Despite many of its narrative flaws, How To Get Away With Murder remains one of the most piercing portrayals of toxic relationships on television. Erratic character dynamics are a strange thing to praise, and yet, How To Get Away With Murder makes its extreme character highs and lows a defining part of its fabric. The characters are constantly pushing and pulling each other to the point of exhaustion, everyone’s motives muddled and volatile. But there’s usually a clear underlying reason. Because almost every relationship on this show is predicated on guilt, power, manipulation, trauma.
“Our entire relationship is an apology,” Bonnie says in a scene so above and beyond the rest of “Everything We Did Was For Nothing” that the entire episode probably should have just been this one segment. Annalise brings in Bonnie to apologize at Frank’s insistence, but Bonnie makes it clear that neither of them are there because of Frank very quickly. I’ve had mixed feelings about Bonnie and Annalise’s relationship, because up close, the relationship is fascinatingly complex and distinct. Zoomed out, I think the show sometimes fails to really grapple with the dark depths of what their relationship means, especially when it comes to Annalise’s morality. And then there are scenes like the one here between Annalise and Bonnie that just rips right through all of the show’s inconsistencies and failures, scenes that are so skillfully acted, so emotionally rich that they almost exist outside of the show’s increasingly convoluted plot.
Showrunner Peter Nowalk noted on Twitter that this was a scene for which he, Liza Weil, and Viola Davis sat in his office and “workshopped it like a play.” It shows. There are unmistakable theatrical undertones to it. Weil and Davis have the intense physicality of stage actors aware of every breath that they take. The scene references their past in a way that gives new meaning to the present. Everything on the edges of this relationship just briefly fades away, pulling us into the urgency of their emotions.
But zoom out evenly slightly, and “Everything We Did Was For Nothing” is a mess. Worse than a mess, it’s actually boring. Laurel’s fighting to prove she’s mentally well enough to go home; Michaela’s right there with her; Connor and Asher are helping Annalise with her class action (remember that?!); Oliver’s attempting to reconcile with what they did to Simon; Frank’s fluttering around like the loyal but useless henchman he is; Denver’s working with Jorge in a very unsurprising twist; and Nate’s just sort of filling in blanks. There’s little coherence to connect all of this together, the characters just sort of going through the motions of the plot as the writers line up the pieces for a Laurel-Jorge custody showdown.
How To Get Away With Murder thrives on discomfort. And that isn’t always a bad thing. It’s an uncomfortably disturbing, blunt, irreverent show. It doesn’t bend to the ways of conventional television drama by tying conflicts into neat bows or making its character motivations easily categorized and linear. It’s ultimately a show about trauma, and trauma is never easily categorized nor linear. It can be an exhausting and frustrating show, but sometimes some of its supposed weaknesses turn out to be strengths. How To Get Away With Murder pushes the envelope by leaning so far into its most toxic and hard to define relationships. “What we are to each other is so much more complicated than any stupid husband or wife or husband,” Bonnie says in that stunning Bonnie/Annalise scene, and her statement is fully supported by everything that we’ve seen unfold between them. How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t merely explore moral grayness; it explores emotional grayness, especially when it comes to relationships.
Frank and Laurel exist in this gray area, too. She tries to protect him by not telling anyone the truth about why she delivered her baby early, but she ultimately cracks when Michaela presses. Annalise has Michaela convinced for a brief moment that Laurel could really have inflicted harm upon herself, and she’s quick to set the record straight once she knows the truth, because Michaela’s fierce love for Laurel has been a steady force for a while now. “It was stupid boys fighting,” she blurts out to Annalise and Frank, underscoring the tragically simple root of Laurel’s near-miscarriage.
So, yes, “Everything We Did Was For Nothing” has its explosive moments. But overall, it’s tedious and unfocused. There’s little holding together the current storyline, and there’s only so much that great acting can do to keep everything afloat. The fluid and flexible nature of the careful character work done in isolated scenes stands out from the rest of the show, which is starting to feel too rigid and suffocating to really entice.
- So now Nate’s lecturing Annalise on following through with this class action suit? Can the writers pretend for even just a second that Nate exists for more than just advancing the plot?
- Of course Laurel’s mom is going to be thrown into the mix.
- Annalise using Isaac’s daughter to get him to help her out is just so...forced. Isaac has just never clicked as a character, and his backstory seems merely convenient for the sake of plot.
- Tegan’s warning to Michaela is another standout scene in the episode. I hope we get even more Tegan development soon, because she is so fun to watch.