“Same time next week?” Conner (Jack Falahee) wisecracks to his accomplices in crime, right after dropping a final garbage bag of Sam’s machete-diced remains into a dumpster. For the first time, there’s no case of the week to distract from a single nightmarish day for the law students and Annalise Keating (Viola Davis). The winter finale is all about the night of Sam’s death.
This single plotline could be a problem for a show so focused on developing crazy plot twists, and there’s another hindrance, too. We’ve already seen plenty of flashforwards pulled from this night, and now we have to navigate pockets of story that we’ve already seen. The plot tries to race forward, but sometimes feels like it’s stuck in neutral.
This episode drops important secrets without fanfare – in the first five minutes, Wes (Alfred Enoch) tells the three other students with him that Sam (Tom Verica) killed Lila. They need to speed through these secrets in order to get to this episode’s real drama: who murdered Sam?
Sam tries to kill Rebecca (Katie Findlay) to cover up his murder, Michaela (Aja Naomi King) pushes him off a balcony in the struggle, and Wes finishes the job by hitting him with the trophy as he’s choking Rebecca out. In a less than shocking twist, Wes is the ultimate murderer. He’s the one promoted by the show as the most innocent, so naturally, he’s the one who is the guiltiest.
Wes wastes no time in losing his innocence, though. He lies about the coin toss to make sure the others join him in hiding the body, and he browbeats everyone into helping with the cover up, even though Conner and Michaela are in no mental state to do anything other than yell Christmas music and gently rock side-to-side, respectively. I wish the others would see how strongly Wes is manipulating them. Maybe we’ll get that in the next run of episodes.
Sam disposal takes place alongside a phone call from Annalise, in a rare example of two intercut scenes that aren’t set to suspenseful or driving music. However, as with most episodes of this show, it’s all about the plot and rarely about the characters.
Looking back on the flashforwards that permeated the past eight episodes, I can see that they lose a little allure with retrospect. For example, certain plotlines were obviously added to the flashforwards simply to pad them out: primarily, that trip to the drugstore and Conner’s insane rants. As the opening quote to this review proves, I still love Conner going nuts, but that whole side-excursion to the store was a complication that might have been avoided in favor of, say, a better explanation of character motivations.
Misdirections were also a big part of the flashforwards we’ve been seeing this season: Annalise wasn’t calling Bonnie (Liza Weil) because she knew about Sam’s murder like a past episode implied, but because she was upset about their fight; Laurel wasn’t calling Frank (Charlie Weber) to tell him about Sam’s murder, she was planning to lie about the trophy in order to get him to hide the murder weapon; and Conner was able to reign in the crazy before letting Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) in on the murder.
Misdirections aren’t intrinsically bad, of course. This episode closes on a great one, for example. More on that in a second.
But every one of those twists was written for one reason. They’re all designed to step back from the out-of-control feel that the flashforwards originally had, in order to ensure the rest of the season will be kept in check. It’s an understandable move, seeing how tough it is to write an uncontrollable TV show, but it’s still sad, considering how uncontrollable this show wants to be. Everyone’s back to their secrets. At least covering up a murder is as legitimate a reason as any.
But wait! The episode’s final twist backs down on one of those misdirections. That’s right, it’s a misdirecting misdirection. Annalise knew about Sam’s murder the whole time! The entire episode, she appeared to be in shock, running to Nate (Billy Brown) for comfort, leaving Sam a regretful phone message, and calling Bonnie to help her. In reality, she was setting up an alibi so perfect that I still bought it. Her call to Bonnie was about the murder after all, she just knew better than to mention it over the phone.
When Wes went back for the trophy—a scene we knew about since the opening pre-credit scene of our very first episode—he met Annalise. In the morning after the murder, Wes and Annalise are keeping quiet about their encounter, meaning that they are back on the same side. Our gang of accomplices to murder might not return next week like Conner was hoping, but they’ll be back on January 29th with one huge advantage: Annalise Keating is going to show them all how to get away with murder.