How to Get Away With Murder. And Sex.

“He did this thing to my ass that made my eyes water.” It was the post-coital line heard ’round the world. Or at least reverberated off of the walls of every household tuned in to watch this Fall’s buzziest new late night primetime obsession How to Get Away With Murder. Connor Walsh, played by Jack Falahee, is a cunning, sexy first year law student with a healthy appetite for sex and a penchant for seducing men who are more vulnerable to his devious charms and signature half-grin.

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In the pilot episode, Connor seduces Oliver, an adorkably hot techy who helps him land a real lead for his boss, Annalise Keating, played by the ever-enthralling Viola Davis (who, at this point, can read lines straight out of a phonebook and she’d get an Emmy nod — she’s that talented!) It was that scene, which showed Connor going downtown, alluding to the act of rimming and anal sex that sealed the deal for me: I was a fan.

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iAQ0cTXiS81H8However, after the second episode, “It’s All Her Fault,” I began to worry that Shonda Rhimes, the Goddess responsible of all that is holy in Shondaland (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and Murder), and Peter Nowalk, openly gay creator, showrunner, and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder, had pigeonholed Connor Walsh, turning him into yet another gay stereotype that perpetuates the idea that gay men are only after sex, sex, and sex, and will do anything to get it. But after four incredibly solid episodes, especially last weeks “Let’s Get to Scooping,” it became clear that Walsh is everything I’ve ever wanted in a gay male character on TV. He’s smart, clever, and witty. He’s cutthroat, knowing what to do in order to win in a career where winning is everything. He’s not breaking into song or pursuing a creative career (I love Blaine and Kurt on Glee, but that stereotype is getting tired). He’s tortured and damaged, with varying shades of grey that color who he is, and something tells me that Shonda is just getting started with his story. He’s strong and stands by his actions, yet he’s just as fragile as a house of cards, as showcased by his epic breakdown at Oliver’s feet in the episode’s post-murder flash-forward.

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Also, he just-so-happens to love sex. Lots of sex. Lots of dirty, hot, thrown-against-the-wall-and-rimmed sex. And he knows what he’s doing, too. But more than that, you get the sense that he’s just trying to figure out his life, navigating his first year as a law student and working with a high-profile lawyer while enjoying sex and trying to process his obvious feelings for Oliver.

Did I mention the sex?

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Shonda Rhimes’ shows are no stranger to steamy love scenes. In fact, the heated Meredith and Derek scenes put Grey’s Anatomy on the map. For the most part, there haven’t been too many gay men on her shows having sex. In fact, there aren’t too many gay men on Primetime having the explicit sex that Connor Walsh is now enjoying on Murder. And the sex is unashamedly hot and he’s unapologetic for enjoying sex. It’s an idea I wish I saw more of growing up, outside the flippant, careless, stereotypical Queer as Folk (at least with Brian Kinney, the character who had the most sex and least heart, which, at one point in my formative teenage years, scared me into thinking being gay was all about cheating and sex and not caring), a show I had to sneakily watch when I knew my mother wasn’t home.

Shows that featured gay characters that I didn’t have to sneak-watch weren’t so brazen. When Will Truman was having sex on Will & Grace, it was never seen on camera. The raciest scene was the one where Will and Jack woke up naked in bed together on Karen’s yacht. Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek went through a tortured “will he/won’t he” saga during season three — but it was whether or not he was ready to kiss another boy. Later, in the shows sixth and final season premiere, Joey Potter alludes to Jack having casual sex with strangers during a very “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” monologue. Daytime soap operas still build up to the “gay kiss.” Glee waited four years for a proper gay sex scene between Blaine and Kurt, which featured both characters in various states on undress in the back of a car before Mr. Shue’s wedding. Even shows like the CWs 90210 watered down Teddy’s sex life — and overall presence — once he was out. Premium channels, like HBO or Showtime, have shows that have featured explicit sex scenes between two men, like Game of Thrones or Queer as Folk, respectively, but there’s a line between premium content and primetime content. Now, thanks to the brilliant Ms. Rhimes, that line just got a little bit more blurry. Check out the scene from last weeks episode between Connor and Paxton, one of his boss’ client’s employees:

It’s racy. It’s steamy. It’s hot. It’s progressive. Especially in the context of primetime TV.

Stay with me.

