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"Family Sucks" in a character-driven How To Get Away With Murder

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Throughout How To Get Away With Murder, there’s a constant push and pull of people hurting and caring for each other. Toxic relationships abound on this show, and everyone has voids they’re trying to fill. Most of those voids were created by the characters’ families. “Family Sucks” is pretty much the theme of the entire series.

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Michaela keeps coming back to Asher because he is the only man who hasn’t hurt her. Bonnie and Frank have experienced so much trauma—both separately but also together—that they also keep coming back to each other. Now they’re thinking about running off to Oregon, something Bonnie first proposed a long time ago. Whenever there are vulnerable moments between characters on this show, it feels significant.

“Family Sucks” contains several reminders of the goodness still left in some of these characters, seen in the ways they care for each other. The quiet scene between Bonnie and Connor stands out in particular, because these characters don’t have much of an established relationship with one another and yet they still have huge empathy for each other. Both want to be good. Both want to stop hating themselves, and they’re able to recognize those dark parts of one another. Connor wants some big conspiracy to be the reason Annalise chose him for the group, and the real reason is way more interesting precisely because it’s not some huge plot twist or reveal. Bonnie chose him because she saw the way he fought against abuse, and she is an abuse survivor herself. Whenever How To Get Away With Murder slips these more nuanced stakes into its narrative, it helps ground the show and makes it easier to invest in the characters’ fates. The FBI is closing in on the group, but without these little moments of humanity and depth, that threat would be just a cheap plot convention.

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Self-preservation and paranoia have always been huge driving forces on this show, and this episode is particularly steeped in the latter. Nate’s plan to seduce Tegan’s ex for information backfires spectacularly (and hilariously—Nate is very used to getting what he wants, and his surprise that it doesn’t work this time is funny). Bonnie and Nate both try to defend themselves to Tegan, but she correctly points out that their paranoia is making them dumb. Spying and lying rarely works out well for these characters, only deepening the holes they’ve dug for themselves.

There has been so much focus on Michaela’s arc this season that it almost seems like we’re watching the wind up to a full-on spin-off for the character, and I’m into that idea. Aja Naomi King has grown a lot as an actor over the course of this series. Where Michaela used to feel one-note in her intense, perfectionist personality, there are more layers now. Part of that is a better developed backstory for her, which gets touched on in “Family Sucks” during her two excellent monologues directed at Solomon. But part of that is King, who has brought a lot of specificity to the character and who is just as adept at conveying Michaela’s intensity as she is her rare but significant moments of vulnerability. Her reconnection with Asher is just as compelling as her more fiery moments with Solomon.

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In fact, her scene with Asher is even more interesting to watch, because there are better stakes on Asher’s side of things than there are when it comes to Solomon. Michaela’s own doubts about why Solomon has suddenly decided he wants to be a father to her are...my thoughts exactly. His entrance onto the show has been clunky, and the reveal that he and Annalise have a romantic past makes it even clunkier. It feels like the writers telling us we need to care about him instead of showing why. The Michaela monologues are excellent, but she might as well be delivering them to a wall.

When it comes to Asher though, there’s real history there. And the character development done within the episode for Asher works well, too, even though the sister character doesn’t so much. Every character on this show has some sort of family trauma, and it impacts not only how they act but how they form relationships with one another. The character work on the show that hinges on that is always its most compelling storytelling. Sometimes the show gets too involved in the twist-making, but “Family Sucks” focuses intently on the individual and collective stakes of this season’s tension, yielding an intensely character-driven episode.

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Stray observations

  • Sorry this is going up a day late. There was a scheduling issue.
  • Sometimes the dialogue on this show is hilariously absurd, and this episode has some of those moments—especially whenever Asher’s sister is involved. But sometimes, there are brilliant lines that gut, like when Annalise talks about her heart hurting just thinking about her father.
  • It seriously does feel like a spin-off about Michaela is in the works.
  • Frank has seen better days.
  • Are we ever going to find out what happened to Laurel?
  • King gets MVP of this episode, but Liza Weil does a lot of subtle, brilliant work here too.
  • Gabriel is really an afterthought this season.
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