Two dead bodies, one big confession, and how to fix season 3
Who lives, who dies, who kills Mahoney? So ends another season of How to Get Away with Murder, this time with an episode packed not with Murder Night reveals but with folks fleeing the hellish landscape of Middleton University to find — or run from — their truths. Really, we all must skip town one way or another.
Sometimes you go south, heading back to where you came from to reconnect with your family and avoid the arrest warrant that’s been put out for you at home. Sometimes you go confront your birth father in New York, the only city where you can’t get Hamilton tickets but you can get shot in the face. And sometimes, you go anywhere but wherever it is you were, because you accidentally killed your boss’ unborn child in the mid-2000s and she’s just finding out about it now.
ANNALISE AT HOME
After opting out of the frustrating circus nightmare that is her life in Philadelphia, Annalise has straight-up ditched everything and headed South to visit with her mother, the feisty, fiery, Cicely Tysony Ophelia, who gives her a hard time for her sudden reappearance. Ophelia is more than familiar with Annalise’s many moods (which include Steely, Surly, and Sad) and as a result, she knows that an excuse of “I’m your daughter, and I miss you” is a total lie.
Home doesn’t immediately seem to offer much in the way for Annalise to relax: She’s disgusted by the sudden reappearance of her abusive father, now back in her house and “courting” her mother. She clashes with her sister, who resents her for abandoning the family and their mother. When Nate arrives to talk some sense into Annalise and elicit her return, he’s hilariously subjected to a family dinner and the full interrogation of the Hartness clan. (It’s only here that I realize, is Annalise actually just an emo child who never grew out of her bad attitude?)
Something in the homecoming worked, though, be it the drunken dancing or the constant battling: Annalise, in a moment of quiet honesty, tells Ophelia that she had had a baby. And it died. Ophelia, hurt and confused, links the tragic confession to Annalise’s entire life turning upside down: “You’ve been dragging this baby’s shadow around with you. It’s what got Sam murdered, you shot.” That night, Ophelia takes Annalise into the backyard and has her pen a letter of goodbye to the dead child, whose name, Annalise reveals, was Sam. They bury the letter, and Annalise clings to her mothers’ robe, and together they grieve.
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It’d be easy to say that the catharsis is enough to compel Annalise back to Philadelphia, but she first hears a plea from her rehabilitated father — “Look what all that running did to me,” he says before literally winking to the camera, probably. And then, if it wasn’t completely clear that old people are rubbing off on her, Annalise checks her voicemail.
There’s one from the ADA demanding she show up at the police station by 5 p.m., and there’s another from Michaela informing her that her arrest warrant is no more than a light lob of charges from an informant: Caleb.
A quick little rewind: It seems that nobody really knows why Annalise has a warrant out for her arrest, nor why she jumped ship, so the Keating Five decide to use the Keating Recurring Guest to hack the police station’s video feed. They deduce that Caleb’s the rat, and Annalise has a field day with the subsequent shakedown with the cops.
With the invincible pluck of Super Mario under the influence of a Star, Annalise cheerily lays out exactly why the ADA is going to ignore her charges of obstruction of justice and arrest Caleb, who she says is the real serial killer. A flashback shows a few things — one is Philip, who, after the attack gives her a USB drive with data from Caleb’s Fitbit that places him at Helena Hapstall’s car at the time of her murder. It seems Caleb killed the Hapstall parents, and Annalise nabs a testimony from Catherine verifying this. Catherine reveals she was so blinded by her love of Caleb (called it!) that she ignored the fact that Caleb actually wasn’t where he said he was the night their parents were murdered. Caleb planted the gun, planted Philip’s DNA, and took down both Catherine and Philip to make sure he was the only Hapstall kid inheriting his parents’ windfall.
Sure. Whatever ends this story line.
The news cycle picks up the development and begins broadcasting all the details that paint Caleb as the new prime suspect in the murder case, and tragically, Caleb kills himself. Perhaps he knows they’ve got it all right, or perhaps he knows that Annalise is going to nail him for it even if they don’t. Also, I refuse to call this anything but a suicide. There’s no justifiable reason for anyone to have killed Caleb, and if we begin season 3 with a flashback to Bonnie, like, crouching inside the cabinet under the sink, I’m out.
THE FRANK SITUATION
One of the season’s strange, quasi-developed through lines was Frank’s damage with Laurel, which went from flesh wound to critical when he revealed he killed Lila and she decided it was just about the worst thing he ever did. Well, ROFL (Reactionary Outrage to Frank-Laurel) to that: It turns out the worst thing Frank did was rat out Annalise for money and as a result, kill her unborn child.
Flashbacks reveal that all of Annalise’s abuse toward Frank — harsh words like “Sam dragged you out of the gutter” and “You deserve whatever white trash future I was trying to save you from” and “You’re a Marnie” — really chipped away at Frank’s chain-mail vest and caused him to accept an offer from Mahoney to spy on his boss. He bugs her hotel room, and Mahoney’s team is able to overhear Annalise telling Eve she’s going to go to the police. So Wallace orders a hit on her, which is the car accident that causes her to lose her baby.
Now, let me be clear: This is truly, easily the unequivocally worst thing that has ever been done on How to Get Away with Murder. This isn’t an annoying sorority girl getting drowned or her awful goth friend getting smothered in a basement or an adulterous psychiatrist getting his limbs chopped up in a forest or an outed gay hedge fund bro jumping out a window (R.I.P. Pax).