The best aspect of Shondaland shows is the showcasing of equality; it’s done with such mastery and openness and it’s organic to the story, not forced. Rhimes has created some of the most powerful and empowering women on TV, from Cristina Yang and Miranda Bailey (Grey’s) to Olivia Pope and Mellie Grant (Scandal) to Annalise Keating (Murder.) She’s crafted one of the best, most positive examples of a lesbian relationship in Callie and Arizona on Grey’s. She’s also helped to shape a new idea about black women in mainstream media; gone are the stereotypes of the “angry black woman,” the “Jezebel,” the “mammy,” the “token comic relief,” and it’s their places are “strong,” “sexy,” “confident,” and “powerful.” Her characters are fully realized and well-rounded, which makes the introduction of Connor Walsh, and his trail of broken hearts in Murder so striking; it’s only a matter before Rhimes addresses the damaging stereotypes of gay men that persist in mainstream media, the same way she has with women, black women, more specifically, and lesbians.

Still, Rhimes is pushing the envelope with sex on Murder, and the reactions have been varied.

Some say she’s perpetuating negative stereotypes of gay men:

I get it. Gay men have long had to fight against the stereotype of non-monogamous sex addicts. But Walsh’s character is far from that. Sure, maybe in the pilot he came off as smarmy. But so did Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy, who began the show as the dictionary definition of “Douchebag,” and is now one of the most intriguing, sympathetic characters at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Something tells me that, like Karev, Walsh is just getting started. Rhimes is just getting started. Even so, four episodes in, and Walsh was faced with the consequences of his actions when his latest conquest, Paxton, commits suicide not too long after they’re office rendezvous (where Paxton uttered the now infamous line, ““He did this thing to my ass that made my eyes water”), which clearly haunts Connor, shaking him to his core. Compound that with a later scene where Oliver breaks off their casual “arrangetionship” and viewers can see that this might be the beginning of the end of Connor’s facade.

Some have criticized Rhimes for being too gratuitous with the man-on-man sex. One Twitter user went a homophobic rant — most of which have since been deleted — accosting Rhimes for pandering to a gay audience and saying that she shouldn’t have to see “that” while she’s watching TV. Never mind all of the hetero-sex on Shondaland shows, and on the rest of primetime. But nobody ever complains about man-on-woman sex because we live in a heteronormative culture dominated by heterosexist images. Here’s what Shonda had to say:

Yes, Shonda Rhimes is pushing boundaries, but they’re boundaries that have needed to come down for a long time. There is a difference between sexualizing characters for the sake of ratings and showcasing strong, sexual characters who use their sexuality as a tool of empowerment. Sex can be a very powerful tool. It grabs peoples attentions and gets them talking. And just like straight men and women have scandalous sex for the sake of a storyline, so do gay men and women. And in order to not only usher in an age of true equality and acceptance, but to show that sex between two men or two women isn’t taboo, but normal and beautiful and sexy and every bit as crucial to character building storylines as it is for their straight counterparts is just as important. Peter Norwalk, creator of Murder, said in an article on E! News:

And you can expect a lot more same-sex sex and same-sex romance as the series continues because, as Nowalk puts it, “It’s part of life.”

“I knew I wanted to push the envelope, especially with the gay sex,” Nowalk explained to me. “And to me, writing the gay characterization and writing some real gay sex into a network show is to right the wrong of all of the straight sex that you see on TV. Because I didn’t see that growing up, and I feel like the more people get used to two men kissing, the less weird it will be for people. I just feel like it’s a lack of vision that you don’t see it on TV, but ABC has never had a note about any of the weird stuff in the show, so I’m gonna keep it going.”

These sex scenes are not treated any differently. And if they seem racier than any other scene between Meredith and Derek Shepherd or Addison Montgomery and McSteamy, it’s not because they are, it’s because we’re commenting on them through heteronormative eyes that are shocked to see two gay men treated the same way as a straight couple; instead of being given the “kiss then camera pans out” treatment, How to Get Away With Murder is equalizing sex between all characters.

Thank you, Shonda Rhimes, for creating a multi-faceted gay character in Connor Walsh.

7 thoughts on “How to Get Away With Murder. And Sex.

  1. Omg gay sex is so hot! When I read this, I went online and devoured all the episodes I could find (which were only 4)! It’s such a great show and I love that Connor. He’s a delisicious devil😋

  2. Interesting piece but before you give Rhimes all the praise she did’t create ‘Murder’…Peter Nowalk, an openly gay producer, did.

  3. Pingback: From 2014 to 2015: Bridging the Media Diversity Gap | HyperReality

  4. we r quite behind here in fiji wit …HTGAWM….dat episode wit conor n baxter hope i gt his name rite was totaly cut out here so thnk god 4 utube i gt2watch it omg dat was awsum a masterpeice in offic sex …

  5. The author said it well; gay sex is normal, beautiful and sexy and I am so grateful for people like Peter Nowalk and Shonda Rhimes for changing the world in such a positive way.

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