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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How To Get Away With Murder reaches deep into the past to propel the present

Illustration for article titled How To Get Away With Murder reaches deep into the past to propel the present
Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

Now that the FBI has effectively been established as the Big Bad for this final stretch of the series, the paranoia levels on How To Get Away With Murder are at an all-time high. As they should be. The FBI is powerful; the FBI remains one step ahead of Annalise and the gang.


And that upper-hand is especially rare. Annalise has been able to best the establishment before, but this is a whole new level of conflict. The federal government wants her dead. They’re pursuing the death penalty in the case against her. Annalise has fucked up plenty of times, but this final season really does brilliantly set her up as the ultimate antihero. This character has always been compelling, complex, compulsively watchable. This episode harnesses that power well. Annalise Keating is a force to be reckoned with.

An unlikely team-up makes things even more thrilling. Vivian, a rather inconsistent character, shows up once again. This time, she wants to help Annalise—allegedly. Annalise is right to be suspicious. Vivian hates her. Vivian has played her before. But Vivian above all else wants to protect Gabriel, and Gabriel is the only person who knows that the FBI is behind Asher’s death.

Gabriel’s position in all of this is messy. Vivian’s is, too. When he tells her about Frank threatening his life, she understands and fills him in on Hannah. Remember Hannah? Sam’s sister? This show loves to bring in random family members to heighten the stakes of its existing storylines. Vivian’s integration in this episode is a little sloppy, but it’s also riveting, a way to connect the dots between Sam’s past life and now. It reiterates that there’s so much at stake when it comes to all of these crimes. So many lives have been affected in myriad ways. Murder, death, lies—they all have ripple effects. And while How To Get Away With Murder often becomes convoluted and overwrought in its attempts to connect all the strands, there’s also meaning to the madness. The chaos compounds with every lie told. None of this happens in a vacuum.

Connor thinks he’s being followed, and it’s never made clear if he’s right or not. It doesn’t matter; the possibility is the point. Paranoia courses through the veins of this episode. Even after they throw Gabriel out, Michaela, Connor, and Oliver know he’s probably right. They’ve made a deal with the devil.

The desperation ratchets up a notch when Frank gets his hands on Xavier and tries to pound the truth out of him. It’s classic Frank, using violence as a means to an end. The past comes up again when Xavier holds Frank’s original sin against Annalise over him. These final episodes keep reaching back into the past, and it’s actually effective. There are plot holes and weak spots along the way, but in its ending, How To Get Away With Murder is finding smart and visceral ways to unearth meaning from past events and subsequently give real stakes to the present. Even the fact that Annalise is potentially facing the death penalty carries specific weight to it given all the work she has done to challenge the death penalty and racism in the judicial system. She specifically exploits that work here, and why shouldn’t she? How To Get Away With Murder sometimes wavers when it comes to character motivation, but motivations in this episode are crystal clear.


Speaking of random family members showing up, Michaela’s father knocks on her door when he finds out that she’s thinking about going back on her deal. He tried to warn her about the power Annalise wields, referencing back to his history with her. Most of the characters on this show orbit around Annalise in some way, and most of them have had bad experiences with her. She’s the common denominator in a lot of the turmoil on this show. She’s still effectively positioned as an antihero rather than a villain. But there’s chaos in her wake. She has touched so many lives, and everything’s coming to a head now. It’s the most captivating the show has been in a while. Even Nate finds himself in a position to help Annalise here, and few people hate Annalise more than him right now.

The paranoia and trust issues that run rampant on this show usually result in characters having to act in their own self interests, which can make the show feel fragmented and frustrating. When it’s every person for themselves, it’s hard to root for anyone as a viewer. But in this episode, the paranoia has reached a point where people have to start teaming up, and that makes things much more interesting. The FBI is a clear villain, and that helps focus the characters. Connor and Michaela finally attempt to switch back to Annalise’s side, and she pushes back on them, but they admit to being the informants and admit falling for the FBI’s manipulations. It’s not that Connor and Michaela care about Annalise but rather that they know they need her. All the unlikely collaborations at play in this episode give new urgency to the conflict, tying characters’ fates to one another. It’s chaos, but it’s the most organized the chaos has been on the show in a long time.


Annalise accuses Connor and Michaela of recording her when really it’s her who’s recording them the whole time. I never said she was a hero. Annalise strikingly occupies a smeary area of neither hero nor villain nor victim. She’s right when she says she doesn’t deserve to die. She’s right when she argues that she is being accused of crimes she didn’t commit. Tegan sees Annalise clearly. She knows she’s not perfect, but she also knows she doesn’t deserve what the FBI is trying to do to her. How To Get Away With Murder is sometimes frustratingly muddled, but its gray areas are also its best parts.

Stray observations

  • I love that Tegan is such a nerd. First she references Game Of Thrones, and then she references Star Trek.
  • On that note, Robert calling Tegan out on liking Annalise is me. Tegan absolutely likes Annalise.
  • “Whatever girl on girl fantasy you’ve cooked up in that hetero head”...this Stray Observations section is dedicated entirely to Tegan.
  • Because Tegan is a very good lawyer! The death penalty does eventually get taken off the table thanks to her.