotel

Wednesdays on FX at 10:00 p.m.

Written by Tina Horn

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Are you sure you dropped some Skittles down here? I can’t find them anywhere.

If you, like me, spent your teen years obsessed with the horror-fantasy comic Sandman, you’ll remember an issue about a “Cereal Convention.” In a generic hotel, serial killers (get it?) gather to get nerdy about murders and executions.

This week’s episode of AHS reminded me of that story a lot; except instead of a convention, “Devil’s Night” is a party at the Hotel Cortez where everybody dances to Velvet Underground covers. And while Neil Gaiman invented a bunch of fictional killers, AHS invites the ghosts of real-life infamous people. This creep factor is one of my favorite things about the show; even when surrounded by supernatural monstrosities, nothing is more depraved than what humans do to themselves and one another.

We need to talk about Lily Rabe as Aileen Wuornos. As a beloved recurring cast member (personally, my mood can always be improved by clips of her as Satanically-possessed Sister Mary Eunice humping the bed to “You Don’t Own Me,” or as swamp witch Misty Day twirling to “Rhianon”), Rabe’s appearance signals a special characterization. The real-life Wuornos was definitely a psychotic killer, but is also seen by many as an outlaw misandrist hero.

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Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling!

For a moment, in Rabe’s first scene at the bar, I was excited that we were seeing a vision of Wuornos as a woman who had the nerve to fight back against the abusive patriarchal circumstances of her life. But when drunk John Lowe invites her to his room (believing her to be a horny girl in a very realistic Wurornos costume) Liz Taylor hisses at him, “You’re too drunk to see how ugly that woman is.” Lowe says “I’m too drunk to care.” This really pissed me off. Who thought this was a funny line? Who calls people ugly, especially a real life butch lesbian?

In Lowe’s room, Wuornos goes full psycho, cuffing him to a chair and accusing him of a bunch of shit. Though Rabe gave Wuornos some dignity by just being such a goddamn good actress, the show was sort of undermining her heroic reputation. The switch suggests that she invented the stories of attempted rape by posing as a prostitute and luring men to their death before shooting and robbing them. I cannot deny that Wuornos murdered men, even if it was in self defense or justifiable rape vengeance. But if you’re going to create a fictional story in which real serial killers have a glamorous sexy powerful club, it’s definitely a misogynist move to portray the female as the ugly, lying, out-of-control one.

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Just dance!

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Shhh, gonna be okay, da da doo-doo-mmm.

That quip aside, I thought this episode was gangbusters. This morning (which happens to be October 30th, the real Devil’s Night), I was biking to work and an older gentleman in Carharts crossed my path wielding a six-foot tall bloody scythe. “Cute!” I said, instead of “WTF?!” The Halloween joke, “That is such a convincing costume!” never loses its luster because our sense of danger really is blurred when everyone is masquerading as something spooky. That mindfuck is what I love about Halloween and AHS.

Notes on random excellence:

This week it was Chloe Sevigny’s turn to drink the ancient blood virus from Lady Gaga’s breast, mama to mama.

I appreciated that the businessman brutally sacrificed to the serial killers was introduced making whorephobic comments about girls in sexy Halloween costumes.

John Carroll Lynch, who played Twisty the Clown last season, as John Wayne Gacy, the real life inspiration for Twisty, was another stroke of stunt casting genius.

Predictions:

I am fully Team John-Lowe-is-the-Ten-Commandments-Killer. The blackouts we never see flashbacks to. The guilt over losing his child. His inclusion on the guest list of serial killers. His “late hours at the office.” The fact that March seems to know something about him…

Iris is going to become the most vicious killer of all and we are gonna get fucked-up Kathy Bates with blood all over her face going full Misery and it’s gonna rule.

Alex is going to break in her new blood craving on bad mom Shelly from Twin Peaks, sending a warning to anti-vaxxers everywhere.


Arrow

Wednesdays on The CW at 8:00 p.m.

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What do you mean you couldn’t find any Count Chocula? IT’S HALLOWEEN.

