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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Isolated moments shine in an otherwise overloaded How To Get Away With Murder

Illustration for article titled Isolated moments shine in an otherwise overloaded How To Get Away With Murder
Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)

How To Get Away With Murder often has an overstuffing problem, and “We Can Find Him” is the kind of episode that loads so much into the machine that by the time I started feeling like the episode was probably close to wrapping up...it was only halfway done. This season is plagued by a focus problem. The murder teased in the flashforwards—notably but also thankfully absent here—almost seems incidental, unconnected to anything else happening at the moment. And those things that are happening happen in their own corners, connected by thin threads.


When Frank asks Annalise what he should do about the recording he has of Bonnie’s sister Julie talking about keeping a deep, dark secret that would potentially destroy Bonnie, she tells him she has too many decisions to make and to just make it himself. But...mere minutes before, she sent him down to Julie’s town to figure out what’s going on with Bonnie. Very abruptly, Annalise pivots from being so invested in Bonnie’s well-being and in protecting her to deciding whether to work with Pennsylvania’s governor on a new initiative to decrease incarceration rates and bolster the public defense system. The script makes a point to acknowledge that Annalise is switching gears, but that’s the problem...the switch is sudden and clunky. Where do Annalise’s priorities really rest? Where do the show’s?

Balancing several plots at once is something all shows have to figure out, especially a drama as layered and multi-genred as How To Get Away With Murder. In “We Can Find Him,” there are essentially five plots happening at once: Nate dealing with the aftermath of Nate Sr. winning his appeal; Bonnie trying to figure out what really happened with her son and Frank tailing her; Annalise deciding whether she’s willing to work with the governor to accomplish some of her goals; Connor and Oliver dealing with their mothers’ arrival; and the law clinic working on the Case Of The Week, a pretty inconsequential little suit regarding diet pills that’s more about Michaela/Laurel’s somewhat strained relationship and also Laurel grappling with what she knows about Gabriel.

But How To Get Away With Murder struggles to balance these five plots, partially because the connections between them are tenuous on both story and thematic levels, and partially because the stories with the most weight aren’t at the forefront in the way they should be.

Other than the diet pill case, which is so unnecessary that it shouldn’t even be here at all, Annalise’s main plotline bizarrely carries the least weight. In theory, it should matter. Her entire quest to fix the justice system comes to a head with the governor’s offer, but especially because the governor isn’t really an established character who we have any investment in, this storyline is all tedious plot with little weight and stakes. Even the conflict between Annalise and her new boss falls flat—so flat that his nasty call to security to have her removed isn’t quite the dramatic punch that the show frames it as.

Meanwhile, Bonnie’s storyline is so, so dark—as much of Bonnie’s background is—and yet doesn’t receive the nuanced treatment that stories about trauma, abuse, and cycles of violence typically get on this show, getting swallowed up in everything else in a way that feels borderline dismissive. Julie first tells Bonnie a lie about her son being sold to someone, but once Bonnie pressures her after hearing Frank’s recording, she confesses that she killed the child in order to protect him from the abuse they suffered. Again, as with the governor, this storyline would probably hit harder if we had known Julie for longer than just this one episode. It’s not entirely poorly done, and Liza Weil as usual gives a devastatingly good performance. But “We Can Find Him” just doesn’t quite give the storyline the attention it deserves, and it feels largely disconnect from the rest of the episode. Even Annalise bizarrely checks out.


The strongest storyline is actually Oliver and Connor’s, who haven’t had a super strong episode in a while, so this is a refreshing development. Their moms come to town, and what’s especially great about the maternal drama that unfolds is that none of it is rooted in homophobia. The easy drama to go for here would be just to have either Connor or Oliver’s mom be hesitant about the wedding because of their son’s sexuality, but instead How To Get Away With Murder skips that and goes for more interesting and layered characterizations for the mothers. Connor’s mom is desperate to be the cool mom and to please everyone, embarrassed to tell Oliver’s mom that she can’t afford to pony up thousands of dollars for their sons’ wedding. Oliver’s mom just wants her son to have the big wedding of his dreams and is sad that her son has been pulling away from her, choosing to blame it on Connor.

But the truth is that Oliver has been pulling away from his mother because he hasn’t told her that he’s HIV-positive yet, something Connor strongly but supportively encourages him to do. The resulting monologue from Oliver is powerful and complex. “I’m ashamed that it happened, even though I don’t want to be, but I guess I just hate disappointing people, especially you,” he says. Oliver wants to be a perfect son, a pressure that a lot of kids of immigrants feel, and How To Get Away With Murder taps into that place without ever having to explicitly state it. But again, as a subplot within a larger episode that has little by way of thematic connective tissue, some of these moments get lost.


Even the massive twist at the end of the episode has trouble standing on its own because of the lack of cohesion throughout. Annalise decides to team up with the governor in exchange for an official pardon for Nate’s father. But just as the pardon comes through, Nate Sr. ends up dead—whether by his own hands or someone else’s remains unclear. It’s telling of how dark this show is that the second Annalise and Nate became happy about his imminent release, it was obvious that there was imminent bad news about to drop. It’s certainly a more striking ending than dipping back into those disjointed and unaffecting flashforwards, but again, some of the episode’s biggest moments feel dulled by the sheer amount of narrative stuffed into this episode with little care for how any of it connects.

Stray observations

  • Finally, Laurel vocalizes what I have been saying for so long: Michaela is in love with Tegan.
  • The Gabriel mystery is pushed to the sidelines for much of this episode.
  • Frank and Bonnie’s dynamic can be really lovely sometimes.
  • Tegan and Annalise’s respect for one another is always delightful.