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How To Get Away With Murder - Winter Finale Review: "What Happened?"


The reactions to the winter finale of ABC's How To Get Away With Murder are rebounding thick and fast around the internet in the wake of the answer being made clear on the one question that has dogged fans of the series over the course of the third season thus far: who is under the sheet. Michael Foley wrote "Who's Dead", which was directed by Bill D’Elia.

Of all the winter finales that have aired in the three seasons How To Get Away With Murder has screened, I had the feeling that despite the imminent death of a character there's been substantially less hype and buzz surrounding this episode. I haven't been a fan of how Peter Nowalk and his creative team have gone about utilizing the timeshifting technique, but the way the revealed events tie together has always been executed with tremendous skill and precision, and this was again the case for the most part last night.

Some major correct decisions were made right from the get-go in this episode. There was no case of the week, and no unnecessary characters taking up valuable time. The entire hour was dedicated to putting the pieces together to create an impressive and unexpected cliffhanger going into the back half of the season due in 2017.

It's time for you to go.

First on the agenda was tidying up an unresolved conflict between Frank, Bonnie and Annalise. Frank had a gun to his head while Annalise egged him to pull the trigger. Bonnie pleaded for the opposite, and eventually her reasoning won over. Frank didn't kill himself, but that didn't mean he wasn't the person under the sheet.

You should'a done it.

With that resolved, a starting point had to be constructed to serve as a launching pad for the night's events. Annalise did that by becoming argumentative with A.D.A. Rene Atwood. Prior, she had learned via her hairdresser that Atwood was looking into her, so made a trip to her office to confront her about it. Neither came away on top in the resulting verbal sparring, but it made Atwood hasten plans to investigate Annalise. She then confronted Nate in a parking lot - which was witnessed by someone - and accused him of turning on her - a move I would have entirely understood. He denied it, and they parted ways, but Nate became curious.



Annalise did one thing right, and another thing wrong subsequently. She returned to her house and began burning the case files that could be used as evidence against her and also destroyed her computer with the infamous trophy. We saw and heard some flashbacks to those events which were largely from the first season. While destroying evidence is the right thing to do if you were her, the wrong thing to do was to get drunk at the same time. She stumbled around to Bonnie's house, where she was taken care of and put to bed to sleep it off.

Accounting for the whereabouts of the students was trivial. During the day, Annalise revealed that her entire class had passed their mid-term law exam. The alcohol flowed quickly, causing some critical lapses in judgment which would come into play. While Annalise left the celebrations to destroy the files and get drunk herself, some of the students partied for the afternoon and into the evening. Michaela's celebrations were interrupted by her mother courtesy of Asher, Oliver removed himself at the early stages, and Wes was asked to come down to the police station for questioning. Connor, Asher and Laurel carried having a good time.

I'd rather be damaged than fake.

With that all squared away, what we have seen over the course of the season as flash forwards now became real time.

Annalise had woken from her hangover with a plan, like always, to tidy the mess up and keep everyone out of prison, but we never saw or heard what that actually was. She made a call to Wes and Laurel asking them to meet her at her house. "It's important" was the common theme. She took things one step further with Oliver, opting to meet him personally. She sweet talked him into hacking into A.D.A. Atwood, making his movements in the important missing hours later more important than most. At the celebrations earlier, a drunk Connor dropped a concerning hint about his behavior at their inaugural encounter being faked. Oliver read some of the news articles surrounding Sam Keating's disappearance too.

I'm in trouble Oliver. We all are. Connor too.

Annalise wasn't at the house when Nate arrived to check in on her later on. He noticed the burned evidence and the unlocked door. A short time later, Laurel arrived at the house having responded to Annalise's call minus Connor and Asher. She went inside.



Boom.

The house blew up. The underwhelming CGI effects let this down a lot, but that's minor on the grand scale of things.

Wes was interviewed by the police late in the afternoon, having had a minor spat with Laurel during the celebrations earlier that day. The detectives revealed that a body had been discovered and identified as belonging to his former girlfriend, Rebecca Sutter. Long story short, the detectives wanted an informant as they suspected Annalise. In return, immunity was on the table. Wes fired his lawyer and agreed to talk provided his immunity was strengthened. After checking his voicemail during a break in the interview, he slipped out. His whereabouts between then and ending up under the sheet are unknown, and are the subject of the finale's cliffhanger

My flash forwards compilation article and video was the source of plenty of decent theory-spinning and speculation these past few days, but I was amazed at how largely correct the sequence I had ordered the clips in was. Important missing events that were added in this episode was Annalise calling Bonnie out of the blue from jail. Annalise told Bonnie what Oliver had done with regard to wiping the phone, and she met him at the scene of the fire where the rest unfolded. At the hospital, while waiting on news on Laurel, Frank called Bonnie from the scene. A short time later, via Michaela, the news spread to Asher and Connor, who all arrived at the hospital.

