How to Get Away with Murder is not a particularly well-written show.
On one hand, sure, it pulls out all the stops when trying to surprise the viewer, repeatedly “going there” with its cliffhangers and creating at least three scenes per season that are worthy of water-cooler discussion. But the writers, more or less, speak openly about how little they plan ahead each season and, as the show went on, that became painfully obvious: character development became nonexistent, holes emerged in the series’ mythology, and the show became more frustrating than thrilling.
With Season 4, the writers finally hit the “reset” button and, even with a few bumps along the way, wandered into the same ballpark of quality that its first two seasons sat in: it was fun to watch again, if not illogical and eye-roll inducing.
But perhaps that’s what makes the season’s midseason finale, “Live. Live. Live.” such a pleasant surprise. While the episode still has a whole splattering of problems, it displayed more nuance, and more introspection, than virtually any episode before it. This dramatic hour of television, which found the Keating 4’s plan to bankrupt Laurel’s father and punish him for murdering Wes unfolding to disastrous effect provided some hope that maybe, just maybe, the writers can stick the landing after all.
While this season, as all seasons before it, has dropped clues as to what would actually unfold on the night where the Keating 4 finally strike back, credit must be given for actually providing some suspenseful set pieces and pacing the episode so well that the hour flew by. The episode’s secret weapon: the event that is the Keating 4’s ultimate, eventual undoing is a complete accident – something that was almost entirely out of their control, but will alter all their lives anyway. So much of the series has revolved around characters making stupid or emotionally driven decisions, so it’s a breath of fresh air that the second half of season four will find the characters reflecting on a disaster that they didn’t directly cause.
Even better, this season’s big revelations involved twists that felt earned and made sense, unlike last year. The details surrounding Laurel’s baby, for example, will surprise you, and led to one of the most shocking scenes in How to Get Away with Murder history, made even more surprising for how tactfully filmed it is. The show also brought Bonnie/Annalise’s quasi-romantic relationship to an interesting point, setting the scene for what could be an exciting (if ill-advised and deeply dysfunctional) relationship next year. Some details – like why Asher is found in a jail cell on the night of the flash forward – felt a little glossed over, but the fact that the writers managed to catch all the balls they threw in the air is a bit of a miracle.
The one glaring problem with this finale – which, it should be warned, can only be discussed with spoilers – is the way it finally developed Simon only to suddenly take him away from us in what looks like a fatal blow to the head. In season three, Simon was an annoying thorn in the characters’ sides, made even more unbearable by the fact that his actions almost never made sense.
But, in season four, nuances were brought out of the character that made him interesting, if not exactly likable. In the midseason finale, it was revealed that Simon was questioning his sexuality and, more importantly, had feelings for Oliver, presenting the possibility of a very compelling romance. Or, at the very least, it brought dimension to a flatly written jerk. But it feels cheap and, to some degree, insulting to take the character away from us now, and while I suppose it’s possible that he’s still alive (this is HTGAWM after all), things aren’t looking good.
Once a soap opera flies off the rails, it’s almost impossible to get back on track. But How to Get Away with Murder might do just that. Of course, there are still seven episodes to go in season four, and that means that the series could fall flat on its face again. But, at this point last year, How to Get Away with Murder had just killed off its male lead, producing a cliffhanger ending that was shocking only because it was infuriating and directly contradicted information shared with the viewers.
Now, the series has added some nuance to the proceedings, while also leaning into the questionable romances and violent insanity that made the series addictive in the first place. There’s hope for you yet, How to Get Away with Murder – now get back in the writers’ room and finish the job!
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.