How To Get Away With Murder

After last week’s quite, emotionally tense, and deeply character-driven episode, it’s back to business as usual for How To Get Away With Murder, and unfortunately, business as usual for this show means way too much story jammed into an episode with little sense of cohesion. “Is Someone Really Dead?,” in fact, feels a bit like déjà vu. Even though there are some new developments, it’s almost like a recap episode, name-checking big moments in How To Get Away With Murder history. It’s all stuff we’ve seen and heard before, and it doesn’t help raise the stakes for the under-the-sheet reveal, which is now just two weeks away. “Is Someone Really Dead?” almost feels like a simulacrum of a How To Get Away With Murder episode. It has all the usual elements of the show’s thriller structure and mimics its dark tone, but it doesn’t quite come together or stand on its own, with a few scenes saving the episode from feeling like complete filler.

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It’s becoming increasingly frustrating how insignificant and unnecessary How To Get Away With Murder’s cases of the week often are. This week’s involves a soldier who lies about a traumatic experience in order to defend the fact that she knifed a guy in the throat at a bar. Simon Drake, for some reason, gets his chance in the spotlight of this plotline, taking first chair on the case. The only interesting idea that the case interrogates is the notion of shared trauma. The defendant admits that she wasn’t actually attacked in Afghanistan in the way she described she was, but she was responsible for going through slews of reports about others’ attacks, and that took its own psychological toll on her.

There’s an obvious connection to be made here between what Daniela describes and what characters on How To Get Away With Murder endure. They all have their personal traumas, but there’s a sense that their lives, the consequences of their actions, and their problems all touch each other. Wes killed Sam, but everyone has been impacted deeply by his actions. The Keating manor is, ultimately, a trauma collective. It’s no wonder everyone is so messed up. Their traumas all multiply. Unfortunately, the case of the week is so far on the periphery of the episode that this idea doesn’t really come into play in the episode. There was certainly an opportunity to connect the case in a thematically and philosophically interesting way, but it never gets there.

“Is Somebody Really Dead?” plays out like a greatest hits compilation of all the fucked up stuff that has happened in the Keating manor. Bonnie and Connor quite explicitly blame Wes for everything that has happened within those walls, bringing up Rebecca and Sam and hurling all their pent-up rage in his direction. The characters on How To Get Away With Murder are always looking for other people to pin all their problems on. Usually, Annalise gets the brunt of that exasperation, but this time, it’s poor Wes, who breaks up with his genuinely sweet girlfriend just as she’s starting to find out that he’s hiding dark secrets from her. Though it’s obvious that Meggy was introduced to the show as a contrast to the rest of the morally toxic characters on this show, the character has never quite worked precisely because she’s merely a story device. There are zero emotional stakes to Wes’s relationship with Meggy. The only glimmer at stakes we got was last week, when Wes’s relationship problems were seen through the lens of Annalise’s relationship problems. “Is Someone Really Dead?” just overall fails to really latch onto anything compelling when it comes to Wes, even though much of the episode hinges on him and how he affects everyone else—or, rather, how they believe he affects them. Because, let’s be real. It’s ludicrous for everyone to merely blame Wes for all the shit that has happened.

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Even some of the character work in last week’s episode gets sidelined or forgotten entirely. As part of the conditions for her reinstatement at the university, Annalise has to promise to abstain from alcohol, attend meetings, and submit to random alcohol screenings. Anyone who was somehow unconvinced that Annalise’s drinking problem is indeed a very real, very dangerous problem was surely swayed by her meltdown last week. We even saw the character going through some of the initial stages of withdrawal before giving in to her addiction. But none of that comes into play in “Is Someone Really Dead?,” which shows Annalise in her element for the most part. All temporality and plot details aside, this episode seems like it exists much earlier in this season’s timeline. The emotional spaces that most of the characters are in just don’t make total sense.

Bizarrely, the most compelling relationship dynamic at play is that of Michaela and Asher. Their back-and-forth all season has been little more than entertaining, which is fitting, because Michaela was just in it for the fun, too. How To Get Away With Murder didn’t exactly need to go deeper with Michaela and her meatstick, and yet it does in this episode, and it surprisingly works. When trying to get Michaela to see how much he cares about her, Asher accidentally calls her his family. He points out that he lost his family, that she has been there in the time since. It breaks something open within Michaela, makes her uncharacteristically vulnerable. I never thought I would think of this relationship as more than a fun little dalliance amid all the more seriously fucked-up relationships, but their “I like you” confessions are wholly convincing. And all of that gives urgency to the ending’s flash-forward, when Michaela, drunk and desperate, goes looking for Asher, thinking he’s dead. He’s alive and well, at a dorm party no less, because Asher will always be Asher.

The relationship work between Connor and Oliver continues to be a highlight of the season, too. Their storyline here is pretty small, but it’s refreshing to see the ramifications of their breakup still reverberating and even starting to touch the other characters on the show. We’re watching one relationship gradually erode (Oliver/Connor) just as another gradually builds (Michaela/Asher). There’s also Laurel and Wes, who finally have sex in this episode, but that coupling isn’t as well written or nuanced. The show has always struggled with how to best use Wes, and so far most of his presence in season three hasn’t been very strong. Laurel’s motivations are similarly hazy.

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At the end of the day, the efficacy of the big, soapy twists really rests on the show’s relationship dynamics. Twists can’t land without some sort of emotional foundation. The main twist of “Is Someone Really Dead?” is Frank framing Charles Mahoney for Wallace Mahoney’s murder, but while the reveal unfolds in an exciting way, it doesn’t mean much from a character or emotional perspective. In fact, the only moment that made my jaw actually drop all episode was when Bonnie said “I love you” to Annalise. Bonnie’s love for Annalise has been obvious since episode one, but this is the first time she has put it in such explicit terms. Bonnie and Annalise’s relationship is intentionally blurry. In some ways, it mirrors the back-and-forth toxicity of Sam and Annalise’s relationship. Annalise is no doubt emotionally abusive toward Bonnie. They’re more co-dependent, even if Annalise would never admit how much she needs her. This season is finally starting to look at that complicated relationship in a meaningful way. Bonnie’s arc in particular has been a strong part of the season, and with Frank heading back home, the Keating household is only going to get more dysfunctional. And then it’s going to literally go up in flames. But hopefully it brings the heat next week, because this crawl to the sheet is losing its steam.

Stray observations

  • With Nate out of the house for some time now, Annalise is back to chomping chips.
  • The episode even ends on a sex montage that is like a watered-down version of every other time this show has ended with a sex montage.
  • Why does the university president always seem like she is making a move on Annalise?
  • I hate that Eve seems destined to become this convenient character who gets mentioned from time to time. I have a feeling “is Eve looking into it?” is going to be something we hear a lot.
  • Is it just me or was there something off about the way that first scene—featuring Bonnie, Annalise, Wes, and Laurel—was edited? It sounded to me like a lot of lines were ADRd, and it really took me out of the moment.
  • It has to be Frank under the sheet, right? It’s starting to seem like the show really wants us to think it’s Connor.

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