Originally published 12:00 PM EDT, January 24, 2017
How to Get Away With Murder is full of complex, strong, and rich characters. However, one incredibly powerful female bombshell steals the show.
For two-and-a-half seasons Laurel Castillo has kept my eyes glued to the screen with the confidence and badassery she exudes every time she steps into the frame. She’s quiet without being meek, sharp with a quick wit that is often mistaken for arrogance. Raised in an upper-class Latinx family, Laurel was influenced by politics and parents who taught her to keep her mouth shut. Something that, luckily, she rarely does.
Day one in Annalise Keating’s Criminal Law 101 class showed that Laurel was the boss of her own right. After being scolded by Annalise for taking a learning opportunity away from another student, something clicked in my brain. I had instant “insufferable know-it-all” flashbacks from my Harry Potter days. I remembered being so angry when Hermione was shot down for being smarter than anyone else in the room. Four episodes later my annoyance was confirmed when she was called a show-off. Laurel shot back simply, “I wasn’t showing off, I was answering your question.”
Laurel isn’t your stereotypical “rich kid.” She breaks from that mold of having an entitled attitude while offering a fresh view on what wealthy households look like. She has different ideas from what is considered important than the rest of her family and doesn’t waste an opportunity to share her disagreement. Season 1 shows Laurel standing up to her stiff family at Christmas dinner after they dismiss her accomplishments. Laurel in turn drops a line on what real life looks like. Horrible things happen everyday, and not everyone has the luxury of just sitting back and talking about golf.
Laurel is strong, and while I have no doubt in my mind that she could take Connor in a fist fight, I’m not talking about muscle power. Laurel sees, she analyzes, and she assesses how best to handle a stressful situation. In the time it would take any normal person to compose themselves enough to think clearly, Laurel already knows what to do next. She is always one or even two steps ahead. It was Laurel’s idea to use the bonfire as an alibi for Sam’s murder in season 1. When Michaela lost the engagement ring that could possibly connect her to Sam’s death, it was Laurel who had the jewelry stowed away for safekeeping.
One of the most compelling aspects of How to Get Away With Murder is that none of the characters are wholly good people, but none of them are characteristically bad, either. They are humans who make mistakes and suffer from the emotional consequences of their choices. In the fifth episode of the series, Laurel discusses her own faults as a human when she confesses, “I’m a cheater, yes. And a slut and a bad person and now a murderer.” Laurel is one character who is keenly aware of her own humanity. Her vulnerability isn’t what makes her weak; it makes her even stronger. This strength is doubly seen when you look at the influential men in her life.
So often women in television are eclipsed by the men that surround them. Laurel, on the other hand, isn’t. Part of me believes that her relationship with her father is the cause of her unwillingness to let men have power over her. Season 3, episode 3 was the shocking installment where we learned that Laurel was kidnapped when she was 16 years old. Even more shocking, however, was the reveal that her father refused to pay the ransom. It all started to fall into place for me here: Laurel’s independence, her tenacity, and her drive. She grew up fighting and she doesn’t plan on stopping.
Laurel’s father is a man who refuses to help her without gain for himself. He is the first, but not nearly the last, man to teach her what real disappointment feels like. So when two different but equally important males step into her life, Laurel has head enough on her shoulders to handle herself in the wake of heartbreak. Laurel watches not one of these men, but both, walk away from her. Frank, Annalise’s right hand man, flees after committing murder. Wes, a friend and classmate, finds himself in a relationship with Meggy, a nice nurse he met over the summer.
Laurel’s phone calls to Frank in season 3 are not a crazy ex-girlfriend’s cry for his return. Each voicemail and rendezvous with her father to hire a P.I. is concern for his well-being. Furthermore, Laurel celebrating Wes’ happiness with someone else and not saying anything about her feelings isn’t weakness. She stands aside out of genuine care for a dear friend. Laurel is strong enough to put her own feelings out of the way.
She does this not because they don’t matter, but because she understands there is more to a person than the wrongdoings they commit, knowingly or not. It isn’t her relationships with these men that define her. Rather, it is how she composes herself without them that makes her powerful. She retains the ability to continue on, remain loyal to herself, and get shit done.
It takes strength to stand up the people who are supposed to love and support you most. It takes reverie to be one step ahead of the game and protect your friends. It takes wisdom to admit your downfalls. It takes courage to ask a man who has hurt you so deeply for his help. It takes great empathy to step outside yourself and worry about the well-being of others while still maintaining your own stability. Laurel Castillo is a complex and stunning character. She is a women of fierce intellect and even fiercer heart. TV is lucky to have her.
How to Get Away with Murder returns this Thursday, January 26 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.