How To Get Away With Murder’s tradition of two-hour finales should perhaps be reconsidered in the future. The show so often overwhelms by overstuffing its episodes, and halfway into the first part of tonight’s finale, I was already exhausted. It’s a doozy of a finale, racing through the final twists and turns of Wes’ murder mystery with few pauses to breathe.
Packing a ton of plot into one episode is par for the course for How To Get Away With Murder, and sometimes it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The first word that comes to mind when thinking about the show is “extra.” I mean, I try not to think too hard about a television show’s promos when writing a review, but heading into its two-part finale over the past week, the How To Get Away With Murder promos straight up bragged about its staggering body count. There’s a manic glee to the way this show kills characters and puts the living ones through hell over and over. The truth is, I love how wild How To Get Away With Murder often is. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet it sticks the landing on some of the more emotional scenes, proving that it can churn up raw, real feelings amid all the melodrama. It helps that it has one of the best ensembles on television—led, of course, by Viola Davis, but the other principals hold their own, too.
But How To Get Away With Murder usually needs dynamics to make its overloaded episodes click. It needs the quieter moments, the subtle character work, the intimate relationship building that drives the action. Both “He Made A Terrible Mistake” and “Wes” lack those dynamics. Isolated scenes in both episodes unnerve and rattle, but there’s little by way of connective tissue to bring it all together.
In fact, it all starts with a disjointed and disorienting sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the finale. “He Made A Terrible Mistake,” written by Joe Fazzio and directed by Jet Wilkinson, opens on Connor, jogging through his feelings. The scene cuts back and forth between Connor jogging toward the camera and close-ups of a bunch of random people talking about horrible incidents from their pasts. The characters are never named, and their stories are painted in broad strokes. They are without context. How To Get Away With Murder uses time-bending sequences all the time, so there’s nothing that seems all that strange at first. But the proximity of the close-ups to Connor’s breakdown jog suggests they’re his memories or otherwise somehow connected to him. But soon after, we learn that they’re actually excerpts from stories shared at Annalise’s alcoholic support group. The juxtaposition of these random snippets from her nameless support group members and Connor’s jog is never justified. What exactly is the purpose of the sequence? To draw some sort of abstract connection between Annalise and Connor? To compare his inner struggle to that of an addict? To suggest that everyone has internal battles? It’s more likely that the two parts were woven together for sheer dramatic effect. That’s what How To Get Away With Murder does in some of its worst, most draining moments: It settles for cheap thrills.
Incoherence marks the rest of the finale. There’s a quick but dense sequence of scenes in “Wes” that goes from Annalise returning to her burned down home to Oliver desperately trying to find Connor—who is missing after having discovered Denver’s collusion with the Mahoneys to bring down Annalise—to Asher telling Michaela he loves her to Laurel and Michaela contemplating the concept of love in the bathroom by reflecting on their pasts. The scenes seem like they’re supposed to be linked, with Annalise in the ruins as the point the sequence hinges on. But there is no real narrative through-line. Thematically, they deal broadly with things that have been lost, but How To Get Away With Murder is much better when its themes and metaphors are spelled out without ambiguity or broadness. The scenes whipped between each other too quickly for me to even feel the full emotional weight of any of them. The problem with not pausing to breathe is that it starts to feel suffocating. How To Get Away With Murder’s third season finale sucks the air out of its mystery.
Character histories seem to go out the window, too. Recently, I praised the relationship work that has been done this season between Michaela and Laurel. The two seem to really care about each other, and some of that intimacy is seen again here during the bathroom scene where they talk about love. But that all flies out the window by the end of part two, when Laurel convinces Asher and Michaela to help her with a truly stupid plan that puts Michaela directly in harm’s way. I understand that Laurel is desperate, that she is teetering on the edge in her quest for answers. But for her to be so willing to let Michaela get close to a probable rapist and killer just to get answers? That’s a leap, and it throws character development out the window. In the past few episodes, I’ve thought Laurel’s heartbreak was a compelling arc, but in this finale, her actions are less convincing. Laurel is smart, but this episode doesn’t make her out to be.
There are other sequences that are effective, like when Annalise goes to the DA’s office to argue that Wes killed Sam and Rebecca and then killed himself, using a particularly incriminating voicemail he left on the night of his murder (the reason she had Oliver wipe her phone) as evidence. Her mostly false testimony and casting of Wes as a troubled killer is intercut with flashbacks to the actual murder of Wes Gibbons in all its gory details. Just when I thought this show was finally done brutalizing Wes, we have to watch as he’s attacked and then slowly dragging himself along the floor gasping for breath and calling out for help. It’s horrifying and makes Annalise’s decision to distort the truth all the more nauseating. Annalise reminds us all in this episode that she has never killed anyone, and I realized with a touch of amusement that it’s technically true. But she still has plenty of blood on her hands. She may not be a murderer, but she is far from a saint.
