Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

How To Get Away With Murder is taking its time setting up its central mysteries this season. The show often barrels through story very quickly, sometimes to its own detriment. So a measured pace isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just...different. Like the premiere, “Whose Blood Is That?” feels like mostly setup.

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A trap How To Get Away With Murder has fallen into before is being too reserved with its flashforwards to the point where they’re just incoherent snapshots of horror. It might be doomed to make the same mistakes if these first two episodes are any indication. They’re not necessarily suspenseful because they just don’t make any sense. Once they’re woven together, perhaps there will be payoff, but getting there feels tedious, and we’re not given quite enough to work with to really get the conspiracy wheels turning. As far as this week goes, Aja Naomi King’s delivery of the titular line—repeated a few times—is strikingly bad, sucking the suspense from the scene. She usually handles this kind of bold delivery well, but here it doesn’t work.

As far as the big-picture storytelling goes this week, there isn’t much to latch onto. Nate’s still piecing together the mystery of Bonnie’s lost baby, flashbacks reminding us that her father and serial abuser told her she had lost the baby during childbirth. He has to trick DA Miller into signing some papers—which ends up being very easy to do—in order to get the missing child’s files released, bringing him closer to some answers, but that story hasn’t quite found its stride this season. (Based on the title of the next episode, though, it should be center-stage next week.)

Bonnie, meanwhile, is falling for Miller, and while I’m not necessarily interested in that, the dinner scene between Bonnie and Annalise makes for one of the most powerful moments of the episode. “If he saw what was in my file, he’d want nothing to do with me,” Bonnie declares, and then the two let a very long and heavy silence fall over them. Annalise doesn’t say anything, because there’s nothing she can say, and she knows it. She just holds out her hand eventually, and Bonnie holds it. These two and their fucked up, intense, tragic, beautiful, ugly, indelible, ever-changing relationship are so compelling to watch.

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The mystery of Gabriel’s true identity heats up slowly, too, and could use some gasoline on the fire because right now it’s still stuck in tedious buildup territory. Frank attempts to clone his phone, but turns out you can’t clone a flip phone. So instead he hatches an elaborate plan to get Gabriel to move into Wes’ old apartment, where Frank has installed a camera and mic to keep complete tabs on him. The plan involves sex, because of course it does, and Frank ends up sleeping with Gabriel’s roommate while also watching baby Christopher, which Laurel rightfully gets upset about! Just because she turned down his marriage proposal doesn’t mean Frank can just act like an asshole now.

There’s a case of the week to provide a more contained arc, but it’s a little all-over-the-place in its pacing and stakes. It centers on Nanda Hashim, a Muslim immigrant from Myanmar accused of murdering her wife. It’s stipulated that she only married her for a green card, and that turns out to be technically true, but then Nanda ended up falling in love with her wife after the fact, which doesn’t really make for a solid case. But the dead wife’s son is a closeted alt right racist who Annalise cracks on the stand, because the woman has never met a witness she couldn’t crack and also never met a judge who wouldn’t cut her off even though she has committed about a dozen objectionable offenses. As usual, How To Get Away With Murder touches on relevant social justice topics with Nanda’s case, but it just skims the surface, never has the time to really dig into any nuances or complexities, because it’s too busy doing all the aforementioned setting up of the season’s more serialized storytelling.

The case-of-the-week connects to the bigger picture mainly through Michaela. It shines a light back on Annalise and Michaela’s relationship which, as with most of Annalise’s relationships, remains tumultuous. One second, Michaela’s tearing into Annalise, even bringing up stuff about Bonnie during clinic, which seems wildly inappropriate but none of these characters have ever known the meaning of the word “boundaries.” (On that note, what’s up with Connor so aggressively trying to get Gabriel to reveal his sexuality? Why was he being such an asshole to Gabriel in general?) Michaela never seems to know if she wants to fight against or be Annalise, and it’s probably some combination of the two urges. At times, the power play between her and Annalise happening in this episode is a bit forced, but King holds her own up against Viola Davis, making for some fun scenes. The little smile on Michaela’s face when Annalise compliments her at the end says it all: No matter how nasty she tries to be toward Annalise, she still wants mommy’s approval.

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Speaking of moms, Laurel tries to tell little baby Christopher that she doesn’t want to be anything like her mom, doesn’t want to lie and manipulate, and use others. Ironically, while explaining all this to her very cute baby, Laurel gets an idea that leads to her being...kind of like her mom. She goes to Caplan & Gold partner Emmett and tells him she knows who blew the whistle on her father, twisting Tegan’s arm. But Laurel doesn’t point the finger at Tegan but rather her missing mother. Still, it’s enough to strongarm Tegan into pulling some strings with a daycare for Christopher.

So yeah, despite her determination to not be like her mother, Laurel shows some of the conniving, manipulative traits of her mother. How To Get Away With Murder often explores its characters tendencies to revert to old habits and, more disturbingly, to adopt the qualities of the people who hurt them.


Stray observations

  • Michaela’s reaction to seeing Tegan again makes it seem like she’s running into an ex. Why does everyone on this show have an exes dynamic?
  • I guess Oliver has forgiven Michaela for Simon. That seemed too tidy.
  • I can’t wait for the inevitable Tegan/Annalise all-out showdown this season.
  • Gabriel is finally starting to interact with more characters, but he’s still too detached from everyone for the mystery of his identity to have full weight.
  • It is shocking that Asher is still alive.
  • Annalise’s new home has such brighter lighting/colors than her terrifying former murder mansion and also the dismal hotel she lived in briefly. Happy for her!

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