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How To Get Away With Murder - What Did We Do? - Review: "A New Benchmark For Shondaland"


How To Get Away With Murder's installment last week - penultimate episode of 2015 - didn't go down well with me at all. But the winter finale we witnessed tonight is without question the ABC series' finest hour to date.

It was an unbelievable ride, beautifully scripted by Michael Foley & Erika Green Swafford, and directed to perfection by Bill D'Elia. This trio deserve a huge pat on the back for their efforts. They did an outstanding job.

The real beauty was always going to be in how the creative team executed this episode, and they did so with absolute precision. It started initially by splitting the cast into groups, which hindered communication and slowed the flow of information, something that would prove crucial further down the track.

Events kicked off fourteen hours prior to the moment Annalise was shot, in the Hapstall mansion, where the majority of the hour was based. Having pointed out the mystery gun in his sister's art studio to Michaela, after her and Caleb had spent the night together, Michaela called on Connor for advice on what to do next. True to her nature of obeying rules, Michaela insisted Annalise not be told about the find so as to avoid conflicts of interest.

In the Keating office, meanwhile, Annalise, Frank, Wes and Laurel concerned themselves over the photo of Philip which showed a painting Catherine had drawn sitting in the background. After coming to the decision to talk to Catherine first, the wake-up call Catherine received resulted in her discovering Team 1 in her studio, and in possession of the gun. The first big, bizarre, unanswered question appears immediately here, and that is how a group of three - including two young men - allow a young woman to simply run away. Nevertheless, a furious Annalise arrived at the mansion soon after and set Michaela in particular, straight.



One of the biggest surprises for me in this winter finale was the significant involvement Nate had in the events that unfolded. He was up next, receiving a grilling by prosecutor Emily Sinclair over his role in falsifying the records of Philip Jessup. Nate denied the allegations just as the on-screen credits shoed Famke Janssen was part of the cast. But further prodding by Sinclair into Nate's wife led him to breaking point, and he let rip at her in front of the office. Further down the track, that led to Sinclair launching a harassment suit against him, with Nate counter-suing alleging racial discrimination.

Your dad, Asher.

Another big surprise was the suicide of Asher's father, Bill Millstone. The slow communication that resulted from the split characters didn't do anyone any favors here, with Annalise too preoccupied to ignore Frank's warning about the information Sinclair leaked. The death was the opening Bonnie needed in order to return to prominence after last week's spell, as she was the one who broke the news to her one-time boyfriend, Asher.

I often get the feeling that Matt McGorry doesn't get much of a chance to show how accomplished he is in character on Murder, but this episode was his time to shine as Asher and he absolutely nailed every minute. Of the actors playing students, he outpaced a normally dominant Jack Falahee quite comfortably. What's even better is McGorry definitely has more in the tank. He was running on only 80%.



We watched as Asher attempted to console his devastated mother. Her late husband's profession had clearly rubbed off on her as she showed skepticism to Asher's reaction to the news. The straw that broke Asher's back would surely have been when his mother accused him of putting the work he was doing for Annalise ahead of his parents.

Why did you choose her over us?

Frank spent much of the hour operating autonomously, but Bonnie stopped by to deliver an interesting thought to the typically logical and emotionless Frank. It sows the seeds for some interesting storytelling in 2016:

We can't keep doing this Frank. We say we're just protecting ourselves, but there's a point when we're the ones people need to be protectd from, and that's who we've become. Don't you see that?

What followed was masterful from all involved, and made this episode very easy to follow, as well as to have a punt on who did what. Bill D'Elia wound back the clock to 12:26pm, and spent the next wee while lining up all the dots and connecting them. Some of the scenes we had seen earlier, others were completely new. It was a fantastic way to count down the final 10 hours until the shooting.

12:26: Nate lost it at Sinclair in the police station.
14:52: Nate called Annalise to reveal he was under suspicion of altering Philip Jessup's record. The captain tells him he is being sued for harassment, and Nate counter-sues over racial discrimination.
16:43: Sinclair invites Nate to meet with her in her car, requesting to bury the hatchet, and asking Nate to drop his suit in exchange for her doing the same.
20:38: Sinclair leaves the office when Asher meets her in his car. He runs her over moments later.

Let's pause the sequence here. Finally, Asher gets on the body count board! This wasn't the way I expected Sinclair would meet her end, but it was strangely satisfying to watch. Good on the showrunners for choosing a less typical way of ending a life. Sinclair, like she did to Nate, antagonized Asher with verbal insults about someone close to him. It's a sure fire way to create enemies very, very quickly:

Your father was a bad man Asher. Honestly, you and a lot of people in this city are better off without him.

Let's resume the sequence. This is where the action begins to heat up.

21:07: Asher waves a helpful woman past as he waits for Bonnie to arrive. That's a potential witness right there.
21:12: At the mansion, Annalise receives a flood of information. Nate tells Annalise Philip was released fro custody having been arrested earlier that day. Bonnie calls, revealing Sinclair is dead. Annalise calls Frank who tells her he knows where Catherine is. She points him to the location of the drugs he obtained for her weeks earlier for Nia.
21:18: Annalise tells the students that Sinclair is on her way to the mansion.
21:25: Caleb has second thoughts about dobbing in his sister to Sinclair.
22:01: Annalise orders the students to stay inside while she goes to greet Bonnie and Asher who have Sinclair's body. The trio carry the body inside, startling the other students and immediately making them an accessory to the crime.

