The best thing about How to Get Away with Murder might be the fact that, no matter what happens, you can usually shrug at the end of an episode and say, “At least the acting is good.” And that was definitely the case with 2018’s first episode, “He’s Dead.” Not much actually happened in this episode – at least until the last 15 minutes. But, while nothing was happening on screen, we at least got to watch the uniformly solid ensemble act their hearts out.
The series ringleader, of course, is Viola Davis, who wasted no time before reminding audiences why she is one of the biggest actresses on basic cable. Picking up immediately where the midseason finale left off – remember, Annalise just helped Laurel deliver her baby after prematurely going into labor in a broken elevator – the series’ protagonist is at her most harried. Luckily, Davis is at her best when Annalise is at her most frantic. But the Oscar winner wasn’t the only strong performer tonight.
As Michaela, Aja Naomi King has really emerged as one of HtGAWM’s secret weapons. Tonight, she was given a full-blown mental breakdown to perform, and pulled it off with aplomb. She has a riveting screen presence but, even better, absolutely sells the outlandish material she is given to work with. Karla Souza also did some really wonderful work with the very dramatic material she was given, as her character faced an impending custody battle with her father for the right to raise her baby.
Plot wise, “He’s Dead” was a mixed bag. The episode took about forty-five minutes to kickstart the action, with multiple scenes devoted to showing the character’s dramatic reactions to last year’s finale. Then, in the final stretch, it went into overdrive, dropping plot twist after plot twist, and wrapping up any loose ends. It was satisfying, and necessary, but felt totally overwhelming. By the time the episode approached its shocking cliffhanger ending, the audience was probably too exhausted to be appropriately surprised.
It’s also worth noting that some of the episode’s plot revelations weren’t all that interesting, or ended up inducing more eye rolls then gasps. For example, the episode confirmed that Bonnie and Nate did, in fact, sleep together while bonding over the fact that Annalise rejected both of them.
Frankly, Bonnie sleeping with Nate feels like a spoof of hypersexual soap opera conventions, and the show would be wise to quickly sweep this pairing under the rug before it drags the series down as a whole. And the series brought the dearly departed Wes back for a brief, uninteresting flashback that really felt like nothing more than weak fan service.
But it wasn’t all bad news: it turns out that Simon is alive and healing from his gunshot wound and, while that spells trouble for the Keating 4, it at least promises some interesting drama in the coming weeks. And, most importantly, it’s great to see Annalise redirect her interest from her ridiculous class-action lawsuit to helping Laurel gain custody of her son. Hopefully, the second half of the season will be free of that annoying subplot.
With five episodes left in the season, the crazy train that is How to Get Away with Murder shows no interest in slowing down. And while the series clearly hasn’t made tighter writing a New Year’s Resolution, we can at least expect great acting with each episode. And, sometimes, that’s all you need.