I never hated eating my vegetables as a kid. I just didn’t see much of a reason to.
So when I tell you that this episode feels like a pile of mushy broccoli, that’s not as large an insult as it sounds. It just means that this episode is something to push past in order to get to the real meat of this show.
The problem with How To Get Away With Murder now is that all the characters are covering up a crime. That means that the audience wants to see them struggle to cover it up, but the TV show needs to drag out their downfall until at least the end of Season 1. So we get filler episodes in which there’s little progression, and the writers try to throw any drama they can find at the wall to see what sticks.
Despite the title, Christmas is already in the past. Since the show is (very loosely) structured around Keating’s classroom, we fast-forward through winter break. Keating spends it drinking and ordering in at her hotel room. Clearly the best Christmas ever.
If there’s any danger of slowly building up to a new semester, that’s immediately forgotten when a stranger walks into Keating’s office with a lie that Keating quickly pulls the truth out of: our case of the week is about the wife of a child abuser trying to get a plea deal despite her complicity. The opening scene, as Keating tears into her future client, is one of the most fun sections of this meandering plotline.
The plea deal is new; this time they aren’t trying to prove that their client, Jackie, is innocent. Just that she deserves to be punished less. In practice, though, this just makes the case less compelling. They go through the same old energetic motions, as the team goes snooping for evidence to prove Jackie was being abused by her child-molesting husband, but there’s no greater mystery.
There’s a little friction as the students aren’t as eager to defend a woman implicated in child abuse as Keating is, but even that peters out into the climax of the case. Keating learns that Jackie has rescued a daughter from her husband in the past, didn’t mention the kid, and has been neglecting her during the case. In response, Keating drops her as a client. That’s all the resolution we get, and yes, it’s just as frustrating as that summary makes it sound.
The subplots keep zipping along, as usual, but they don’t much spark in this episode. The theme of abuse from the main plotline gets mirrored in the vaguest manner possible: a random plot thread from the first half of season one involves mysterious scars on the bedposts and wall in Wes’s (Alfred Enoch) room. After their re-introduction, all the claw marks get are a few ominous shots of them throughout the episode, another sign that this week is spinning its wheels.
The flashbacks this episode are all of each character’s Christmases. Most of the season has featured flashforwards to the night of Sam’s death, and last episodes featured flashbacks to the same night. But Christmas? That’s a new, and slightly ungrounded, spin on the flashback segments.
Regardless, the scenes are pretty interesting, giving us a chance to see who each character has to celebrate the holidays with. Some characters are overdramatic: Laurel (Karla Souza) fights with an extended family that neglects her, and Michaela (Aja Naomi King) gets dumped by her fiancé while drunk. But an equal amount are surprisingly cute: Connor gets some much-needed humanization through a conversation with his sister in which she learns he’s at least attempted a stable relationship, and we see that Frank (Charlie Weber) and Asher (Matt McGorry) are becoming buddies. Granted, they’re buddies who are drinking alone at a bar on Christmas day, so it’s still sad, but in a cute way.
Speaking of friendships, one of this episode’s best developments is the fact that our gang of student criminals are still hanging out. This time, they gather for a suspicious meeting on the porch to argue about how they need to stick together to avoid being caught. It looks like the team is finally displaying teamwork, and it even gets better, when the victim’s sister Hannah, played by Marcia Gay Harden, turns up.
She’s the best part of this episode: clever, suspicious, and decidedly against Annalise Keating’s side of the story, Hannah is the perfect complication. As this week’s client proved, characters can switch sides easily in a show this drama-prone. It’s great to have a strong actor playing a solid antagonist who knows what she’s doing, even if she’s still only a foreboding force in this episode.
If this episode was the salad course, I have a feeling Hannah will be bringing in the real excitement next week, especially given the revelation in the final moments of this week: Sam’s body has just been found.