Sara is still alive on this week’s Arrow. Well. “Sara.” But Laurel is the only one who seems to think her sister’s soul is still alive in her sister’s resurrected body. They’ve got her chained up in the basement and she doesn’t recognize Laurel or her dad or pictures of anyone in her family. And one time she kind of sort of tries a little bit to strangle Laurel to death. My friend Valerie called her a “feral kitten,” last week, which is just about the truest thing I’ve ever heard. I think Lauren thinks so too, so she returns to the dungeon to feed Sara a sandwich and sit on the floor and not make eye contact with her — the first step of socializing all feral cats — but Sara has escaped.

Whoops.


How to Get Away With Murder

Thursdays on ABC at 10:00 p.m.

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There’s only two things I do really well, sweetheart, and getting away with murder is the other one.

This week’s How to Get Away With Murder case of the week is about a trans professor who teaches with Annalise. Her name is Jill and she’s played by out trans actress Alexandra Billings. Jill is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband and finds that the only way she can get out is to kill him. She hasn’t been watching this show, so she doesn’t actually know how to get away with murder. She makes the rookie mistakes of using a landline and faking some witnesses and setting up a crime scene. Luckily she’s dear friends with Annalise, who is the best of the best at what she does and also knows what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship, so she doesn’t get convicted.

Our trans editor, Mey Rude, and TV intern, Sadie weigh in with their thoughts below.

Mey’s Thoughts

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Are you sure she’s over Wolverine?

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Um, when was she under Wolverine?

First of all, I was really excited to see Alexandra Billings in this role. Not only is it good to see that they actually cast a trans woman to play a trans woman (unlike Law & Order, another show that recently aired a “trans episode”), but also she’s been a working actor for a while, blazing trails for other trans actors, and it’s nice to see her getting more roles. Also, it’s nice to see a trans woman in a role on a tv show about murder where she’s not playing a dead victim who repeatedly gets misgendered by the people trying to solve her murder.

The cops were predictably gross, telling her “you lied to your husband” and that it was rational for him to freak out when “he found out what you are.” But the show stepped up its game by actually having not only Billings’ character call him out right there (way to not take any abuse any more) but then also have the star of the show, Annalise Keating, say that the transphobic cop added to her trauma by verbally abusing her after she was attacked by her husband. Annalise shout-asking “How is it not a hate crime?” is something I find myself doing all the time when trans women are murdered and the police decide not to investigate it as a hate crime.

They actually talked about Cece McDonald! How awesome is that!? And they didn’t just drop her name, they had a trans woman tell her story, talk about what happened to her. That was amazing.

Finally, Annalise and Jill talking about love and bonding over the relief they feel now that they’re out of abusive relationships was terrific. Jill saying “I believed him when he said he was the only one who could ever love me” stabbed me right in the heart. That’s something that we, as trans women, hear all the time, from society, from the men we sleep with, from the women we sleep with, from all around us, and here was a trans woman who finally fought back against that and broke free of that mental abuse. I think this was the best Very Special Trans Episode of a show that I’ve ever seen.

A few other notes:

“Old ladies can like vag too.” That line made me throw my head back and laugh.

I really like that not only is Annalise on Jill’s side in this case, but they’re old friends. It shows that trans people are a part of her life and that her fighting against the transphobic husband and cop wasn’t just for show.

Sadie’s Thoughts

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Is a threesome with you and Jean Grey still on the table, or…?

I thought Alexandra Billings was a fantastic choice for this show and I almost expect to see her take the lead on a show of her own within the next few years (which, as an avid teevee watcher, I really couldn’t find myself saying not that long ago). Trans characters on shows like this are often time relegated to angsty teens who are convinced or often forced backwards or a tragic older person with no one at all on their side. Because of this history one of my favorite aspects of this episode was that Jill and Annalise were already friends to begin with, and that meant every transphobic comment was met with a rebuttal rather than being used as a cheap joke at the trans person’s expense. I’ll be honest, I was worried about how this would go down considering Shondaland doesn’t have a super great track record, with some of the missteps made in Grey’s Anatomy, alongside the fact that this storyline breaches into trope territory (femme fatale trans women murders husband), but it was incredibly refreshing to see that kind of thing turned on its head by showing just how much Jill and Annalise have in common.

