It’s no shock to anyone when I say that How to Get Away with Murder is, albeit a well written show, is a big “OMG” show, as in it’s all about the shock and awe and live-tweeting aspects of today’s primetime soap opera. However, there are those times when the show injects some real-world importance. The first moment was when Annalise took off her wig, revealing her tucked-away natural hair underneath, and many other moments feature same-sex sex scenes. Last week’s episode, “Two Birds, One Millstone,” gave us our first big important moment of the season, I think. We got to see a transgender woman character in an impressive storyline. To top it off, the character was actually played by transgender actress Alexandra Billings, the first openly trans woman to play a transgender character on TV. 

Compare this to how non-transgender actors have portrayed transgender characters, such as Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Jeffrey Tambour in Transparent (a show Billings is also a part of) and Jared Leto in The Dallas Buyers Club. There are a lot of opinions as to who can play a transgender character and how (such as the argument of a man playing a pre-op transgender woman). But regardless of how great the performances are (as evidenced by how many accolades Tambour and Leto have received for their roles) and how much the actors research for their roles, there’s still something to be said for giving an actor who has lived the experience of the character they’re portraying. Basically, it’s one thing to have an actor who is not transgender melt themselves into their role. It’s another to have a transgender actor apply their life experiences and knowledge into a transgender character.

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This episode featured Billings’ character Jill, one of Annalise’s clients, in a jam (to say the least about it). She killed her husband in self-defense, but with the case involving a trans woman, not to mention her husband being a respected man about town, the case quickly turns into a discriminatory witch hunt, since the police think she killed her husband after he discovered her “secret.” In reality, Jill had killed him because she had been driven to that point; he had always beat her to reiterate the falsehood that she’ll never find another man who would love her as herself.

Things get worse when Annalise figures out Jill doctored the crime scene and planted a fake witness. Jill’s answer as to why she did it is chilling enough on its own; the fight did take place, but because the damage to the room wasn’t extreme enough, she felt she had to make it seem like there was more of a fight just so the police would believe her. She gave an example of CeCe McDonald, another trans woman who killed in self-defense, but had her case unfairly stacked against her and was taken to two men’s prisons instead of the women’s prison. Jill wanted to keep her dignity and have a fair chance at freedom, not immediately discriminated against by the court system.

I like the twists and turns each week on How to Get Away with Murder, and I like that we’re getting more development with the characters, what with Connor and Oliver now possibly facing jail time (or worse) after hacking into a killer’s computer, Wes finally having had enough of Annalise’s games, and Asher trying to hide the skeletons in his closet. (I hope he wasn’t a part of that gangbang situation the evil prosecutor says he is, because Asher’s too goofy and sweet! But that could be the very reason he always acts goofy and sweet; to hide his secrets.) But it’s always fantastic when the show finally cuts with the insanity and deals in some real-world issues. It grounds the show, to be sure, and gives people who might not have experience with a diverse group of people of any kind a way to identify and empathize with folks they might not deal with on a daily basis. That’s what good TV is all about to me; entertaining and educating, helping you see the world in a way you hadn’t before.

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What did you think of last week’s episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Screencap of Alexandra Billings from “Two Birds, One Millstone”

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