A pilot is a tricky beast. How to balance exposition with story, character development and the hook that will keep audiences coming back? Very few pilots get the mix just right, but this one comes extremely close. A show about a competitive law school class dealing with defending murderers seems like a limited proposition. However, add in flash forwards of those same law students putting that knowledge to practice is intriguing and adds a great deal of tension to the plot. Who did they kill and why? What circumstances propelled these particular students into a conspiracy to cover up a murder that looks like only one of them committed? Most of that was all in the teaser.
We enter into the story from the perspective of new law student Wes Gibbons (Alfred Enoch of Harry Potter fame) on his first day in Annalise Keating’s (Viola Davis) extremely competitive law class. The top four students will be rewarded with a position in her law firm. The cutthroat environment this invokes makes the scenes fill with tension as each student has to ratchet up the next stunt to get Keating’s approval. The only one who seems somewhat above the underhanded nature of the competition is Wes, but Keating keeps him in the running regardless. There is something about the way she watches him that is slightly creepy. At first it seemed that she saw potential in the way his mind worked. Once Wes walks in on her with a man not her husband, then it seems that she is either bribing him, or wants to keep him close to keep an eye on him.
However, when Keating goes from groping young Wes in the bathroom to breaking down into tears, her motivation becomes a bit murky, but in an interesting way. Was the groping evidence of her attraction to him and why she keeps picking him to move on each round? Were the tears a real look into the pressures and turmoil in her life, or a blatant manipulation? No clue, but that’s the brilliance of the scene. Keating is extremely layered and very smart. She does nothing without reason, but figuring out her reasoning is the challenge. Poor Wes does not seem to stand a chance.
The only place that this pilot falters is developing the other law students and Keating’s assistants. There are about four other students that start with Wes and they are more character types than characters right now. Considering all the slick story telling that transpired in the pilot, something had to give. These characters will surely see some loving character development in the episodes to come, but they fell a bit flat this outing.
Now the million-dollar question is, will you be back for episode two? Let’s review all the questions abounding in the pilot– who is going to win the immunity idol? Why is Keating so interested in Wes? Who is the missing girl all over the news? Who killed Keating’s husband and why are the four students covering it up? A lot of pilots premiere without a hook, but this one has hooks overflowing.