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How To Get Away With Murder buries its biggest twist of the season

Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)
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While Nate’s father’s murder has certainly been an ongoing storyline on the periphery of this season, but “I Want To Be Free” makes it the A-plot, bringing all of the series’ major villains into play. Xavier and the governor are willing to kill the group to protect themselves. Finally, the stakes feel high here, especially since the truth about Miller’s innocence finally comes out, which has huge psychological ramifications for Bonnie and Nate.

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But “I Want To Be Free” also reveals its hand when it comes to the twist this front-half of the final season has hinged on. Given that we were building to a midseason finale and not the big finale, it was always doubtful that Annalise was really going to die. Frankly, I think it’d be a fitting and bold way for the show to go. But this also does technically make more sense, and anytime How To Get Away With Murder goes with the sensical route, it’s a blessing. Annalise finally breaks and decides to fake her own death in order to get out of the murder mess that starts with Sam’s death and eventually ends with Nate’s father’s death.

The classroom storyline leads us to this eventual reveal, the Snow White case’s twist unearthing this one. And props to the show: Asher’s faked death theory and the instant shift to Annalise faking her own death really does play out like a twist. Sometimes this show gets too caught up in the mechanics of suspense that the suspense never lands. But this is the strongest flashforward the show has done in a long time. And yet, the real twist in this episode—which I’ll get into—falls weirdly flat.

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It’s very easy to forget that these characters are in law school, namely because they’re never actually in class and because most of their assignments are actually just them doing free work for Annalise. The Snow White exam leads to the most time we’ve spent in the classroom all season, and it makes for a very effective plot device. On top of the lead-in to the reveal, the exam also functions as a reflection on real events that have occurred on the show. Is Snow White’s predicament not unlike Annalise’s? It’s not a perfect parallel, but the Keating 5 killed Annalise’s abusive husband, and it’d be easy for her to be perceived as guilty in a conspiracy to murder Sam.

In that context, Connor’s defense is particularly striking. He thinks the dwarves deserve to go down, that Snow White is completely innocent. Does Connor also believe that for himself and the rest of the group involved in Sam’s death? It’s definitely possible. Connor is the cynic of the group, and he’s also the one most desperate for a reckoning. As usual, Connor and Oliver get one of the most grounded storylines in this episode. Oliver digs up the admissions essays they all wrote to remind them why they came to law school in the first place, but Connor sees an ulterior motive. He accuses Oliver of overcompensating, of wanting to see the good in Connor because he’s spooked by knowing that Connor is capable of covering up a murder. Their scene together gets at real intimacy. Oliver is definitely afraid of that darkness but, at the same time, forgiving of it. “We all have darkness in us,” he says, which might as well be a tagline for the show. But in his mouth, it also sounds genuine. Oliver is willing to see things from all sides, and right now he’s mostly just scared for Connor’s safety.

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After all, Xavier is out here having his minions sever car brakes. It was inevitable that Bonnie would land herself in a dangerous position by taking on Nate’s case, and the faulty brakes reveal is terrifying, especially since Bonnie really is one of the only players right now who is trying to do the right thing. But she’s fighting without all the pieces to the puzzle. Bonnie’s in the right when she stands up to Annalise trying to convince her not to pursue the case. But that’s because she doesn’t know the truth about Miller yet.

Unfortunately, all the time jumps and elaborate narrative devices used to get to the point of Annalise and Frank deciding to let the truth come out about Xavier ordering the hit and Miller’s innocence in it all makes for far too much handwringing so that by the time we do get to Nate and Bonnie’s reactions, there isn’t enough of the episode left to really let it settle. This is a huge reveal—the biggest twist all season, honestly. It carries more emotional weight than the reveal of Annalise’s identity change. It affects not only Bonnie and Nate but their relationships with others, too, seen in the way that Bonnie turns Frank away when she puts it all together. Nate committed murder, and now it really is in cold blood. We barely get to see his reaction at all to this realization, outside of a few shots in the courtroom. For all its focus on the case, the episode pulls away from this storyline the second it gets juicy. Sometimes How To Get Away With Murder is too focused on teeing up the ball that the swing’s follow through is anticlimactic.

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Stray observations

  • Tegan might be the best character on this show at the moment—or at least the easiest to root for.
  • Here we go again with Annalise encouraging Frank to dip into his dark side and threaten the guard that he already threatened before when he pressured her to tell Bonnie that Miller ordered the hit. I’m increasingly interested in the fact that Annalise, an addict, keeps stoking the addictive behaviors of others (in Frank’s case, violence).
  • I know this is fake school, but what kind of final exam is this?????
  • The governor is probably the most shoddily written character in this show’s history.
  • The scene between Asher and Michaela in her bedroom is very good. The way he misreads the moment and goes in for a kiss and the way she rejects him are in line with exactly how these characters tend to process things.
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