HTGAWM: ‘Stay Strong, Mama,’ Back to the Beginning?

Photo Credit: ABC/Mitch Haaseth

This week, How to Get Away with Murder did something interesting. Sure, the entire fourth season has been something of a reset for the series, shedding its excess storylines and letting characters have fun again. But, by the end of “Stay Strong, Mama,” many of the characters return to square one, with two Season 1 couples reunited (or, at least, on the path towards being reunited), to varying degrees of success.

First, the best news: this week’s standalone case actually worked, thanks, in large part, to Viola Davis’ terrific performance. In this episode, our protagonist is tasked with helping an imprisoned drug dealer hold on to her family’s home, which the DA is trying to rip away from her in an effort to stronghold Annalise into dropping her class action lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania.

While it may have been a preachy episode, Davis made the hour’s not-so-subtle message riveting, and there were some genuinely powerful moments. This episode also found Connor serving as her assistant of sorts, which is a random pairing and feels out of character for his arc so far this season, but it’s hard to complain. At least he’s not wasting more time in strip clubs or contemplating whether or not he should cheat on Oliver.

This week’s other highlight was the way the writers finally developed Jimmy Smits’ Isaac, who had previously been woefully underused throughout the bulk of the season. While the show still only dropped a handful of breadcrumbs hinting at his backstory, these were the most enticing clues so far, and they helped Smits deliver some great work. Smits is a perfect fit for the HTGAWM-universe, and, as we learn more about Isaac, I’m sure his performance will only improve. Assuming, of course, he survives much longer.

Not as strong, however, was the show’s ridiculous twist that Frank might be the father of Laurel’s baby, a revelation that makes him even more interested in getting back together with his ex. Frank was always a confusingly written character – was he a psychotic murderer? A victim of circumstance? A likable jerk? – but having the show try to convince us that he’s a heartthrob with a soft spot for pregnant women feels ridiculous.

A psychiatrist would have a field day figuring out how Laurel could make the decision to co-parent her baby with a murderer while simultaneously trying to get her father arrested for murder. Additionally, having Laurel question the paternity of her baby after more than 10 episodes of insisting it was Wes’ is basically cheating the audiences out of actual character development.

Elsewhere in the hour, Michaela’s quest to learn more about Laurel’s dad mostly stalled but, at the very least, Asher finally figured out what his girlfriend was up to. The result? Some of Matt McGorry’s best acting on the show to date, as he managed to be both funny and easy to sympathize with. Watching him worry that his girlfriend is having an affair with another woman is shockingly hilarious, and the sense of betrayal he feels in his final scenes is as palpable as it is affecting. The episode also hints that he may reunite with his season one love interest, Bonnie, which would be interesting (they had good chemistry) if unnecessary (do we really need more relationship drama?).

All in all, “Stay Strong, Mama” was a solid episode. The show still feels like a slow burn, which is a welcome change of pace from last year’s season, which was heavy on exposition and plot twists but low on stakes. That being said, there is only one more episode before the winter finale and, if the flash-forwards are any indication, there is going to be an explosion of drama soon. Stay tuned.

Stay Strong, Mama Overall rating: 7 out of 10.