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Illustration for article titled So close to the end, iHow To Get Away With Murder /itries to complicate Sam Keating
Image: How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)
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It is certainly an interesting choice for How To Get Away With Murder to suddenly start reaching very far back into the past as it barrels toward its finale. In some ways, it does make sense for the story. Everything started to spiral out of control after Sam died, so going back to where it all began has a certain logic to it. But it also seems like a cheap choice, suddenly rewriting some of the past to make the present make a little more sense. It’s hard to build momentum from flashback, and yet here we are, with just two more episodes left of the series, spending most of the time in flashback.

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The title of this episode alone is a bit frustrating. I get that the show loves to live in morally gray areas, loves to show that people do bad things for complicated reasons and that it does not necessarily make them wholly bad. But recasting Sam as a victim is an odd choice, even if there is a scene thrown in where Annalise and Bonnie acknowledge that it doesn’t make up for all the bad he did. Because Sam did indeed do very bad things. He manipulated Annalise and Vivian in tandem, using sex to get what he wanted. Vivian shares some of her side of things with Annalise, and she also shares her conspiracy theory: Sam and Hannah were involved.

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It’s not the first time incest has cropped up on the show, and in fact, Annalise even threw a half-joking accusation of incest at Hannah in the past, accusing her of being obsessed with Sam. This episode fleshes out Sam’s background, repeatedly making reference to the fact that he and Hannah were largely abandoned by their parents. In the flashbacks, Annalise is dismissive of his childhood woes, says that being ignored in a fancy house is not the same as rape. Sure, she’s technically right, but the dialogue here is absurd, lacking any real nuance, and it sounds especially trite coming from Annalise’s mouth. After all the horrors she experienced and witnessed, she’s quick to write Sam off. It just doesn’t sit quite right.

The flashbacks also concern Bonnie and Frank, who apparently tried to date in the past until Sam shut it down by outing Bonnie’s sexual assault history to Frank and pressuring him into thinking he couldn’t be enough of a support system for her. It’s a very stark reminder that Sam was a horrible therapist and person, and it also taps into the strange relationship dynamics between this chosen family. Bonnie, Frank, Annalise, and Frank indeed used to function like a fucked-up family, and the toxic relationships that started then have continued in the present. All the flashbacks do give lots of context to the present, but a lot of it is stuff that has already been pretty clearly established: Bonnie and Frank are codependent with Annalise; Bonnie and Frank are bonded by trauma; Bonnie and Frank and Annalise were all manipulated by Sam.

The biggest new piece of information regards Frank’s DNA connection to Sam. The episode ends on the cliffhanger that Frank is Sam’s son and could be Hannah’s, too. It’s a last-minute curveball that actually does make sense on a character and plot-level. Sam did let Frank stick around even after learning he was responsible for the baby’s death. It doesn’t seem likely that Frank knows the truth, making this yet another dark secret threatening to upend lives. But that’s just another typical day in the world of How To Get Away With Murder.

Annalise spends much of the episode pondering whether there was more to Sam than meets the eye and concludes to Bonnie that she sees him better now. It does feel like a heavy-handed character development masked as an insightful one. Complicating Sam doesn’t add much to the story at the moment, and it’s a lot to cram in when there are so few episodes left. Especially if we’re gearing up to establishing Hannah as the main villain for the series. She isn’t even seen in this episode; instead, there’s just speculation, just little suggestions that she could have played a part in making Sam into the monster he was. It’s true that Hannah was the person to first get the FBI involved. Maybe she is to blame for a lot. But How To Get Away With Murder is certainly pulling in a lot of previously non-essential players for its final inning, and it makes it harder to be as invested in how things will unfold.

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The other downside to so much of the episode hinging on the past is that it makes it hard for other ongoings in the present to really find their footing. There’s technically some nice mother-son bonding between Vivian and Gabriel, and there’s a contrast to the way Gabriel talks about how the hardships in his life made him a good person and how the episode suggests that Sam’s bad past led to him making bad decisions, but the episode never really connects the thread there and almost seems to want to have it both ways with Sam.


Stray observations

  • Excuse me but according to the preview, LAUREL COMES BACK NEXT WEEK?
  • Michaela and Connor get pretty lost in the shuffle here, but because How To Get Away With Murder has to balance so much plot at once, they’re still shoved in.
  • Even Nate feels a little extraneous here, but his interaction with the FBI raises the stakes of the case a bit.
  • Annalise saying that Frank was “good with” survivors seems like an extreme retcon of both Annalise and Sam. 
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