And there are some truly killer Annalise moments throughout both episodes. I can’t believe this is the first time I’m writing this in a review, but Viola Davis really is the best crier on television (sorry, Claire Danes). When she cries, she lets her voice and whole face break, snot running with tears, body slumped, her entire physicality conveying the depth and dimension of her pain. It’s a marvel to watch, and yet you also want to look away: It’s too intimate, too much like looking in a mirror when you’re crying and seeing a distorted version of yourself. She cries in the first meeting with her addiction group and at the end when she finally opens up for real and talks about the heartbreak of losing Wes, putting to words the complex relationship she had with him. I always struggled to define their dynamic, and the episodes since his death have made it clear that it has always been an intentionally nebulous, messy relationship. When the finale cuts to the title card, we still hear Annalise gasping for breath through her tears, and it’s one of the more effective episode endings in the show’s history.
But we get to see all shades of Annalise this episode not just broken-down, grieving Annalise. In court, she’s full eye-roll Annalise, annoyed with Bonnie’s mediocre lawyering skills. Poor Bonnie. In a particularly well-written and well-acted scene in part one, Connor comes face to face with no-bullshit Annalise. It’s moments after Connor has revealed to everyone that he found Wes dead and tried to give him CPR, blaming himself for possibly killing him when he heard his rib cage crack. Annalise shuts Connor down when he tries to accuse her of killing him. Both characters end up making excellent points, and there are moments of vulnerability and intense, unbridled emotion in the scene. It’s a standout moment—one that makes use of the dynamics missing from most of the rest of the finale. Fiery Annalise comes out again—only with more ferocity—when she goes toe-to-toe with Sylvia Mahoney, who insists Annalise has it all wrong about her family and Wes. In its season-three finale, How To Get Away With Murder drives home just how brilliant of an antihero Annalise is. All these different versions of herself interplay and overlap, reflecting her past and peeling back her layers. Davis plays them all with equal force and detail. When Frank returns home at last, he drops to his knees before Annalise in a moment that evokes Game Of Thrones-esque imagery and intensity, amplified by the rattling of drums in the song playing over it. He’s kneeling before the queen.
As for the twists, only the final one delivers. How To Get Away With Murder does like to stick the landing on its finales. But getting there this time is even more convoluted than usual. Denver’s involvement in the plot to bring down Annalise is hardly all that shocking, and I maintain what I said last week about the entire DA’s office being a weak villain this season. Neither Denver nor Atwood are anything more than loose sketches of character—more plot device than anything else. Even Nate ambles through the episode like a walking, talking explanation rather than a real character with real stakes. The reveal that the Mahoneys might not be villains after all doesn’t quite resonate, especially since it’s still left somewhat up in the air by the end. Connor’s confession makes for a strong character moment for him, but the second I started thinking about it more, the reveal lost some of its power, because that weight and guilt and devastation that Connor carries in this episode did not build over the course of the season’s back half. Connor has been acting shady this season, but he hasn’t been acting suicidal, and the fact that this episode jumps there is exactly the kind of cheap thrills I’m talking about.
But wait, we haven’t even talked about who killed Wes yet. That’s the whole point of the finale, right? That’s what all these tedious machinations are all leading to, right? The reveal unfolds with less fanfare than can be expected from the show, but that’s actually part of why it works. It turns out Dominic, a family friend of Laurel’s, killed Wes on Laurel’s father’s orders. It’s a surprising twist in the sense that it would have been a tricky one to guess. But it’s also a twist that makes sense: We don’t know too much about Laurel’s father, but we do know that he’s a bad guy. We’ve learned as much over time with subtle allusions to Laurel’s troubled past and kidnapping, which gets untangled a bit more here when it’s revealed that a young Laurel was forced by her father into signing a statement that she fabricated her own kidnapping. But more importantly, the twist holds emotional significance. It’s more than surprising. It’s devastating. Laurel has spent the back half of this season fighting for one thing and one thing only: the truth about who killed Wes. For us to learn that her own father did this is the kind of dramatic irony that goes right for the jugular. It doesn’t matter that we don’t really know her father; we know Laurel, and this betrayal indicates that her past is even more fucked up than previously suggested.
- I’m delusional enough to have thought Eve might show up in this finale.
- There was also a second where I thought Meggy was going to be the killer. That would be a dumb twist, so I’m glad it didn’t happen.
- I’m still not really buying the love story of Asher and Michaela.
- I did, however, laugh out loud when Asher confessed to raiding Bonnie’s fridge.
- Oliver asked Connor to marry him! Now that’s a love story I believe with all my heart.
- That being said, this show is often really great at writing queer characters, but some of the lines Connor had in this finale rubbed me the wrong way. He compares confession to a potential accidental murder to coming out? What? And the line about not worrying if he starves because he’s a gay man? What? These just don’t sound like real things anyone would say.
- That being said, Oliver’s frustration over having to reiterate and explain his relationship to Connor to the police when trying to file a missing person’s report is very real. Even though I live in New York, I constantly find myself having to explain to folks like my dentist that my girlfriend and I are not just very close friends.
- Whew, another season of How To Get Away With Murder comes to an end. Contrary to what some of my grades this season might suggest, I love this show and all its batshit shenanigans. There were some very high highs this season but also some very low lows. It keeps me coming back for more though! I’m excited to see where things head—especially for Laurel—next season.