The trick to writing a good TV show isn’t avoiding a formula; it’s finding a good formula. So far, How to Get Away with Murder has been on the right path, and this episode displays plenty of the formula’s best quirks. Again, the case of the week doesn’t hinge on who’s guilty, it hinges on whether they can be exonerated—this time a teenager who shot his abusive, police officer father to protect his mother. And again, the team hops through a few quirky legal loopholes to get their way – this time, memorizing the blog of the accused in order to gain permission to admit it's evidence of abuse and, in the final twist, getting the case thrown out on purpose in order to get kid into juvenile court.
One aspect of the formula is tweaked this time: the twists in the case aren’t shocking revelations. The son killed his dad and that’s all there is to that story. Instead, the twists come in the form of manipulation of the jury. From the story’s opening scene, as Keating (Viola Davis) and her class discuss the way to cherry-pick a jury, to the final dismissal of the jury, it’s more about the courtroom than the case.
I appreciate this show for its cynical approach to the legal system, as it’s more honest about certain prejudices and red tape than most legal dramas. But the pulpy plot twists in past episodes were a little more gripping than the pure mechanics of emotional manipulation. Still, I respect the show for tweaking its formula for this episode, since it keeps the format fresh. And besides, if I’m going to complain about this episode, I have more to say about the other plotlines.
The long-running plot, about Lila’s murder and Keating’s husband looking pretty darn guilty, doesn’t develop a lot. Instead of finding out new twists in the case, we just get to see other characters finding out the twists we already know. Keating realizes her husband Sam (Tom Verica) doesn’t have an alibi. Bonnie (Liza Weil) realizes the Keatings are fighting. Rebecca (Katie Findlay) and Wes (Alfred Enoch) realize they’ve seen Keating’s husband’s genitals. It’s all fine, but none of it is new.
At least we learn that Sam is even worse than he already seemed, which is impressive. He apparently cheated on his first wife with Keating, and when she confronts him about Lila’s murder, he makes the creepy choice of pushing her back onto a bed in an attempt to calm her down.
The flash-forwards are fairly extraneous, too. All we learn there is that Laurel (Karla Souza) is hooking up with Frank (Charlie Webber) in the future, and is letting him in on the murder.
Frank still isn’t on my good side, and I see no reason to allow him near it. His basic character appears to be “sleezy legal aide who hits on his students.” The actor seems capable enough, so I’m calling Frank another victim of not enough screen time. Maybe if we got a little backstory he could be more worthwhile. As Asher (Matt McGorry) proves, being sleezy isn’t a reason not to enjoy a character. We just need more reasons than that.
Just as underdeveloped is Nate (Billy Brown) the police detective. Or, as of this episode, the former police detective. He’s been fired after Bonnie revealed that he was snooping around Sam last episode. Then, he lied to Keating, telling her that her husband had an alibi for Lila’s murder. Now, he tells her the truth. Why didn’t tell her the truth originally? To put her mind at ease instead of letting her know she might be sleeping next to a murderer? There’s no good answer, and the show tries to gloss over that fact by making Nate angry for the whole scene. Murder needs to solve the case of shoddy character motivations.
Overall, I’m pretty wary of the direction the show is headed. I can forgive less character development if the plot keeps zipping along to distract me, but that’s happening less and less. There’s one major hope, though, and that’s in the final scenes of the episode.
Once again, the case has ended ten minutes before the episode does, leaving us time to delve into the season-long murder case. Now that Keating knows Sam was cheating on her, she’s arranged for him to meet Rebecca to see if she recognizes him. At first, Rebecca doesn’t, but after she uses the bathroom, she recognizes the wallpaper from the dick pic, breaks parole to run away, and calls up Wes to let him know. The problem is, she and Wes don’t just blame Sam, they blame both the Keatings as a couple. And that’s a natural assumption, given that Annalise Keating actually is covering for her husband by this point.
However, this tees up the best possible character conflict—Wes verses Keating. Wes has reason to believe she’s been covering up the same murder that she’s been “defending” Rebecca from all along. That’s a conflict most TV shows wish they had: it flows naturally and doesn’t rely on characters keeping information from each other for no good reason.
Hopefully the next episode won’t resolve this one without a little hard-earned drama. The show offers up as much drama as it can, so if it fails to milk this chance, we’ll know it doesn’t know what it’s doing.