How To Get Away With Murder

After last week’s powerful, confident return, How To Get Away With Murder gets sucked back into its own convoluted mythology this week, gasping for breath as it barrels through the immediate aftermath of Frank’s confession. How To Get Away With Murder has a propensity to go off the rails, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s s twisty thriller, and sometimes it goes off the rails in a way that totally works, heightening the suspense and putting us squarely in the heads of these spiraling characters. But when the show stuffs too much plot into a not-so-seamlessly-structured episode, it starts to go off the rails in a bad way. Last week, the flashbacks anchored the characters, made them real and dimensional. This week, those more subtle, human elements get shouted over by dense plotting that reaches way back into the show’s history in a way that doesn’t quite give enough stakes to the present.

Oliver is welcomed into the murder party for good. Connor confesses to the others that he told Oliver about Sam, which sets Michaela into self-preservation mode, marching over to Oliver to make sure he, unlike Connor, is capable of keeping his mouth shut. With a smile plastered on her face, she basically threatens the shit out of Oliver. Remember when Michaela’s first reaction to Annalise Keating was “I want to be her?” Slowly but surely, she has been fulfilling that prophecy, becoming as calculating, sharp, and assertive as Keating in her prime. And Aja Naomi King is up for the challenge. The more cutthroat Michaela gets, the more confident King appears on screen. But overall, Michaela, Connor, Oliver, Asher, and Laurel speak in broad terms all episode, their dialogue either serving to recap or explain. Their scenes lack specifics, full of sweeping statements regarding the general state of things. The characters are acting like themselves, but it’s almost all too by-the-numbers.

After she’s done strong-arming Oliver, she also gets him to hack into the DA office’s network to see how much they have on Annalise. Turns out…it’s a lot. Oliver, and the audience by proxy, are treated to a series recap of every bad deed that has gone unpunished in the show’s history: Lila Stangard, Sam Keating, Rebecca Sutter, Emily Sinclair, the Hapstalls. Oliver got far more than he bargained for. Rene Atwood has a bursting burn file on Annalise but not enough hard evidence to tie her to it all.

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Annalise is most definitely not in her prime at the moment. Though, of course, Viola Davis is killing it every step of the way. Annalise doesn’t receive as much screen time as she usually does, but every scene counts, and the episode’s greatest strengths are the details and precision behind her arc in jail. Annalise gradually folds into herself in jail. She’s scared, skittish, uncertain—all qualities that we haven’t really seen in her before, at least not to this magnitude. It’s unnerving. And How To Get Away With Murder manages to portray the horrors of incarceration without it being the focal point of the episode. It’s yet another example of how How To Get Away With Murder weaves stories about injustices and systemic inequality into its larger narrative with depth and nuance.

I have a feeling I’m in the minority here, but I actually really like Soraya Hargrove as a character this season. It took me a while to figure out how she fits into everything, but her gentleness is a welcome departure from the other characters. She’s not a perfect person by any means (as Michaela points out, she cares more about the university’s interests than about Wes and Annalise), but she isn’t driven by power and ego in the same way most of the other characters are. There’s a softness to her. It helps that Lauren Vélez has excellent chemistry with Viola Davis (to the point where I still think Soraya might be flirting with her every time I see them onscreen together…). Their interaction in “Not Everything’s About Annalise” is a nice reprieve from the scheming and manipulating and lying that everyone else is up to all episode. Soraya doesn’t appear motivated by anything other than genuine concern for Annalise. Everyone else is supposedly trying to help Annalise (to save their own skin), but Soraya—along with one of Annalise’s well-meaning cellmates—are the only ones to actually be nice to Annalise in these trying times.

And niceness is a rarity in this universe. In fact, when Meggy starts acting nice toward Laurel, Laurel becomes suspicious. Ever since she first showed up on the show, Meggy has seemed a little sketchy…merely because she is so pure, so kind and eager to help, unfazed when her boyfriend falls for another girl. In this universe, that all means she’s probably hiding something. Who knows if Meggy can be trusted or not, but at this point, who cares? Meggy has been such an underdeveloped character that it’s hard to even get invested in her emotional state about Wes’s death.

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Along with Annalise, Bonnie struggles to hold herself together all episode. Liza Weil has quietly been giving one of the season’s best dramatic performances and continues to be overlooked by awards shows. But she’s damn good, especially when it comes to an episode like “Not Everything’s About Annalise” where she isn’t necessarily at the forefront of the story but still has a clear and powerful emotional arc. She folds into herself, too, becoming small in the shadow of Annalise’s disappointment. She couldn’t get Annalise out on bail; she couldn’t get Annalise out even after Frank confessed. And now, after their last-ditch effort to pin it all on Frank once and for all, she fails again. Atwood remains one step ahead, charging Frank as Annalise’s co-conspirator. Bonnie whispering into Annalise’s shoulder as she admits her failures makes for a great scene, effectively capturing the characters’ unique relationship, which is both intimate and imbalanced by fucked up power dynamics.

It’s becoming more apparent that it was probably Bonnie who killed Wes. Sure, she would be scared and mad at herself for disappointing Annalise no matter what, but it does seem like there’s something more going on. Guilt, perhaps? Bonnie killed Rebecca to protect Annalise, and as the flashbacks this episode make clear, Frank told Bonnie that Wes knew Rebecca was murdered. Bonnie has killed before, and it’s not too much of a stretch to believe she’d do it again. Every murder on this show just sets off a chain of events that leads to another murder. It’s one big murder hellhole that the characters can’t dig themselves out of, which unfortunately makes it harder for the writers to dig themselves out of, too. The script here is full of digging. Charged direction from Nicole Rubio gives the episode some energy, but for the most part, it’s a mechanical episode. There’s urgency to Annalise’s situation, but the episode doesn’t live up to the emotional whirlwind of the midseason premiere.

Stray observations

  • I liked Oliver’s random April Fool’s Day anecdote. It’s small details like those that make these character feel more fleshed out and tangible.
  • Nate and Atwood are major players in this episode, but they are not very compelling characters. Scenes between just the two of them drag. Atwood just isn’t dynamic or dimensional enough. She’s a one-note “villain.”
  • Sometimes this show relies a little too heavily on Asher for comedic relief. He’s best for one-liners. The Gustav bit goes on way too long.
  • This show has so many iconic hair moments, and Annalise cutting her weave out with a razor blade is definitely up there.
  • Laurel is a scary-good liar.

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