How To Get Away With Murder

How To Get Away With Murder dedicates its midseason finale to Laurel and company’s ill-devised plan to bring down her father and Antares. In typical How To Get Away With Murder fashion, it unspools the story in a nonlinear fashion, starting with a big tease and then jumping back 24 hours and then repeatedly jumping back in time every so often to show what the various characters are all up to in the same moments. How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t always understand that there is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to shock value. Between the tease at the top of the episode and the disjointed temporality, the show works overtime for the shock factor. How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t foreshadow so much as drop bombs and then jump back to show, in tedious detail, how the bomb was made. “Live. Live. Live.” is a chaotic mess that goes from a failed heist to a horror show in the blink of an eye.

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The failed heist aspect is actually pretty well done, especially considering how wobbly the build up has been. By the time of the actual party, Laurel, Michaela, Oliver, Asher, Frank, and Connor all have pretty clear roles to play, and their motivations are varied but convincing. All season, I’ve been thinking that Laurel’s plan is reckless and poorly thought out, and thankfully the finale doesn’t pretend it’s not. Asher and Michaela’s initial attempts to get Tegan’s keycard comically fail. Asher and Laurel hastily change the plan in the middle of it, which has deadly consequences. The plan is doomed from the start. Oliver increasingly becomes a reluctant participant, empathetic for Simon, who also confesses his love for Oliver in a troubling twist.

The fact that it’s Simon’s body on the floor isn’t exactly surprising. It was always their plan to make him the sacrificial lamb and even though they didn’t think that meant actually killing him, their plan to frame him as a whistleblower always seemed far-flung. The hasty character development of Simon has been frustrating. His undocumented status and his questioning of his sexuality become last-minute efforts by the writers to make him a more sympathetic character, to manipulate viewers into caring about his death. Those details never surfaced in previous seasons, and the fact that they do now, just before Simon becomes the show’s sacrificial lamb, is transparent manipulation rather than genuine character development. And having a character come out as queer and then immediately die plays into harmful tropes.

And that’s a big reason why so many of How To Get Away With Murder’s biggest shockers are hollow shells that fizzle out quickly after their initial impact. They shock just to shock rather than engaging with the emotional fabric of the narrative or compelling character work. There isn’t suspense in “Live. Live. Live.” so much as just a blanket sense of destruction and dysfunction.

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There are a few interludes that aren’t a part of the Antares party from hell, like Bonnie going to Annalise to tell her that she loves her and that she now sees that every bad thing they’ve ever done to and with and for each other has been because of love. This season has leaned into Bonnie’s obsessive love of Annalise. Bonnie and Annalise’s arc—and the contextualization of their co-dependent behavior that this season has provided through flashbacks—has been one of the more captivating parts of the season. Bonnie and Nate bonding over being addicted to Annalise is interesting in theory, but Nate has been so flattened that he is far from a compelling character.

Toxic co-dependent relationships are a huge part of this show. Annalise’s interactions with Isaac here show that she can’t even have a healthy patient-therapist relationship. The way they argue about whether or not they can still see each other sounds an awful lot like a fight between a troubled couple. Isaac’s purpose on this show is still hazy, but Annalise insisting that they’re bound together does touch on her tendency to form unhealthy relationships.

Then, in its final act, How To Get Away With Murder turns into a haunting theater of horror, outdoing itself with just how dark it can go. Laurel’s elevator scene is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on network television. The rest of the episode has such dizzyingly fast pacing and then hits the brakes on this moment, dragging it out in a way that expresses her agony, her slow sink into complete and total despair. Even the music is more terrifying than usual. A single drop of blood becomes a splattered pool of it. Everything about the scene signifies tragedy and violence. The fact that it was potentially Frank’s accidental blow to Laurel’s stomach when she was trying to get him off of Connor that could have caused this unnervingly suggests that Connor was right, that Frank continues to put the people around him at risk.

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As the mid-episode content warning suggests, it gets so much worse. Laurel’s bloodied, lifeless, premature baby is seen on-screen. By the time Annalise pries the elevator door open, Laurel’s unresponsive. Guided over the phone, Annalise has to cut the umbilical cord and perform CPR on the tiny baby that looks so disturbingly real. It’s so gratuitously grotesque that it’s hard to even fully absorb Viola Davis’ performance, which is, of course, brilliant. Davis’ acting prowess is the most consistent part of this show. Both Davis and Karla Souza make the horror of it all feel very real. The episode’s final act is demented to the point where it feels like the show is trying so hard to shock, to one-up itself in the gory twist department. “Live. Live. Live.” goes from frantic to grueling. The elevator scene starts out as a moving, immersive scene but then quickly becomes far too much. And by doing too much, How To Get Away With Murder accomplishes very little.

Stray observations

  • I suppose there could be a possibility that Simon is miraculously saved in surgery?
  • Oliver is the only one of this gang who has never seen a dead body before.
  • Aja Naomi King and Karla Souza are both having fantastic seasons.
  • No one should let Laurel hatch plans anymore. She’s very bad at it.
  • The elusive Dominic appears again, this time eavesdropping on Connor.
  • On that note, I’m worried about Connor!
  • How To Get Away With Murder returns on January 18, 2018, along with the rest of the TGIT lineup. I’ll be spending this break thinking about how Laurel and Michaela should be endgame and avoiding my friends in law school who love to explain to me how unrealistic this show is.

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