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How To Get Away With Murder - It's War - Review: "Simply Superb"

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ABC's How To Get Away With Murder was simply superb last night. Ahead of next week's two hour season finale,, "It's War" held my attention for the entire hour - the first time that's happened this season. Brendan Kelly's debut as a writer for the series produced a perfect script, and the episode was beautifully directed by Hanelle Culpepper - also new to the series. The episode had no shortage of absolute bombshells, with the biggest coming courtesy of the final few seconds.

For the first time since the winter break, Annalise spent the entire hour outside jail, having secured bail last week. I was initially skeptical of this because it seemed too quick and easy in a way, but my fears were completely muted by numerous superbly crafted moments which did wonders for the character.

Right throughout, Annalise was visibly off center. She held back her characteristic confidence and aggressiveness, and allowed the others she was interacting with to make the first move. The hour was filled with one-on-one interactions, allowing this to be detailed further. Asher's apology to her for losing her baby was one such example, along with her meetings with Laurel, phone call with Frank, and to top it off, with Soroya Hargrove, who she ousted as being paid off by A.D.A. Atwood because her compassion was too forthcoming and convenient. This was one of a number of massive plot shifts that I was completely blindsided by.

Annalise wasn't written to be loved or sympathized with in this episode. She was portrayed to the viewer as a guilty, manipulative, desperate woman, but to the other characters as tip-toeing on the halfway line between all three of those adjectives. Viola Davis was sublime - now I truly understand why she's an Academy Award nominee. Very few actors could deliver what the script demanded of them in this episode, but Davis still looked like she had more to give.

Internal conflict was an important pillar for much of the hour's plot. Initially, this came courtesy of the D.A.'s office and their higher-ups courtesy of a letter penned by Annalise asking for a grand jury to look into her case and the actions of A.D.A. Atwood. Though Ingrid Peters turned down the request, ramifications came thick and fast, and a visibly unsettled Todd Denver and Atwood were forced to hand over the latter's communications from the night of the fire thanks to a subpoena filed by none other than Frank.

I loved this court session - it's perhaps my favorite of the series. After a season of, simply put, crap, Frank looked the part in his jail jumpsuit, and argued his case with never-before-seen composure and confidence. The resulting win for Frank caused Denver to suspend Atwood on the spot, and this exonerated Nate, who was initially suspected of moving Wes's body.

Yes, Wes's body. Turns out it no longer exists because Atwood had it cremated. Cue the next twist that blindsided me. I had never even considered that the body would be destroyed because of the higher level of corruption that would require, but that's what apparently happened. In a way it harks back to season 1, which saw the students dispose of Sam Keating in similar, albeit rudimentary fashion. It also has the added advantage of removing the need for a proper funeral and/or burial, which frees up screen time down the track. No word on where the ashes are, though.

Wes deserves so much better than you.

Laurel has been the standout among the students since the winter break, but she was leveled with by her peers in this episode. Conflict was brewing thick and fast though, with the one-one-one technique again paying dividends throughout. Early on, Annalise addressed them all, minus Oliver, and the rift was abundantly clear, along with the likely direction they would take. In Asher's case, he was convinced early on by a theory that had Connor as a suspect, which came to a head later on. Laurel continued to be disgusted at the inaction on the body location front, and hired a private investigator. The P.I. revealed moves made by the Mahoneys to have Wes DNA tested. What flew under the radar here was the Mahoneys being set up as the series' primary arch-enemies. Ultimately the P.I. didn't alter anything else in terms of the story, but if he was able to uncover information that no one else could, that's saying something about his value.

In Michaela's case, she spent the hour being highly conflict-averse, and this was seen in several moments where she was caught between boyfriend Asher, and Connor. She also held her own against Annalise when she was asked to be her eyes and ears among the students. That scene was fascinating, and beautifully written.

Annalise revealing her past history with Wes and her lost pregnancy was a surprising move, but was nothing more than a play for sympathy - earlier I mentioned how she's toeing that halfway line, and this was a prime example. It worked on Asher, and it eventually worked on Laurel, who also had to see off Bonnie's suggestion a miscarriage be faked if she opted to abort the baby she's carrying.

You should take the deal they're offering. They're gonna take her down eventually.

Aside from being exonerated, we learned a lot more about Nate in this episode. In the early flashback we saw him and Wes talk more at the house that night, with Nate covering for Wes's whereabouts when called. We also see him directed to leave by Wes, suggesting he's also innocent of the murder. That's not known for certain, but it's the way things are shaping up.

You went to Annalise's house that night, didn't you.

Connor and Oliver had some fantastic moments. Oliver eventually relented and looked through the backup of Annalise's phone, which led to the episode's number one bombshell. He also met face to face with Annalise, who convinced him to leak news of Wes's missing body, but he didn't try to explain away the evidence that Connor had lied about receiving the voicemail Annalise send to everyone on the night of the fire. Though Asher was basing his suspicions on Connor's unusual behavior, Oliver how had the proof, and the hours final seconds portrayed Connor trying in vain to revive a dead - but not burned - Wes via CPR.

Connor's failure to respond to the voicemail was noticed in the flash forwards in the early part of the season, but it had been left to lie, and mostly forgotten about, until now. Even then, though, this flash forward shows Connor in the house, but there's hours of unexplained time to cover yet. It didn't appear the house was already in flames when Connor was there, and any trace of him being near the fire - such as dirty or smelly clothing - would have been picked up. So, it seems likely Connor arrived at the house after Wes arrived and Nate left, but something or someone has to have killed Wes before that - or even when Connor was right there.

My thinking is that Connor somehow got wind of Wes's trip to the police station, and tailed him along with Frank - though both weren't aware the other was doing the same thing. Connor may also have been the reason why Wes bolted from the station before signing his deal. They arranged to meet at the house. Wes arrived earlier than Connor, saw Nate off, but was killed before Connor arrived. Connor performed CPR to no avail and left for an unknown reason. Frank and Laurel arrived at similar times later on, but no one found Wes before the house blew up.

What's harder to explain with these events is why Connor didn't tell a soul about this, nor did he give away any indication of what he had been involved in. Someone has to be pulling his strings, and I don't think it's a regular character. I'm likely to be completely wrong about all this, but there's no harm in having a punt.

That will do me for this episode. I have to go and give my mind a rest as we build toward next week's two hour season finale, which I'm super excited about. What this episode of How To Get Away With Murder showed is that Wes's death - despite a shaky buildup to it last year - has been brilliantly exploited and has created some superb storytelling in the final six episodes this year. In addition to the superb writing, directing and acting, the episode's sound design and score were very unique, and it paid dividends. The pacing was spot on too.

As always, thanks so much for reading! Make sure you share your thoughts and theories on this episode in the comments below - in particular what you think is going to happen in next week's two hour finale. There's a lot of things I've run out of time to touch on so let me know what you thought of those. See you all for a final time next week!

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