How to Get Away with Murder Season 4 Premiere: Is “I’m Going Away” A Return to Form?

How to Get Away with Murder Season 4 Premiere
Photo Credit: ABC/Mitch Haaseth

It’s that time of year again: America’s most attractive gang of scheming defense attorneys are back. And while the cast is better looking than ever, the jury is still out on whether the show itself is better than ever – or, at the very least, better than last season.

Yes, after two seasons of fast-paced storytelling and jaw-dropping cliffhangers, How to Get Away with Murder flew off the rails in its third outing with a confusing, ridiculous, and, worst of all, boring 15 episodes. But they’ve (somewhat) hit the reset button with their fourth season premiere, begging the question: how does “I’m Going Away” stack up?

First of all, a quick recap of where we left off (because God knows it wasn’t all that memorable): Annalise’s reputation is destroyed because, well, having most of the people in your life die under mysterious circumstances will do that to you. Speaking of which, Laurel’s dad had Wes killed – but she’s pregnant with her late boyfriend’s baby.

It’s not all bad though: Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Asher (Matt McGorry) said, “I love you,” while Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) proposed to Connor (Jack Falahee). And, while last season ended with Laurel (Karla Souza) ready to pull a gun on Charles Mahoney (Wilson Bethel) (it’s not worth explaining who that is if you don’t remember), the new premiere skips forward a few months and finds the characters in the process of starting over – free of the tangled web of lies and deceit that clouded the past three seasons.

Let’s be clear: this was a much-needed reset.  The fact that, 45 episodes in, How to Get Away with Murder was still relying on plot lines from its pilot made keeping up with the show an arduous task. While this time jump isn’t a perfect fix – some subplots feel abruptly dropped or rushed to a conclusion – it manages to mark a new chapter in the series. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, the writers will avoid any convoluted subplots and just let these characters exist in a more focused storyline.

That being said, I do wish the Keating 4 had a bit more to do in the premiere. This quartet of young lawyers remain largely unchanged: Laurel is still upset about Wes’ (Alfred Enoch) death, Connor is still unsure if he wants to settle down, Michaela is still bitter about Annalise’s (Viola Davis) actions, and Asher is still an idiot. While it’s great that these characters are no longer tied to the plot threads that weighing tying them down, not having them grow as a result of this time jump feels like a wasted opportunity.

Instead, much of “I’m Going Away” focused on Annalise and her family, in the days leading up to Ms. Keating’s disbarment hearing. The show also brought Cicely Tyson back as Annalise’s mother who, we learned last year, was suffering from dementia. While the writers have always slightly overestimated how interesting Annalise’s home life is, Tyson gives a series-best performance this week, bringing a much-needed emotional weight to the episode.

Davis, meanwhile, remains fascinating as ever, reminding us why the show has remained watchable at even its lowest points: she is one of the best actresses working today. Annalise’s trip home also introduced a mysterious new character played by Julius Tennon – Davis’ real life husband. While casting your star’s spouse in a major new role feels like a publicity stunt, Tennon has a natural screen presence and earns his spot in the cast.

True, not much happens in “I’m Going Away” but, for this show, that’s a blessing in disguise. This was a show that needed to slow down, and will undoubtedly rev things back up in the coming weeks – especially given the shocking “flash forward” we were teased with in the episode’s final minute. For now, let’s (cautiously) enjoy this calm before the storm. Hopefully, we’re in for a return to form for one of primetime television’s most addictive series.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10

How to Get Away with Murder Season 4 airs Thursday nights on ABC.