Do what I say and ask questions later!

For the first time in the series, everyone is in as deep as the next guy.In front of all of them, a body lies, and all of them have tracks to conceal. The plan Annalise devised was to create a story in which Sinclair was called to the house where Annalise intended to show her the discovered gun and photo of Philip with Catherine's painting in the background. Catherine then came home unexpectedly and ran over Sinclair.



The plan was in motion. Annalise left a voicemail on Sinclair's phone to validate the story. Laurel and Wes began cleaning fingerprints while Bonnie, Asher, Connor and Michaela took Sinclair's body to the roof, with only the first two throwing it over the edge.

Wes, seeing Nate as the only way to stop Annalise doing what she was doing, calls Nate and urgently requests that he get to the mansion. Nate then calls Annalise, but she is preoccupied with trying to reach Christine so doesn't answer.

At a mystery motel, some bad luck on Catherine's part sees her go to a vending machine just as Philip arrives to meet her. Frank abducts her, and as he received no response at the room door, Philip then leaves and heads to the mansion, looking for Catherine there.

The best was just about to come, however. Symbolically, Bonnie left the gun in the middle of a chess board near Annalise. She then left the scene with Asher where they stopped at a gas station. While Bonnie cleaned the blood off of herself, Asher, for once, showing he had some brain function that enabled him to foresee events while under stress, bought a car wash ticket so they could clean the car of Sinclair's blood.

It won't work unless we do something to make them believe it.



Back at the mansion, the best scene of the hour unfolded as Annalise, clearly not versed in firearm handling, waved the gun among her students, going one by one and asking them to shoot her, but not fatally. Moments prior, she dialled 911, stating she had been shot. En route already thanks to Wes' call, Nate heard the call over his radio. Given the events we've seen in earlier flash forwards, this was another communication cockup as it put unnecessary time pressure on everyone involved, and Nate, who would have had a better plan, wasn't able to reach the mansion in time.

But back to the good stuff. In this scene, not only did we see why Viola Davis won an Emmy Award, we also witness a graphic insight into each of the students' mindset when Annalise tried to hand them the gun. Connor took the gun when boyfriend Oliver was mentioned, but Michaela prevented him from firing. Michaela declined almost immediately. Wes was next, but couldn't be convinced immediately. Most insightful of them all was Laurel, who opted to go to jail instead.

That caused Annalise to play the Rebecca card. She admitted to Wes that Rebecca was dead. Wes didn't waste any time. He took the gun, aimed for the abdomen instead of the leg, and fired. He then stood above her and aimed at her head, until Annalise began whispering a name which will set the course of the series in 2016:

Kristov.

Cue a flashback to 10 years ago. A young boy sits emotionless as he answers questions from a detective. It is unmistakably Wes. The camera rotates away from the one way glass to reveal Annalise, sporting a radically different hairstyle, and to Famke Janssen's character, Eve Rothlow. The final words of 2015 came from her mouth:

Good God Annalise. What did we do?



Man, what an ending to How To Get Away With Murder's 2015 run. The winter finale was executed with unrivaled precision and class, and sets a new benchmark for all these things in the world of Shondaland.

But perhaps what makes this finale extra special is the fact that all we actually found out was who shot Annalise. A sizable portion of the biweekly flash forwards we've seen over the last 8 weeks concern events that happened after those that occurred in this episode. The finale didn't show the students escaping and being picked up by Nate. It didn't show Annalise being carted to hospital in critical condition. It didn't show Frank dropping Catherine in the woods near the mansion, and of course, it didn't even hint at the police response to the massive crime scene that now rests before them.

In my opinion, it's the stuff that wasn't covered that makes this episode so compelling overall. It gave us the answer we were all waiting for, but created few major new questions. There are some, though, such as what becomes of Sinclair's car which was left in the parking garage and which would contain traces of Nate, the final whereabouts of the gun Wes shot Annalise with, the location and activities of Philip especially, and Catherine, prior to her abduction, and, of course, when Asher marches into a police station demanding to make a statement.

But the biggest question of them all is what Annalise and Eve were doing with Wes a decade ago. My early theories suggest the two women never actually met Wes (or Kristov) face to face back then, otherwise he would have remembered them. But beyond that, we see a young by exhibiting many of the traits he does today, in that he copes under extreme stress incredibly well, and has a sense of ruthlessness about him. It's very exciting stuff.

For the final time this year, thanks so much for reading! This season has eclipsed its predecessor by margins that continue to grow. With just six episodes carded for early 2016, February 11 is the date I'll be anxiously awaiting, with the wild ride certain to continue. In the meantime, keep an eye out for a video in the coming week or so which I'll compile, featuring the flash forwards and events of last night's finale to help those who were left a wee bit behind to remain up with the play. Finally, remember you can check out How To Get Away With Murder's ratings among many other top shows on my TV ratings website, www.seriesmonitor.com/howtogetawaywithmurder.

See you back here in 2016!

About the Author - Jimmy Ryan
Jimmy Ryan lives in New Zealand, and works in the IT industry. He is an avid follower of drama television and has a keen interest for television ratings and statistics. Some of his favorite shows right now are Person of Interest, Scandal, House of Cards, Orphan Black, Mr. Robot, Suits, The 100, How To Get Away With Murder, Elementary and Castle. You can visit his television ratings website, www.seriesmonitor.com or follow him on Twitter, @SeriesMonitor.
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