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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

HTGAWM smacks a client in the face, but the episode could’ve hit harder

How To Get Away With Murder
How To Get Away With Murder
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How To Get Away With Murder hasn’t been very subtle about its build up to introducing Laurel’s father to the story. Last season, Laurel reminded us repeatedly how bad of a guy he is without really going into much detail about what he does or why he’s bad. And Annalise seemed to know about him and his badness, too, though we didn’t get much more information from her. At long last, Laurel’s father enters the picture and is immediately connected to one of the season’s ongoing mysteries. He knows how to find Frank. He also knows Laurel has been leaving Frank voicemails, because he tapped his daughter’s phone. Yeah, Laurel was right. Her dad does not seem like a great guy. But his entrance into the show seems more convenient than anything else, and the build up fizzles out quickly. It’s another manifestation of How To Get Away With Murder’s ongoing pacing issues. By the end of the episode, Laurel’s father matters as little as he did before. Esai Morales and Karla Souza are excellent in their scenes together, especially when they get to speak in Spanish. But we don’t get any real character development—just a hasty and empty establishment of their tumultuous relationship and heavy-handed ominous conventions like the paperwork Laurel’s father leverages her with.

Technically, we do learn a few specifics. Laurel mentions her mother’s struggle with mental illness. She also very casually mentions that she was kidnapped in her youth and her father refused to pay the ransom. There is some very serious shit going on here, but none of it is dealt with in a meaningful way. Bringing in a corporate mediator to oversee a father-daughter reunion is definitely something that makes sense on this show, and there’s some humor to it, but it still plays out like shoddy character work. Despite the explosive emotions at play in all of their scenes together, Laurel and her father’s parts of this episode never seem like much more than exposition. After a more balanced episode last week, How To Get Away With Murder is back to its urgency issues as it struggles to keep the overarching mythology exciting while still pulling off the more zoomed-in stories. Plus, there’s a bit of a Papa Pope vibe going on here, and television—let alone Shondaland—does not need another Papa Pope.

Annalise’s clinic case this week is one of the most horrifying in the show’s history, and that says a lot. Even the morally corrupt Keating Five oppose representing Toby Solomon, a gross real estate developer who took a selfie with a call girl after she overdosed and didn’t call 911 until it was too late to save her. The case takes an even darker turn when the client admits that he did kill another woman: a young runaway named Janie who he whacked across the head with a baseball bat when she said she wouldn’t sleep with him. The episode shows this all play out in a very difficult to watch flashback. As Solomon retells it in his own words, he claims he was “triggered” by Janie’s harsh words about his appearance. Solomon represents a very real, very dangerous form of patriarchal violence. Women are killed for rejecting men in the real world, and How To Get Away With Murder incisively shows Solomon for what he really is: a man whose answer to a woman not sleeping with him is to end her life, who conflates an attack on his fragile masculinity with a social justice issue by using the word “triggered.” The use of that word here gave me pause, because there are already so many malicious misconceptions about what it means to be triggered that I worried the show might actually do more damage than good by placing the word in this man’s mouth. But while the show doesn’t explicitly critique his use of the word, Solomon certainly gets his comeuppance. Annalise gives him a very deserved smack across the face—a moment so great that it almost makes up for the parts of the episode that don’t hit as hard.

The Solomon storyline is a hard one to pull off, especially after last week’s excellently executed storyline about violence against women. And I don’t think How To Get Away With Murder is entirely successful this time around. Thankfully, Annalise doesn’t take the case because she genuinely believes this client deserves her help. She takes it to grab attention. She takes it because the president of the university wants her to lay low, and Annalise is not one to take orders from anyone, but especially someone trying to keep her quiet. So Annalise takes the case to shock. And that all certainly tracks with the character and how she operates. But there’s also a sense that How To Get Away With Murder is trying very hard to shock with this storyline, which is tough to swallow. But at least the case doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It touches the characters in different ways, and some of those connections reach back into the show and its characters’ histories. It’s one thing for Michaela to say she doesn’t want to work on the case because it offends her sensibilities as a woman. It’s another for the writers to turn to the more specific and personal trauma of Bonnie’s childhood. That gives the story more emotional weight, more complex context that hinges on much more than shock value. Bonnie hasn’t had much to do this season, but her presence and her voice are quietly powerful here. Liza Weil is exceptional in the scene where Annalise and Bonnie grapple with what to do over vodka.

