Liza Weil (ABC)

Maybe How To Get Away With Murder should be called How To Get Away With Cheating. Or, more accurately, How Not To Get Away With Cheating.

At the epicenter, there’s the affair between Sam and Lila, which we get a little more of a glimpse into this week through flashbacks that show Lila confiding in Rebecca about her “Mr. Darcy.” Laurel is cheating on her boyfriend with Frank, who we find out this week also is dating someone else. Sam kisses Bonnie. Connor and Oliver are no longer together because Connor cheated. Annalise and Sam’s relationship began as an affair. Annalise has a rogue, unemployed cop sidepiece that she seems to conveniently forget when lobbing accusations of infidelity and deceit at Sam. Everyone is cheating on everyone, and that’s barely an exaggeration. Infidelity seems so deeply ingrained in the narrative framework of the show, which ties into what I suggested as the central thesis early on: Everyone is capable of doing bad things.

We’re back to the case of the week being the weakest part of the show. This time, there’s a sleepwalking, overextended wife caught sleep-cleaning the blood of her dead maid’s body. There are twists and turns and, well, the sleepwalker is innocent, but both her husband and her son were sleeping with the maid, and when the husband found out, he killed her. More cheating! So it more-or-less works on a thematic level, but weak performances from the guest actors and an admittedly ridiculous case bog down the side plot.

As the case comes to a close, Annalise calms her angry client by explaining that all the anger she feels toward Annalise actually stems from her husband’s betrayal. He lied to you; he betrayed you; he took away your trust, Annalise explains. It’s the same situation she’s in with Sam, the same situation a lot of these characters are in: a never-ending power struggle full of manipulation and lies.

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For a few weeks now, I’ve been struggling to figure out exactly why it is that Annalise continues to trust Sam. One would think that in the post-“why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone” era, she would finally start treating him like a suspect in Lila’s murder. But she continued to protect him and manipulate Wes and Rebecca into keeping his identity as Mr. Darcy a secret. Why? She says it herself in this episode: Why should she believe Sam when he has lied to her over and over and over again? And yet, she proceeds to buy his insistences that he didn’t know about Lila’s pregnancy and doesn’t face reality until Bonnie comes to her with proof he lied once again.

At last, Annalise wises up and turns on Sam, ordering a DNA test on all the men in Lila’s life, including her teachers. She knows the DNA will match his. She knows she shouldn’t be protecting him any longer. And this episode starts to get at exactly what took her so long. As Wes says, “Annalise doesn’t do anything without a plan.” We see the way she reacts when her team fails to fully prepare her in the sleepwalking case. Their one job, she says, is to “tell me what’s coming my way.” Well, when it comes to Sam’s involvement with Lila, no one had prepared Annalise. She has to come to terms with it on her own, and that’s something she simply isn’t used to doing. When we see Annalise, we see such a powerful force, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that she’s flanked, almost constantly, by a team that would do just about anything for her. In that context, it makes sense that her realization that Sam could really have murdered this girl comes slowly, starts to insidiously undo her so that the monologues become a little louder and more volatile from week to week.

At the risk of sounding like a hopeless romantic, I think one of the things that makes this show very hard to watch is its deliberately cynical view of love. At first, I thought a lot of the confusing relationships on the show were just the result of sloppy writing. We didn’t know why anyone was with anyone because there simply weren’t any reasons provided. Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s all intentional, if Murder is trying to say that love is little more than a game. Everyone lies. Everyone cheats. And it’s all in the name of self-preservation and power.

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Think about it: Does anyone actually care about anyone else on this show without some sort of weird ulterior motive? Michaela claims she doesn’t want to sign her prenup because she truly loves her fiancé, but she made it quite clear in the episode where she discovers his sexual past with Connor that he’s basically just a means to an end, just another piece in the perfect life she envisions for herself. On any other series, Rebecca and Wes would be positioned as the couple to root for, but there’s something hollow about their affection as well. Even if we look at the non-romantic relationships, there isn’t much to grab onto. Does anyone have a friend on this show? How To Get Away With Murder might be the most solipsistic show on TV, and that would certainly explain why it’s so hard to root for any of its characters, let alone care about them.

Ironically, the closest thing I’ve seen to a healthy, caring relationship is in the flashbacks this week to Lila and Rebecca’s friendship. There was something really real there, and the softness of those scenes starkly contrast everything else going on. But, of course, this only really adds to my confusion over why Rebecca acts so flippant about Lila’s death most of the time. Regardless, to my surprise, I found myself liking Rebecca in these flashbacks. And if that’s possible, maybe there’s hope that all the pieces—which are currently in a tangled mess—will finally line up in time for the #WhoKilledSam reveal promised next week.

Stray observations:

  • When the grandma knew all the right court lingo, I was really hoping she was going to say it was because she watches The Good Wife.
  • To the surprise of no one, I definitely thought Lila and Rebecca were going to kiss.
  • I loved Michaela’s failed slap attempt. In fact, that was way better than if she had actually slapped her mother-in-law.
  • “See what happens when you use your brain instead of your penis?”
  • “He’s not a good man, Annalise.” Here, Bonnie is talking about Sam, but she could probably be talking about every man on this show.
  • I’d say it’s too convenient that Michaela happened to be pre-med in undergrad, but actually it makes perfect sense.
  • The promos are making next week’s winter finale look like an amazing game of Clue.
  • People have been wanting me to give a genuine prediction for the answer to #WhoKilledSam, so fine, you win. I think it was Lawyer Paris Geller AKA Bonnie, which seems to be a popular choice.

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