On the news, Wes was revealed to have died in the fire. Everyone was stunned. Laurel and Meggy in particular were devastated by the news. In the morgue, Nate used his position to get some vital information that only he and Annalise know for now: that Wes was dead before the fire.



This revelation massive, and as soon as the clock wound back it was exactly what I expected would be revealed in the finale's dying seconds. We know Wes died, but we don't know what killed him, when he was killed, where he was killed, why he was killed, and most importantly, who killed him.

I've been critical for most of the season about how the creative team strangled themselves by opting to reveal one safe character each week. For the most part the story came together very well, but it feels pretty hollow and simplistic for now. It's clear there's still a lot missing, and that the back half of the season will show how that plays out in retrospect, but my enthusiasm hasn't picked up to the degree that I hoped it would.

There's a couple of bizarre factors that I want to discuss. Firstly, the dialogue in the phone conversation conversation between Bonnie and Frank was very strange and should have been improved. It was too abrupt and didn't flow at all. If you cut the lines of each character into strips and got someone else to put them back together in the correct order they would think they're taken from two unrelated conversations. The creative team should have left that phone call out of the flash forwards and written it more cohesively to suit the characters, the time and the place. Removing the mystery of who Bonnie was on the phone with wouldn't have detracted from the impact of the flash forward storytelling at all, and it could have effortlessly been included in the revelations in this episode instead.



Secondly, Wes's name shouldn't have been announced on the news. This is highly unorthodox to what happens in the real world. Normally it takes many hours, even days to inform friends and family before names are released publicly. Taking this into account would have opened up some really good opportunities to slowly unveil the news to the characters on a more individual basis. In any case, this should have been done much better and more realistically.

So the series has answered its biggest question, and leaves an equally sizable one along with several smaller questions to be answered next year. In addition to the details on Wes's death, here's a few more to mull over:

- Who brought Frank into the loop regarding the fire? He was at the scene and not shocked or surprised.
- What did Nate do inside the house?
- What blew up and nearly killed Laurel? It was one blast, not a series of blasts. It's thrown little shrapnel because Laurel wasn't badly injured, and Wes's body was burned along precisely half of his face.
- What purpose is Michaela's mother serving in terms of further developing the story?
- Is Bonnie bisexual? She kissed Annalise.
- Thomas changed his tone completely once he realized Connor had used him for sex.
- Did Frank actually jump on that grenade to save everyone? Something tells me he has at least part of the situation under control.

On Wes being the one who dies. It's not entirely surprising, and it's not what I wanted, but it's much more exciting than going with a safer option in a more minor character such as Frank or Nate. Killing off the number two character is a huge call, but the bigger characters create bigger waves and leave bigger holes to fill. A character that is truly valuable and integral to a series is as valuable in life as in death.

Few examples of this come close to Joss Carter in Person of Interest. A quality creative team can leverage that for a long period of time through numerous ways and means. Right now on network television, there are only a handful of creative teams I would trust with that responsibility, and How To Get Away With Murder's is one of those. Though I keep a very open mind when it comes to this show, I expect Nate to have a much bigger role to play next year, and Frank's reintroduction to normal proceedings is likely assured too. Laurel and Meggy could also come out of nowhere given their closer connection to Wes than most. Neither of them will take this lying down.

Summing up, I reiterate my dislike for the flash forward format that's been used so far this season. I believe I was proven correct in this episode that it simply wasn't up to the task and led to much less interesting and more predictable set of events which, even when filled in and placed together still lacked impact and intrigue. There's time and space for this to be turned around, however, and Peter Nowalk's interviews on this finale provide decent promise. I thought the music and scoring was better than average, but I would have liked to have seen the cast step up a bit more considering the occasion. Billy Brown would be my pick as a standout this week. I've criticized a piece of writing already so I'll leave it at that except to say there were some cracking one-liners throughout. Bill D’Elia's directing was solid, but I really would have liked to have seen a better CGI explosion considering its importance.

Thanks as always for reading this review! I hope you've enjoyed it along with my other reviews this season. Make sure you head down the comments to share your thoughts and theories on this episode, in particular Wes's death along with how you found the story when it was all put together. You can find out all you need to know about the midseason premiere here. Until then, see you back here on January 19!

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