How To Get Away With Murder

Almost every relationship on How To Get Away With Murder is hard to define, has hazy boundaries, is unstable and unpredictable. In some ways, that makes the show thrilling. You never know who will betray who, who will murder who, who will fuck who. “Better people than you have betrayed me,” Annalise points out to her therapist, succinctly getting to the heart of the show’s trust-no-one ethos.

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On the other hand, the show’s dizzying relationship dynamics make it too unhinged, as if the writers can just recklessly change the terms of a relationship between two characters for the sake of a juicy twist. Connor and Oliver are the closest the show has to a healthy relationship. But it isn’t just the romantic and sexual relationships on How To Get Away With Murder that are messed up and hard to pin down. The show’s familial relationships are twisted and complicated, too. And the toxic nature of the show’s familial relationships is at the surface of “Was She Ever Good At Her Job?”

Connor’s dad and stepdad, who showed up at the end of last episode, try to get through to Oliver by way of Connor. Oliver can’t quite understand why Connor is so distant from his father, who seems like an okay guy. As Connor explains, his mother had a nervous breakdown when his father came out, and he has never really forgiven his father for lying for all those years. It’s messy. To Oliver, and perhaps to a lot of people on the outside looking in, Connor and his father should be close. They’re both gay, after all. But the strained relationship between Connor and his father gets at some very real, complex emotions. Connor’s father chose the week after Connor came out to also come out, making his son’s coming out about himself. Connor’s feelings toward his dad aren’t necessarily fair, but they are understandable. All of the main characters on the show have damaged relationships with at least one parent, but their issues span a vast spectrum of familial dysfunction. Connor’s dad isn’t nearly as bad as some of the other parents on the show, but his relationship with his son is still far from healthy. He crosses a line when he tells Connor not to marry Oliver, going on some weird rant about how Oliver doesn’t fit Connor’s lifestyle or who he really is.

But even more enticing than Connor’s daddy issues are Michaela’s mommy issues. While Wes always had the strangest relationship with Annalise, Michaela always had the most fascinating one. Michaela’s relationship with Annalise sits in the sweetspot of How To Get Away With Murder’s nebulous character dynamics. Because it isn’t inconsistent—it’s intentionally contradictory. She hates her; she loves her; she wants to be her; she needs craves her approval. When Annalise fired them all, Michaela reacted as if she were being dumped. In a way, she shouldn’t be surprised that Annalise comes waltzing back into her life here. She can’t get away from her, and I don’t think she truly wants to. Annalise takes on her old pal President Hargrove (speaking of dysfunctional, hard-to-define relationships…) as a client. But Hargrove is also represented by Tegan Price, Michaela’s new hardass, badass boss (“I hate most of the people in this firm, but I work with them because I’m a boss bitch”).

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Suddenly, Annalise is in Michaela’s new place of work, and it’s as awkward and tense as two exes being thrown together. Tegan asks Michaela to put aside her emotions, and Michaela tries that line on Annalise, who pretty much replies by telling her to go fuck herself. Everyone on this show always brings their emotions to the table, even when they try to convince themselves otherwise. After they help Hargrove win her custody battle, Tegan mentions that Annalise could come work at the firm, and Michaela fully flips out, chasing Annalise down and telling her she can’t work with her. “You’re doing it again,” Annalise sneers. “Looking for mommy everywhere you go. You want us all to be the mother yours never was.” It’s slicing and mean, but it’s also so true. Michaela looks at Tegan the same way she used to look at Annalise, feeding off of her power and bite.

Amirah Vann is already an excellent addition to the cast, and the scenes that put Vann, Viola Davis, Aja Naomi King, and Lauren Vélez on screen together burn bright. They’re four immensely talented performers, but no one is overpowering anyone else. I used to be unsure about Vélez’s characterization of Soraya Hargrove, but the character finally clicks in this episode, particularly in that scene between Hargrove and Annalise where they talk candidly about how hard it is to stay sober when life is so demanding. On the subject of acting, “that’s my dead baby in that suitcase, don’t you know that?” is one of countless lines uttered on this show that are utterly ridiculous and shouldn’t work at all. But when it’s Viola Davis delivering the ridiculousness, it does work. She can sell anything.

There’s still a problem with the urgency of this season’s main narrative. At this point, Laurel’s father’s involvement in Wes’ death still seems completely out of left field, and the show has provided so few answers that it’s making me less and less interested in getting any answers at all. Laurel’s revenge plot is still happening on the sidelines, and while Karla Souza is excellent in this episode (Laurel’s off her antidepressants and suddenly extremely horny for everyone, including Frank), the character is stuck in a story that lacks momentum, even though new pieces of the puzzle are technically revealed. This week, we learn that Laurel’s dad is helping bankroll Denver’s bid for Attorney General, so these two poorly developed, nebulous characters are presumably co-conspirators in the murder of Wes Gibbins, but it’s hard to be invested in their motives when all of this is unfolding on the sidelines. How To Get Away With Murder has so much going on right now, and it’s hard to focus on any one storyline. Episodes that have a strong thematic throughline, like this one with its multiple stories of familial dysfunction, at least manage to pull the many storylines together into a cohesive—if hectic—web.

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The flashforwards are gradually becoming more and more intriguing. As disconnected as all of the characters seem to be at the moment, they’re clearly all brought together again in time for the “where’s my baby?”/bloody elevator/bloody law firm flashforward mystery extravaganza. Even Oliver is caught up in it all again. Usually these flashforwards have one central question, but this season is teasing an even more complicated puzzle. But the stakes of the present timeline just don’t quite match the intensity of those flashforwards, so they feel like just a cheap grab at suspense in the final seconds of every episode. These flashforwards are vague and macabre, and that combination just isn’t alluring.

Stray observations

  • There’s definitely a pacing issue with this season. All the Virginia Cross class action lawsuit stuff is happening very quickly and yet is really just a minor subplot in this episode.
  • The therapy scenes on the show are getting worse and worse.
  • But I am definitely into Bonnie starting to see the same therapist under an alias. We’re long overdue for a true Bonnie-Annalise showdown, and I think we’re finally building to it.
  • Tegan definitely said Annalise was hot, right? I’m not just making that up? Do I have a new ship?
  • Raise your hand if Laurel saying that she wants to hump everything made you think that she was finally going to act on her obvious attraction to Michaela!

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