Frank’s crime is despicable and, in my opinion, completely character-altering. And what’s worse is Sam’s ridiculous reaction to it! When Frank admits that he’s the reason Annalise lost her baby, Sam has a minor violent outburst before deciding that Annalise can never know. As if that’s the most realistic decision to make when a man has just told you he’s destroyed your life and that of your unborn child. “Think about how she’ll feel knowing it could have been prevented,” he says. “I lost my son. I can’t lose her, too,” he says. “You tell her, I’ll ruin you,” he says. “You owe me,” he says. Every line is progressively less believable as a reason why Frank, 10 years later, is called upon by Sam to kill Lila. How can Sam, who has repeatedly been the one in his marriage most determined and excited to be a parent, stand by for the next 10 years while Frank remains a close co-worker and friend in his home? It’s absurd, outrageous, and the kind of shark-jumping oversight that’s just plainly, unsatisfyingly wrong.
So, anyway: In the present, Frank’s pacing, working out, haunted by what Annalise knows. He’s prompted to freak out when Laurel casually tells him that Wes’ father is Wallace Mahoney — but which part scares him the most? Knowing that Wallace is Wes’ dad? Or that Wes knows? Or that Annalise is about to catch up to everything he’s ever done to her and her now-dead family?
Whatever he’s afraid of, he shares one last drink with Bonnie — who makes him promise not to do anything stupid, LOL! — and then he’s gone, fleeing Philadelphia with a clean apartment and soiled psyche. But where does he go?
NEXT: Bloody Bloody Wes Mahoney
WES ORDERS A MANHATTAN
Wes, for having just learned that his father is the murderous billionaire Wallace Mahoney, is pretty quick to want to go confront him in New York. He assumes Annalise is lying about the whole thing, as she is wont to do and he is wont to believe, but he tells Laurel his intentions regardless. Wisely, she tries to talk him out of any big journey or quest or sweatlodge cleanse he plans to elicit answers from. “Your dad has nothing to do with who you are,” she says, and it carries weight because remember, her father has clearly wronged her in some ways that she’s been quietly running away from (until season 3).
Still, Wes visits New York and approaches Wallace outside of his office building. In the twilight, Wes is polite and amiable. “I think I’m your son,” he says, and Wallace questions why he’d even think that. Wes has barely said the name “Annalise Keating” when a burst of blood splatters across his face.
As the camera pulls back, it’s absolutely anyone’s guess who shot Mahoney (that hashtag doesn’t have the same ring to it, by the way). Clearly, someone in a car, right? And could it have been Frank, out to keep Mahoney quiet before Annalise finds out about the baby? (Too late, since Bonnie has already spilled.) Or Laurel, who followed Wes and shot him forsome reason? No, I suppose we’ll have to wait until season 3 to meet some new recurring characters who could have possibly killed this minor character whom the whole next season is theoretically based on.
The budding romance of Asher and Michaela also takes another step forward tonight, though not with any major development other than the fact that they hook up again. Between Bonnie and Michaela, Asher clearly has a very winning method of endearing himself to bitter women and, for lack of a better term, Shondaing their Rhimes. “Oh my God we’re going to do this again aren’t we?” asks Michaela, and we must wonder: Is this finally the relationship we should be rooting for with both? (I’m torn — I still want Michaela to be with Gay Aiden! That Vera Wang should never go to waste.)
And for the biggest WTF of the night: Connor has gotten into Stanford, and Oliver, in a move of sheer cowardice over his hot boyfriend moving to California, decides to call the admissions council and decline Connor’s acceptance. Honestly, if a frantic 15-second phone call can cause all evidence of Connor’s acceptance to be eviscerated, then that says more about Stanford than the power of Oliver’s chameleonic performance as Connor Walsh.
Well, here we are. Two seasons later, where do things stand for How to Get Away with Murder, the little Shondaland show that found its homicidal footing among Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal? As I see it, the shows stands on slippery ground, and there are a few key things that can fix it.
The dynamic engine of midseason-long murder nights are lovely and suspenseful and, yes, those massive reveal episodes have me throwing all sorts of electronics and food across my office when the big bombs go off. But this year, the Hapstall case dominated most of the early episodes and the legal cases of the week were eschewed as a result. Were those procedurals the heart of the show and the reason you watch? No, but they did offer a consistency to the series that was thoroughly lacking in season 2. If the idea that the kids are in law school is out the window, we can’t afford to lose the only other framing device from the first season.
More egregiously, HTGAWM has a dire character service problem, wherein too much is put on Annalise’s plate and none of the other characters are given moments to grow or shine in any given episode. Yes, Viola Davis is the lead, but does she need to be involved in an episode’s three court cases while recovering from a gunshot wound? The audience knows she’s there! It’s time to let Bonnie and Michaela go off on an A-story adventure; let Asher and Laurel tackle a case together and bond over their similar upbringings; let Wes and Connor bury the hatchet, work together, struggle with a last-minute group project! (Seriously, remember when these kids were actually law students?)
And was Oliver’s life-changing HIV status mentioned more than twice this season? Was Bonnie’s teased backstory given any more fleshing out? Did Michaela go through any sort of emotional development this year where she’s unequivocally different from the Michaela we left a year ago?
Highlighting an ensemble does not mean depleting any of the meat of the lead — and How to Get Away with Murder can still pull it off, if the show returns for season 3 with the simple knowledge that its characters can shine if they’re allowed to step out into the light.
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