How To Get Away With Murder

Some weeks, How To Get Away With Murder gets so caught up in its web of murder, secrets, and schemes that it forgets to let its characters be real people. The show barely gives its characters a chance to breathe, let alone feel. And while the propulsive pacing is crucial to the show’s structure, every so often, it hits the breaks. Now, this might be polarizing, but I love How To Get Away With Murder in these quieter, more emotional moments. That’s not to say I don’t love the show at its most off-the-walls bonkers, too. But it’s nice to be reminded every once in awhile that these characters are definitely flawed but also not total sociopaths. “It’s About Frank” isn’t so much about the drama as it is about how that drama—both the long-term and short-term—is affecting the characters.

How To Get Away With Murder is at its best when it finds the right balance, the right interplay, between the bonkers stuff and the emotional stuff. “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” remains one of the wildest moments in this show’s history, but it immediately followed one it its most intimate moments: Annalise removing her wig and makeup. “It’s About Frank” goes to a similarly intimate place in its salon scene. Mary J. Blige makes a brief but powerful cameo as Annalise’s hairdresser, seen sewing in Annalise’s weave. How To Get Away With Murder remains committed to showing these personal parts of Black women’s lives, moments that are rarely seen on network television. To How To Get Away With Murder, diversity isn’t just about mere numbers. The show doesn’t stop at starring a Black woman. It portrays Black life in more detailed and deeper ways than most television. That salon scene may seem simple, but it’s a meaningful and real look at Annalise’s life.

Ultimately, the episode is full of vulnerability. Having kicked out Nate last episode and with Bonnie away, Annalise is on her own for a lot of it. She attends an AA meeting, where she runs into the university president, who’s also in the program. The AA scene is stiff and uncomfortable, which is fitting because of Annalise’s own reluctance to be there. She’s there out of obligation, because she wants her license back. She still hasn’t gotten to the point where she realizes she has a problem. So what follows is a deeply intimate and raw sequence of her having a total meltdown. She throws away all her liquor bottles—and there are many—but even that step is pretty half-hearted, because she doesn’t dump them out, and she has to subconsciously realize that. She even seems to go through some of the initial alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but it doesn’t take long for her to go back to drinking, rescuing her favorite vodka bottle from the trash and taking not just one sip but many. This is the drunkest we’ve ever seen Annalise, and it’s tough to watch, especially when Wes arrives to bear witness.

I maintain that Wes has been mostly useless this season, but the emotions of his encounter with Annalise get to the episode’s—and the show’s—core. He sees the psychological and emotional toll Annalise’s life has taken on her. And he relates. He relates to her talking about how Nate is too good to her and how she tried to be okay with that for so long. He can’t even tell his perfect girlfriend Meggy the truth about his parents. He can’t have real, meaningful relationships with people because he can’t be wholly truthful. Finally, the context of his feelings for Laurel makes perfect sense. Finally, Wes’s actions come from a grounded and cogent place. The character work between Annalise and Wes here is very strong and not as confounding as it usually is. It feels like a real look into their characters’ psyches.

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This is the first episode that really convinced me of the full arc of Annalise and Sam’s relationship. I always found their relationship to be poorly developed and inconsistent, but the flashbacks here provide revelatory snapshots of their marriage and how both parties tried desperately to make things work. They’re short, but they reveal more about this relationship than any past episode has, especially since they’re so focused on the characters as opposed to just the story. I won’t go so far as to say I was happy to see Sam Keating again, but these flashbacks are the most emotional and personal glimpses of the character and of this marriage. Paired with Annalise’s struggles in the present, it packs the character-driven punch this season has been largely lacking.

The episode similarly probes into Frank’s backstory with more depth and detail than it ever has. Sometimes, when How To Get Away With Murder takes its time with something, it works very well, and that’s definitely true of the slow approach to Frank’s character development. The Frank scenes we get here are so much more interesting than all of the forced mystery surrounding him for the first few episodes of the season. And the intense vulnerability of Frank and Bonnie’s scenes match that of Annalise’s. Bonnie thanks Frank for killing her father. These two seem to understand each other on a profoundly emotional level. More so than the Keating Five, Frank and Laurel are Annalise’s surrogate children. Sam and Annalise formed a fucked up family when they brought them both into their lives, and Bonnie and Frank clearly share a connection. I mean, they’re both murderers, and they both have dark pasts, but it’s more complicated than that. It seemed very obvious all episode that Bonnie and Frank would consummate this complex connection, and I almost wish they hadn’t, just because their bond seemed so intricate and different than the rest of the relationships on this show. Sex was the more exciting, soapier option, but exploring something that’s intimate and close without the sex would have been something new for the show to play around with. But it is fitting for How To Get Away With Murder that they hook up. And that initial kiss is very well done, with its long and cautious yet passionate buildup. It’s cathartic in the show’s own way.

And Bonnie and Frank imagining a world beyond all this lands well, too. There have been similar moments on the show before, characters wishing for different lives, wishing to be free from it all. But given the context of Bonnie and Frank’s pasts and the character work that’s done in this episode between the two, this moment really feels like a desperate longing for fantasy more than just some fleeting wish. And Bonnie buys into the fantasy. She lets herself believe it’s possible, so the emotional release that comes from her realization that Frank has left again guts. Bonnie and Frank confront so much in these quiet motel scenes: Bonnie’s abuse, Frank’s time in prison, Frank’s role in the death of Annalise’s baby, what Sam meant to them both. It makes for coherent and fortified emotional storytelling. All of this zoomed-in character work is so much more captivating and meaningful than the tedious buildup to the fire. The characters feel the ramifications of everything that’s happening around them, and it leads to some of the most compelling scenes of the season so far. How To Get Away With Murder needs these intimate moments to make the more over-the-top ones work.

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Stray observations

  • So…Frank is a father killer, yeah? He tried to kill his own; he killed Wes’s father; he killed Bonnie’s father.
  • I still think Annalise and the president are going to hook up.
  • Nothing too interesting happens with The Keating Five this week, although the revelation that Michaela lied about where she’s from and the very quick glimpse of her real home life at the end of the episode adds to the episode’s very personal feel.
  • Aja Naomi King slays all episode, but Simon turning out to be the person behind the posters is a weak twist.
  • We know that the person under the sheet is an “unidentified male.” Oliver fails to get ahold of Connor, but that reads as a false lead to me. I’m starting to think it could be Frank?
  • It is no coincidence that one of the season’s strongest episodes had no case of the week.

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