How To Get Away With Murder

I didn’t keep an exact count, but gun to my head, I’d guess there were approximately 75 flashbacks in tonight’s return of How To Get Away With Murder. This show sure does love to bend time. And sometimes, it helps build tension and heighten the stakes. Tonight, however, almost every single flashback could have been cut without much being lost. The episode opens two weeks after Wes shot Annalise, but we bounce back several (okay, so maybe not 75, but it sure felt like it) times to two weeks prior and one week prior as the episode attempts to fill in the blanks of the shooting’s direct aftermath.

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The flashbacks are strangely ineffective. On the one hand, it seems the writers are employing them to follow the “show, don’t tell” rule. Instead of all the characters in the present just talking about what happened to them last week and the week before, we get to see it for ourselves. But most of the flashbacks don’t actually have that much meat to them, and then the characters still do end up talking about what happened in the present immediately after. Most often, How To Get Away With Murder churns out episodes that have really strong isolated moments but weak larger structure. In the case of “What Happened To You, Annalise?,” it’s almost the opposite. A lot of the bigger picture stuff is working so much better than individual scenes on their own. There’s a sense that we’re heading toward some big moments for every character, but this episode is so concerned with the past that it lacks forward movement. The episode struggles to find a balance between plot and character work. As a result, it’s just an info dump that has way too much going on.

Both Wes and Annalise are the strongest players in the premiere. That’s to be expected from Annalise, but it’s much more surprising that Wes has become a more compelling character. It’s all because Alfred Enoch has grown exponentially as an actor, performing on a level that finally earns him a place in the same room as Viola Davis. Tonight’s episode is the most I’ve ever enjoyed Enoch’s acting. Annalise has fully made a monster of Wes, and Enoch has risen to the challenge of portraying his character’s spiral without overdoing it. The last ten minutes are the episode’s best, with Wes and Annalise pushing on each other with desperate, devastating force. We still don’t have all the answers as to Annalise’s real backstory with Wes’s mother, but a flashback (undoubtedly the most useful and interesting one) reveals that Annalise was pregnant when she met Wes’s mother. I’m just as sick of waiting for answers as Wes is, but I do think the character work between him and Annalise is particularly strong in this episode. They spend most of the episode apart, unraveling in equal measure. It all builds to the climax of their encounter in her house.

As for Annalise, this episode so perfectly captures the character’s complexities. Here she is, the weakest we’ve ever seen her—in terms of her physical and mental health—but she still manages to stay one step ahead of everyone in court. She saves Catherine without betraying any of her students. Even in her current state, she knows exactly what to do to move all the pieces on the board in the way that she wants to. Annalise is seemingly invincible in court. Often, that lowers the stakes of her cases. It’s hard to become too invested in the legal troubles Keating and Co. find themselves in when we know Annalise will always find a way out. However, Annalise is no god. She’s grounded by the obvious cracks in her state of mind. Annalise is immensely strong, but she is deeply wounded. And according to her, it all goes back to Wes. “You ruined me,” she tells him. Apparently he’s “what happened to Annalise.” Whatever the truth is, this episode shows Annalise’s mastermind abilities, but it also shows her scars, her willingness to die, which both Bonnie and Nate realize.

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Everyone else, meanwhile, is busy being the big ol’ happy crime they’ve become. Okay, so maybe not happy. Asher, after all, is putting whiskey in his coffee mug, and Michaela’s stressing about exams, or something. Maybe it was that family dinner at Frank’s at the end or all the talk of protection throughout (Nate tells Annalise he’ll protect her because she protected him, and Nate assures Laurel the whole gang all protects each other), but I finally had the realization during this episode that the Keating Five and all their known associates are a straight up crime family at this point. I’ve called it the Murder Club before, but it’s more than just murder. This crew will break the law in just about every way imaginable—all to protect each other (but really, to protect themselves). Annalise is a straight-up mob boss at this point. Overall though, there isn’t a whole lot happening among the Keating Five. We get some heavy-handed indications that Asher isn’t doing so well in the aftermath of his father’s death, but the only point the episode really makes about him is that he now thinks his father was murdered and did not kill himself. On this show, it’s always safe to bet on murder.

Everyone else in the episode just sort of exists to talk about what has happened or what is currently happening, without adding much insight. It makes sense that the episode dwells on the past, because hey, Annalise was shot and that was a big deal. But the episode ends up being more recappy than reflective. With the exception of Wes and Annalise, no one really seems to be processing anything. Laurel has a nice moment near the end, but there’s something inorganic about her breakdown. How To Get Away With Murder should be commenting on the past in a way that adds something more and that develops the characters’ arcs more coherently.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back, How To Get Away With Murder. Welcome back, hand cramps that I always get from taking notes during How To Get Away With Murder.
  • According to Michaela, they all have exams in one month. I forgot they’re still students. Exams really do seem to be the least of their worries.
  • Even though I knew there was something off about the baby situation, that initial reveal that there was no baby in Bonnie’s arms was executed extremely well.
  • Frank takes pride in being a good speller, I guess?

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