Ever since its early days of spinning cheerleaders and penises on dead girl’s phones, How To Get Away With Murder’s narrative complexity has relied on fucking with temporality. Using flashforwards, flashbacks, time lapses, this show has never gone from point A to point B simply. It takes not only the long path but the windy, thorny path on which there might be a bomb at every turn. Its time-jumping can become tedious. But every once in a while, How To Get Away With Murder fucks with temporality in just the right way, weaving different timelines together to make a stunning, moving sequence. Pulling this off requires not only an airtight script but a perfect marriage between the script and the direction. How To Get Away With Murder made that happen last week, and it does so again with this midseason finale, which similarly aligns strong mystery writing with compelling direction. Though it still has its lows, How To Get Away With Murder’s very high highs this season—especially at the beginning and end—suggest that the show has finally cracked its formula.
“Who’s Dead?” trims the fat. There no ambling, empty cases of the week. There are no tense but ultimately meaningless scenes between Annalise and the university president. Every scene is necessary; every scene adds to the suspense and urgency of the final reveal without being overwrought. Yes, there’s a lot going on in the episode, but that’s always going to be the case for a show as narratively intricate and ambitious as How To Get Away With Murder. But “Who’s Dead?” isn’t overloaded to the point of incoherence. It’s tightly executed, and no character gets lost in the fray, as often happens on this show. But here, everyone has a clear role in the episode’s overall emotional narrative.
In what ultimately ends up being a very small moment in an explosive episode, Annalise and Bonnie kiss. Annalise is drunk, off the wagon after a heated argument with Nate. She shows up at Bonnie’s to tell her about the DA’s investigation. Bonnie, loyal as ever, takes care of her, sobers her up, puts her to bed. And then Annalise pulls her in for a kiss. I often complain that this show swings all over the place in terms of what its characters want and believe, but certain characters are so well developed. Annalise is obviously one of them, but this season, it has become clear just how cogently written Bonnie is, too. Let’s be real: This kiss has been a long time coming. There are over two seasons of build-up to it. Bonnie and Annalise have always had a strange and unshakeable connection. The kiss—as quick and seemingly commonplace as it is—stems from over two seasons of careful character development.
Season three has been sharper in its focus on who all these characters are. Frank and Bonnie are no longer the pre-programmed henchmen they used to seem like. None of the characters fit into neat boxes. Michaela’s backstory peels back some of her layers, as does Laurel talking about her mother. “Who’s Dead?” has a strong grasp on these characters, on what makes them tick, on how their disparate pasts inform the way they cope with all the shit in their present. And that’s the foundation that makes all the pieces fall into place. None of the sleights of hand in “Who’s Dead?” would work without solid character development to make it all mean something.
I was worried at first that things would unravel quickly. The final sequence of last week’s episode was so intense, so haunting, that it didn’t seem like the show could pick up there without sucking all of that fraught energy out of the moment. How To Get Away With Murder picks up, instead, just slightly in the future, jumping back to Frank’s near-suicide in a cut sequence that eases us back into the high-stakes situation without undercutting it. The show jumps between Bonnie talking Frank down and Annalise administering her class’s midterm: an oral exam in which the students have to convince her that Ted Bundy shouldn’t be executed. It’s heavy-handed, as How To Get Away With Murder often is. The forced parallelism between Ted Bundy and Frank is a bit too much, but it’s still a well done sequence, especially visually.
But the episode goes on to more impressively utilize time. The final act consists of a lot of footage we’ve already seen, but woven together with context and in chronological order here, the scenes breathe with new meaning and emotion. Frank and Laurel walk into that house with 20 whole minutes left of the episode, but for all its jumping around and fucking with temporality, How To Get Away With Murder had me right there, sucked into that precise moment in time, so I believed what I saw. For the first time in a while, How To Get Away With Murder genuinely tricked me. I thought Nate was dead, and I thought it made sense, too. Killing off Nate would be easy. It would only really affect one character on the show. But it wasn’t Nate. It was Wes under that sheet; it was Wes’s lifeless body that brought Annalise to her knees in agony. And the second that’s revealed, it becomes instantly clear that his death touches every single character on this show.
In a more impressive time-jumping sequence than the episode’s first, we see Wes in the final moments of his life, intercut with Laurel, Connor, Oliver, Michaela, Meggy, Bonnie, and Asher all processing his death. It’s raw, and it’s powerfully shot. The mixing of these timelines—one in which he’s alive and one in which he isn’t—devastates. Seeing Wes walk out of that police station out into the sunlight, unknowingly marching to his death, makes for a gutting scene. Even though the show has been building to it for months now, this episode revitalizes the suspense of pulling back that sheet. Wes has been a frustrating character for a lot of this season, but his death matters. It’s a punch to the stomach. “Who’s Dead?” genuinely makes you care about who’s dead, placing viewers right there in the emotional turmoil of the other characters. It might have fun jumping around, but How To Get Away With Murder knows when to be present, when to let its characters live in the moment and really feel the psychological impact of these killer twists. The midseason finale drops a bomb on the show’s narrative. Though played as a gimmick all season, the “who’s under the sheet?” reveal doesn’t feel gimmicky at all in the end. It’s masterfully executed, suggesting How To Get Away With Murder still possesses the ability to genuinely, profoundly shock.
- I haven’t been as vocal about my love for Michaela/Laurel this season, because frankly they haven’t had enough scenes together lately. But I fully screamed when they kissed post-midterms. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it didn’t mean as much as the Bonnie/Annalise kiss, but I will be replaying it in my head for the foreseeable future thank you very much.
- There are so many individual scenes in this episode that warrant discussion, but if I wrote about them all, this review would look more like a novella. But Viola Davis blew me away several times, especially in that scene where Annalise is just laying on her floor, reliving literally all of her traumas. Again, it’s heavy-handed, but How To Get Away With Murder pulls off those kinds of moments thanks to brilliant performances.
- Honestly, Liza Weil deserves awards attention for her work this season.
- Is Michaela going to dump Asher’s ass for inviting her mom? I was just starting to believe in those two.
- How To Get Away With Murder returns on January 19, along with the full TGIT lineup.