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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How To Get Away With Murder is too disjointed to really sell its suspense

Illustration for article titled How To Get Away With Murder is too disjointed to really sell its suspense
Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

Amid all the chaos and drama and murder, How To Get Away With Murder consistently embeds compelling messages about trauma, violence, and morality. One of its strongest messages is its complete challenging of what it means to be a murderer. The show posits, sometimes with disturbing pointedness, that anyone is capable of murder, that it isn’t just bad people who kill.


As Annalise’s monologue at the top of “The Baby Was Never Dead” reiterates, there are many ways that psychopathy manifest in a person. There’s no one sure way to determine whether someone is a psychopath or not. The qualities she lists—parasitic lifestyles, criminal versatility, developmental issues, egomania—could apply to most of the characters on this show. Maybe they’re all psychopaths. Maybe none of them are. That haziness can be a strength and a weakness for How To Get Away With Murder. If anyone could murder, then what exactly are the stakes? But also, if anyone could murder, tension persists. Anyone could snap.

Throughout the seasons, How To Get Away With Murder has increasingly blurred the lines between professional and personal relationships, often suggesting that working intimately with someone is almost as thorny and layered as being with someone intimately. “I’m not giving up on us,” Michaela tells Tegan. She wants her back. She feels connected to Tegan. They aren’t lovers, but their relationship still transcends boss-employee, a tricky place that a lot of people don’t like to talk about, but How To Get Away With Murder plunges headfirst into those messy places for better or worse. This show is defined by its complete lack of boundaries. Bonnie and Annalise have one of the hardest-to-define relationships on television, and that can sometimes be frustrating, but it’s also part of what makes How To Get Away With Murder more than just a pulpy murder romp. These people are complex, and so are the ties that bind them to each other. Here, Annalise warns Bonnie that Miller might freak out when he finds out more about her, more about her past. At the same time, she has empathy for Bonnie. “You’re more than what happened to you,” she tells her.

I’ve had my reservations about the Bonnie/Miller relationship, mainly because Miller is the kind of character on this show who is barely a sketch of a person. He’s a device, like far too many characters outside of the ones who have been here since the beginning are. But the argument between them after Miller finds out that Bonnie and Asher have a sexual history is very well written, underscoring just how complex and special of a character Bonnie is. She isn’t an antihero in the conventional sense, but she’s a genuinely complicated woman—a woman who behaves badly by society’s standards and who has internalized that message about herself to the point where she feels bad. “You should have told me,” Miller says. “Told you I’m a slut?” Bonnie shoots back.

The case of the week concerns Niles Harrington, a self-proclaimed “psychopath CEO” who is accused of killing his business partner by strangling him with a belt. Niles has all the markers of a psychopath that Annalise lists. His ego runs rampant, and he’s a sexist asshole to boot, asserting that Annalise and Tegan are unmarried because they’re too unruly. Thankfully, Annalise and Tegan fire back at that. As it turns out, Niles really didn’t murder his partner, but rather his wife did. But whereas a more clear-cut show would use this twist to fully redeem Niles, that’s not exactly what How To Get Away With Murder does. Rather, it suggests that, sure, Niles isn’t exactly what he seems. He, above all else, wants to protect his wife, but this doesn’t make him a good guy.

Because there aren’t good and bad guys on How To Get Away With Murder. Annalise has become the face of a social justice campaign for a fairer criminal justice system, and just last episode, she guffawed at the notion of taking this case defending a powerful man. And yet, when she starts doing well in court in the initial proceedings, she can’t help be proud of herself. And when she loses, she’s shocked. She likes winning. She isn’t as above this case as she wants to be.


Still, “The Baby Was Never Dead” misses a lot of opportunities to play around with the series’ ongoing themes of moral ambiguity. The stakes for the ethics test that the students have to take are pretty low. They pass easily, despite the fact that pretty much all of the characters on the show raise a lot of ethical red flags. This season of How To Get Away With Murder is, perhaps, juggling too many mysteries at once, and maybe they’ll all connect eventually. But for now, everything is so disjointed that it’s hard to become invested in any one part. The late-in-the-episode reveal that Bonnie has a secret sister who is probably the one who kidnapped the baby barely has a chance to land because it seems so disjointed from everything else happening in the episode. The underlying themes remain a strong foundation for the series, but the plotting is all over the place.

Stray observations

  • When is Tegan going to get a new girlfriend? Can Eve come back and date her?
  • Wow, I’m so bored with Nate and his new love interest.
  • On the topic of Nate, he pays a visit to a nurse who was working on the night Bonnie’s baby went missing. She confirms that Bonnie kidnapped the baby.
  • Baby Christopher apparently only laughs around Annalise.
  • Oliver is onto Frank’s attempts to spy on Gabriel.