All and all I thought the storyline itself was a little thin but it was handled expertly.

Heather’s Thoughts

When I downloaded Sadie’s screencaps, they made me laugh so hard.

sadie
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Carmilla

Tuesdays and Thursdays on YouTube

Written by Karly

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Being ashamed to talk about pads is a tool of the patriarchy, y’all.

This week Carmilla, Perry, and Mel agree that their missing periods is related to students all over campus acting like farm animals and magic is involved. Like seasons 1 and 2, the main plot takes a backseat to the characters interacting with each other. Mel is so shy, Perry is like a mix of Hermione Granger and Professor Trelawney, and Carmilla is trying to be the aviator-wearing guard in Cool Hand Luke.

In present day, Laura is taken aback that Carmilla threatened to break so many fingers and Carmilla shrugs, like “Stop forgetting I’m a vampire.” Then they tease each other and it’s adorable. I missed Laura in episode 3, but she made up for it all in that one scene.

But back on the VHS tapes, Carmilla doesn’t use thumb screws on Perry. Instead she stomps on Perry’s attempts to cast spells, telling her the OtherWorld doesn’t reveal itself to muggles. You can see the sparkle leave Perry’s eyes. Words can hurt worse than thumb screws.

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What, no. I don’t love you. Whatever. Pshaw. Psh. Ha! Whatever.

Next week maybe they find a clue or they could just play Clue on that giant awesome table. I would watch either.


Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 769 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. I knew Alexandra Billings looked familiar — she’s Maura’s neighbor/role model/friend on Transparent. I hope her role in S2 is bigger. (Seems like she could’ve played the lead in Transparent pretty convincingly too…oh well).

  2. My friend told me that she might be dropping HTGAWM after last night so when I loaded up a stream this morning I was like ‘PLEASE tell me this is not a Very Special Episode’ I was surprised by how good it was! Asher and the other kids were little shits about other things entirely and it all went down very well

  3. Mey, as soon as HTGAWM ended I jumped on Twitter to see if you had anything to say about it – thanks to both you and Saide for taking the time to give us your thoughts!

    I got so excited when I saw Alexandra Billings’ name in the opening credits! And I got even MORE excited when, after a few scenes with her, it was clear she wasn’t going to be a victim, but a client, and that Annalise treated her character as a friend, with respect and dignity.

    And THEN it began to seem like her character had faked the crime scene, and the abuse. I thought, overall, the show did a really good job with this trans storyline, but did anyone else feel like it was left a little too vague whether she’d faked the abuse or not? I would have been much happier if it had made clearer that Jill had really been abused. But I guess that storyline kind of got overshadowed by all the other stuff going on in the episode.

    • I felt the same way, and then I felt super crappy about not taking her word for it. I think they were maybe trying to play off of just how complicated these situations can get, especially when a trans woman was involved.

      Ultimately I decided to take her word on it in hopes of a spin off where Annelise and Jill become a serial killing duo coming after abusive husbands.

    • I definitely felt on the fence about whether she was faking the abuse as a murder excuse or not, but by the time she finished her big monologue to Annalise about “he had me convinced that no one else would love me” (paraphrasing), I was sold. I think the crime scene was a fake out because she honestly thought that no one would believe her. It’s an unfortunate side effect of everyone being a murder-y liar on that show that we have to second guess even the most horrific of truth.

      Case in point: I’m still not convinced that Annalise was telling Asher the truth when she showed him that video of Bonnie and her father.

    • Oh, I believed her, because I WANTED to believe that she had some kind of excuse for murdering her husband, but I thought the show left it vague on purpose. Which it does for a lot of Annalise’s clients, so it fit with the tone of the show.

      And yeah, CP I’m with you on the Bonnie abuse videos. There’s no proof that that was actually Bonnie in those videos. There’s gotta be more to it than that.

