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Is there anything better than when Annalise Keating is at the top of her game? In the aftermath of her bullet wound, Annalise has been having some off days, which is totally understandable. It’s also nice to be reminded that Annalise isn’t always on. But tonight—in the present-day timeline—she is all the way on, and as a result, How To Get Away With Murder pulls off its most exciting episode in weeks.

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In “Something Bad Happened,” Annalise literally tells her employees to shred documents because the police are on their way over with a search warrant, while she’s standing in front of the Assistant District Attorney. The crew immediately follows her lead and, in a matter of seconds, plot to defend against the warrant, breaking all sorts of laws in the process but ultimately succeeding. It’s unrealistic as hell but in a way that doesn’t distract from how exhilarating it is. It’s the kind of crazy, thrilling fun that How To Get Away With Murder thrives on. It doesn’t feel as contrived or hollow as some of the show’s recent twists have been. That’s because it’s not really a twist so much as just a really exciting challenge for the team—one that they handle masterfully. It’s the kind of checkmate situation that’s so fun to watch Annalise execute. The scene harkens back to How To Get Away With Murder’s early days, when things were (briefly) just soapy, wild pleasure and not too complicated over overloaded yet.

But that all happens in about five minutes, and then we’re onto the next thing. This is, after all, How To Get Away With Murder, and there are about a dozen plates spinning at once. But that one isolated race against the search warrant captured a feeling that How To Get Away With Murder has been having trouble replicating lately. One persistent problem with the show is its characters’ tendency to restate, in painstaking detail, events that we’ve already seen before and sometimes seen multiple times. With the lengthy recap at the top of the episode every week, these scenes are unnecessary more often than not. After we’ve already run through the previouslies this week, we then get Wes restating a lot of information to his new therapist. The therapist scenes later on in the episode add a lot more, showing Wes spiraling down a confusing tunnel of self-doubt and fear as he starts to think he was the one to kill his own mother.

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Overall, “Something Bad Happened” does a much better job of trimming excess weight than recent episodes have. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the better episodes of this back-half of the season keeps the Keating Five, Frank, Bonnie, and the Hapstall siblings on the sidelines for the most part. Instead, it focuses more on Annalise—especially Flashback Annalise—and Wes. For the first time in a while, How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t feel like it’s doing too much. Michaela and Connor share a genuinely touching scene. Laurel and Wes have their inevitable falling out. Frank and Bonnie toast to their miserable lives. They’re small, character-driven moments that don’t swallow up too much narrative space but manage to tap into real emotions.

How To Get Away With Murder obsesses over the past. For this back-half of season two, the show has been so stuck on Wes’s mom and whatever happened between her and Annalise a decade ago. As its title suggests, tonight’s “Something Bad Happened” remains fixated on that story. And we finally get some answers. The past few weeks have been all over the place in terms of building suspense around these flashbacks, but “Something Bad Happened” finally finds the right balance. Wes’s mom’s desperation is especially palpable in this episode, and the flashbacks between her and Wes are heartbreaking. The writers finally give enough time and detail to the emotional stakes for her, and it pays off. The reveal that she really did kill herself is one of the show’s greatest twists to date, because it isn’t really a twist at all. We were told she committed suicide, and she really did commit suicide. It’s a devastating reveal—one that cuts even deeper than if it had turned out to be a murder cover-up. As uneven as the buildup to this moment has been, its final execution hits hard.

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Excepting the aforementioned search warrant scramble, it’s really the flashbacks that shine this week. As I called last week, Eve finally shows up in a major way in the past timeline. My favorite How To Get Away With Murder scenes always have the same basic formula: Viola Davis in a room with another powerful actress. In “Something Bad Happened,” Davis and Famke Janssen get to go toe-to-toe again for a series of emotional and superbly acted scenes.

I am, however, a bit confused about some of the content of their conversations. Annalise insists that she left Eve because she’s not gay. “I don’t even know what that means,” Eve says, after lots of angry words from her ex. I’m on Eve’s side with that one. Just because Annalise was in a relationship with Eve doesn’t mean that she’s gay, and it seems out of character for Annalise to have such a narrow, backwards view of sexuality. Eve also implies in the scene that Annalise first started therapy with Sam out of some sort of gay panic. I’m having a lot of trouble parsing out what all of this means, because it sort of seems like the show is belittling the relationship between Annalise and Eve. But I also wonder if Annalise is just saying all of that in order to push Eve away, which would be very in character. It’s always difficult to tell when characters on this show are being emotionally honest versus, which is definitely part of the show’s trust-no-bitch outlook, but it’s a tricky thing to pull off, because it takes away the emotional validity of certain character choices. How Annalise really feels about Eve matters, because it sheds light on what she says and does. I praised the show earlier this season for giving Annalise a queer narrative, so to hear the character minimize the relationship stings a bit. But whether it’s Eve or it’s Nate, Annalise seems to predicate just about all of her relationships on manipulation. It’s hard not to feel frustrated in the same way Eve and Nate do, unable to read her intentions. The show’s cynicism about love and relationships can be incredibly numbing, which sometimes takes away from the more emotional scenes.

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“Something Bad Happened” is far from perfect, but it does act as a bit of a course-correction for the show, refocusing on the stories that pack the most punch and building suspense without doing so at the expense of character development and strong storytelling. This show has so much going on all the time that it’s okay to put a few storylines on the backburner to prevent everything from boiling over.

Stray observations

  • What game is Bonnie playing these days? Apparently, she’s listening in on Frank and Laurel for…some reason.
  • Frank tells Laurel he loves her and she reminds him that he murdered an innocent girl. I don’t know why he expected that to go any different than it did.
  • That final twist is also executed well. I screamed when Philip jumped out.
  • Eve always acts horrified by Annalise’s morals, but she can’t stay away. Annalise could probably do just about anything, and Eve would still jump right back into her arms.

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