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How To Get Away With Murder's fall finale shatters the group

Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)
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In its fall finale, How To Get Away With Murder pulls off one of its most tightly executed twists to date—and I don’t even mean the true jaw-dropper that happens in the final seconds. Right away, the episode introduces its high-stakes tension: An informant has come forward with evidence against Annalise Keating and her inner circle that spans back to Sam’s murder, throwing open a series of murder cases and implementing just about everyone on the show. The FBI wants Annalise most of all, but everyone is at risk. And everyone also has something to gain by being the mole.

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Most of the first half of the episode amounts to the paranoia of that setup. Everyone takes turns accusing each other of being the informant, and it would make sense for it to be any of them, which puts the How To Get Away With Murder writers in a good position. No matter the reveal, at least it will be cogent, which isn’t always the case for this show. “Are You The Mole?” the episode’s title asks, and Michaela delivers the titular line after a surprise phone call from Laurel. It speaks to the strength of the other reveals in this episode that Laurel’s sudden appearance doesn’t even rank that high for shock value. If anything, it merely fills in some crucial blanks—and also does so in a cogent way. We don’t get to deal much with the implications of the fact that Tegan helped Laurel and Christopher disappear, but it makes sense, and it will likely be dealt with down the line when, you know, things have calmed down a bit.

Because goddamn, several (figurative) bombs go off this season. The titular question gets resolved with a full act left in the episode, but the second it hits, it kicks the show into high gear. The lead-up and tension throughout the first half of the episode works well, as does in media res structure, but everything that follows that first reveal is some of the best plotting the show has done in a while. Or, more specifically, it also reaches back into previous episodes to make some of the plotting tighter by casting scenes in a new light. Of course it’s Asher who is in the informant. It’s not necessarily the most shocking thing in the world for it to be him; he’s done things like this in the past, convinced that he’s doing the best thing. But the real power of this twist is how rooted in character history and emotions it is as well as how much of the previous episodes were leading up to this.

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Those previous scenes that we flashback to aren’t necessarily foreshadowing; they’re just missing all the pieces. So “Are You The Mole” spends time filling in the blanks, and it doesn’t feel as tedious as some of this show’s more convoluted storytelling devices sometimes do. It’s very clean. Asher kissing Michaela that one time did strike me as significant, but it more just seemed like Asher defaulting to his dumb-bro ways. The fact that he was actually trying to protect her says something much deeper. And it’s significant that Asher was pressured into this by his mom and sister. Asher has always done what his family has pressured him to do. They’re his weakness, and he has tried so hard to get away from them, but it ultimately wasn’t that hard for them to trap him.

There are fire stoker red herrings throughout. There’s a moment where it looks like Annalise might kill Nate after he confronts her. This particular altercation has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s fantastically acted, especially on Viola Davis’ side of things (obviously). The danger is palpable. We’ve seen Nate snap before, and there’s real suspense as to whether one of them might hurt the other. But the scene also reiterates what has long been the problem with Nate. The writers just use him as a plot device most of the time, a blank canvas of sorts. There’s almost a meta acknowledgement of that here or an attempt to justify it when Annalise says that she chose him because she knew she could control him. Bonnie also points out in the episode that Nate is the loneliest of them all, and that’s very true. Until his father came around last season, Nate existed as a lone wolf, and it made his motives and role in the narrative hazy and inconsistent. That has continued to be true. And I’m not totally convinced that Nate has been all over the place just because Annalise shapes him into whatever she wants or needs. That’s what the writing has done.

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Then there’s sort of a double red herring when it comes to Oliver with the stoker. Initially, it’s easy to think Oliver might have killed Asher on first impact...until you remember that Asher is seen alive in flash-forwards throughout the season. But then the second he’s presumed safe, How To Get Away With Murder pulls the rug again. Someone finished off the job. Asher is dead, and Michaela and Connor are arrested for his murder (which is also why Oliver is seen confessing in one of the flashforwards). Asher is an easy character to hate, but his death is significant—one of the more significant deaths the show has had in a while. He’s the second of the Keating Five to die, and Connor, Michaela, and Oliver are likely going to spiral the same way Bonnie and Nate have since Miller’s death (only in this case, we know the deceased character much better).

Meanwhile...Wes is out here walking around Annalise’s “funeral.” There’s barely time to react to this, and that’s the exact kind of cliffhanger How To Get Away With Murder loves to throw into a midseason finale. It drives home the show’s love of deception, and it’s the kind of twist that I’m not the biggest fan of, mostly because when a show tries so hard to make it seem like you can’t ever believe anything that you see, it actually lowers the stakes.

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How To Get Away With Murder really does excel at its beginnings and endings. The in-between isn’t a complete mess—if it were, then those endings wouldn’t land at all. But they do get tedious. And sometimes it does feel like the show is structured for streaming even though it’s on network television. I’m glad it’s on network TV because of the social issues it often deals with and the fact that it normalizes queer sex as well as serodiscordant sex. But narratively, it does depend so much on playing the long game that it’s sometimes hurt by its weekly schedule. That’s not to say that network dramas can’t play the long game, but there needs to be more payoff and less confusing along the way.

The show revels a little too much in tricking its audience. But “Are You The Mole?” has twists that aren’t necessarily tricks; they’re dynamic, coherent reveals that give meaning to the past while moving the story forward. The show delivers that a lot in its finales, but its middle parts need to be driven by more than plot spinning. This final season is attempting to tackle a lot at once—literally going all the way back to Sam’s murder. Threading it together is an ambitious feat, one that has led several episodes this season to feel overstuffed and unfocused. But there’s a sharper lens on this fall finale.

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It helps, too, that the call is coming from within the house so to speak. The show’s current villains (Xavier, the governor, the FBI) are particularly compelling. They’re devices, much like Nate. But the real suspense of the episode is that anyone could be the mole. The group is crumbling. There’s not much reason to stick together anymore other than out of sheer loyalty, and these characters all have some serious trust and intimacy issues, so anyone could snap any time. Asher throws a wrench into everything, and it’s quite possible that everyone will turn on each other now. We’re already starting to see a bit of that. Bonnie has no reason to even trust Frank anymore. And Asher’s right about one thing: They shouldn’t trust Annalise. She’s the only one with an escape plan.

Stray observations

  • And now there are just six episodes left (starting in April) to watch it all come to an end.
  • Infusing the episode with some humor via the shrooms is very How To Get Away With Murder. Michaela ultimately figuring out the twist because of the shrooms makes it more than just a humorous detail.
  • “It’s me who’s got no blood on her hands.” Okay, it’s true that Annalise has never murdered (which only Bonnie remembers most of the time), but declaring herself completely clean is a bit of a stretch.
  • Honestly, the Laurel reveal is underwhelming. But then again, there’s too much else to get through for it to be much of a focus.
  • Annalise’s silver blazer is very good.
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