      • Ah yes, I see what your saying about the murky innocence of Annalise’s clients and the overall tone of the show! You’re right. I’ve never thought of it that way.

        I suppose then that it’s probably for the better that the trend of murky innocence continued right through Jill’s character arc. Singling her out as the “one true innocent” in a show that is built on grey morals would’ve been patronizing and added to the “Very Special Trans Epsiode” feel. I’d rather they treat her like everybody else.

  4. Tina! Yes! I definitely remember reading that issue of sandman, which unfortunately, was the first ever mention of trans women that I saw in comics (one of the killers only targets “pre-operative transsexuals”). And also I 100% agree with your thoughts on Lily Rabe and I thought it was so weird how the show seemed to hold the male serial killers with a weird reverence, but kept on insulting Wuornos (not that I think any serial killers should be revered, but like you said, it seemed weirdly misogynistic).

  5. The whole Bonnie storyline is what’s really getting me on HTGAWM. Annaliese had to have done something to her dad, right? Also, is Annaliese Wes’s secret birth mother or something? She’s kind of weird with him. And that scene with Rebecca’s body…my heart. Maybe not for Rebecca, but for Wes. But also because Rebecca’s life kind of sucked all the way through and it was all kind of tragic. Laurel is my favorite. I just have so many feelings.
    But I’m kind of bummed there was no Grey’s this week because I really want to see Meredith and Amelia take down Penny. Cut her. Etc. Last week’s Meredith was everything I ever dreamed of in Meredith. Like she had finally arrived. And Amelia’s breakdown…I just felt all of it.

  6. Heather (+Mey + Intern Sadie), I was the one that was over tweeting last night about how I hoped the episode would be covered in the recap. I am so overjoyed that it ended up being covered by ALL THREE of you!! The World Series and subsequent ligh reeves coverage worked out on my benefit, I suppose 🙂

    I feel like at this point I’d probably be echoeing everyone else’s reactions as far as having waves of relief/ excitement when I realized that Jill was being played by an actual out trans actress (I REALLY hate that this is still so rare in 2015), that she wasn’t the victim, that she wasn’t written as a femme fatale trans woman lying to her lover, etc). I loved that she was Annalise’s friend and that she was a professor and all of it. Just LOVED IT.

    But then! Then she invoked Cece McDonald and I just cheered so hard! Say her name!!! It was so powerful.

    AND THEN “I believed him when he said he was the only one could ever loved me” and I just sat their mouth agape, near tears. To watch a trans woman and a queer woman of color have that exchange, about a vulnerability that I think cuts close to the heart for so many in those communities- at least I know it cuts close to the heart for me. Just, damn. And when Nate later echoed that sentiment to Annalise, it just felt like icing on the cake.

    I still can’t believe how honestly GOOD How to Get Away with Murder is this year. And how queer. And how sex positive. And how feminist. Six episodes in and the streak continues!

    Bonus points: the episode opened up a conversation about CeCe for my 60 year old mother.

    The whole episode, I kept thinking shot what Heather said at the start of the tv season re: Shonda night. Our stories do not deserve the scraps from the table. We deserve full treatment. I’m glad to see that trend continuing.

    • Also, did anyone see the previews for upcoming episodes?? EVE IS COMING BACK!!!!!!!!!!!

      Also also, I believe that Jill was the first work colleague of Analise that we have met. I’m choosing to be naively hopeful that this was purposeful, not a fluke, and that we may get to see her again in the future 😉

  7. I am loving How to Get Away with Murder this season, and I loved reading your thoughts on this episode Mey and Sadie.

    Also, I did not think that show could get more murdery and it has like woah. If there is a third season it will be interesting to see how it can even more murdery. (I don’t believe they will actually murder Annalise).

  8. Hey Heather! Why isn’t anyone covering Vampire Diaries yet? There is a new lesbian teen couple and they are great (and by great I mean evil). Last week’s episode featured the line, “Try being gay in the 1900s.” It’s fantastic.

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