Then there’s the odd business of Michaela, Asher, Connor, and Oliver’s last-minute escape to Atlantic City. The trip is the result of Michaela learning that her fiancé of yesteryear—who also hooked up with Connor—is married. Unless they’re murdered, familiar faces tend to reappear on this show from time to time, but the resurfacing of Aiden is far from graceful. For one, Aiden himself doesn’t appear. He’s merely mentioned and then talked about, and while that’s not an issue in and of itself, the way Aiden plays such a significant role in one of this episode’s plotlines just falls completely flat. And the fact that he doesn’t even appear only underscores that he’s being used as a mere plot device—and a shaky one at that. This doesn’t seem like an example of the show remembering its characters’ histories and revisiting an old relationship in a way that furthers character development. It doesn’t act as a genuine look into Michaela’s psyche. More than anything, it plays out as a distraction from the dourness that seeps through the rest of the episode, like Atlantic City is supposed to lighten the mood from all the creepy killer and bad dad shit. It’s not without its strong moments. Michaela continues to shut down Asher’s hollow, unsuccessful attempts at becoming her woke bae. And Connor offers a piercing critique of the racism, body shaming, and anti-femme rhetoric prevalent on “Humpr,” the show’s stand-in for Grindr, where masc4masc bros are very real. It’s very possible that this Atlantic City trip could be a part of the show’s long-term plotting, but even so, it’s wedged clumsily into an episode already bursting at the seams with plot.

But hey, as random as the Atlantic City field trip is, at least it’s more interesting than whatever the hell is going on with Wes this season. I can’t tell if the show is overtly trying to make it seem like Meggy is up to no good or if I’ve just been conditioned by this show to trust no one. But there’s no way she isn’t hiding something, right? She casually admits to stealing Wes’s ID in this episode. At this point, it would be more surprising for the show to go down the path of her being a truly normal, trustworthy human. But at any rate, Wes and Meggy are so detached from the emotional and narrative threads of this season’s web that they seem entirely irrelevant. At the end of “Always Bet Black,” Meggy tells Wes that he is clearly in love with Laurel. She can see it on his face every time Laurel’s name shows up on his phone. Laurel makes him happy, and she wants him to be happy. Is it a breakup? Is it a turning point in Wes’s relationship with Meggy? In his relationship with Laurel? It’s unclear. Meggy’s revelation would carry a lot more weight if we as viewers were as sure of Wes’s love for Laurel as she seems to be. But that extremely brief spark between them was never convincing. How To Get Away With Murder is pushing Wes in certain directions without showing the work, and the character seems to have gone from the “puppy” of the group to a cyborg that other characters just project things onto.


Stray observations

  • Ah, yes, we should probably discuss #UnderTheSheet theories and developments. Bonnie is revealed to be alive. And to complicate matters, another body was found in the burning house. This person is alive, for now, but we don’t know who it is. I’m starting to think the dead body might be Wes? Is that why he seems quite literally expendable this season?
  • If I’m interpreting this correctly, Laurel’s dad makes surveillance technology for the government. I’m surprised Annalise hasn’t found a way to use him sooner.
  • I do like that they didn’t make Laurel’s father a mob boss.
  • According to the promo for next week’s episode, it looks like Annalise’s smackdown is actually going to have long-term consequences.
  • I like that Connor doesn’t try to defend himself when Oliver mistakenly thinks that he’s trying to sabotage him. He could have easily told Oliver that dude was a racist prick, but he chooses not to, because he knows it won’t really change anything. One thing this season is continuing to do right is the messy and ongoing aftermath of this breakup.
  • Laurel signing away her life to her dad is most definitely going to come back to bite her, and lying to Annalise is certainly going to make it worse.
  • This episode introduces A.D.A. Renee Atwood (Milauna J. Jackson), who is already a more intriguing enemy of Annalise than anyone else this season. I hope we learn more about her soon.
  • Oliver is rendered speechless by Nate’s glistening torso.
  • It makes sense that she chose to leave, but I really wish we could have gotten the scene of Annalise and Bonnie having a sleepover. Also, Bonnie’s hand on Annalise’s shoulder as she walks out is a nice touch.