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How To Get Away With Murder - Season 5 Premiere Review: "A New Perspective" + POLL

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When How To Get Away With Murder premiered way back in 2014, it was difficult to envisage how the Shondaland series could push on beyond a few seasons, but here we are, five seasons and counting. Somehow this series manages to keep reinventing itself just enough to ensure it feels fresh, and that looks to have happened again if tonight's fifth season premiere, titled "Your Funeral" is anything to go by. The episode was written by showrunner Pete Nowalk and directed by Stephen Cragg.

I'll be honest in admitting that the premiere screener came my way before I had rewatched last season's finale, but instead of rewatching that finale I watched this screener instead, effectively meaning I'm experiencing the premiere in the way the majority of viewers are. In addition to the pacing this episode had, things began to fall into place with an ease that I've not experienced in any of the other season premieres. Perhaps this was helped by the surprising number of season 4 storylines that were either heavily referenced or are certain to carry over into this season. Starting a season with a blank canvas has the advantage of starting everyone on the same page, and this new approach has the opposite effect if the memory gaps aren't filled well enough. This is a good sign this early in the season.

So what actually happened in this premiere? To me, there are six major headlines.

The first is that Annalise is back teaching, having seen her status inflate following her class action victory last season. She's approaching her class with an newfound ruthlessness, with prospective students having to argue for and against a viewpoint they're passionate about. Of the four main characters contesting, Asher was omitted, with new series regular Gabriel Maddox pimping him at the post for the 24th seat. In explaining why later, Annalise had this to say to Asher about her decision:

All I see s a boy who people-pleases and plays a clown, and that's not a good look for a lawyer let alone a man.
Secondly, Annalise's teaching role is more firmly defined as a part time job because she's still pursuing her class action. That needs finance, which was offered by Caplan & Gold through new series regulars and partners Tegan Price and Emmett Crawford in exchange for pro bono work by her students which would help rebuild the firm after last season's chaos courtesy of Jorge Castillo.

The third headline is that Oliver and Connor settled on a new house for everyone to move into. It's a large, old timber house complete with rooms for their friends and stairs for people to fall down. A new environment should be a nice boost to the series, and keeping the characters in one place will no doubt be taken advantage of by the creative team.

Fourthly, Gabriel Maddox is already on Frank's radar due to a shady past and he is in contact with an unknown party about him. Annalise had previously gotten Frank to vet her students but declined the opportunity this time.

Fifth, there's some action going on in the DA's office. Interim DA, Ronald Miller, continues to court Bonnie, who is playing her own angle in trying to determine who the now deceased Todd Denver may have shown the files he had on her and everyone else to. At the same time, Nate has come across Bonnie's child, and confirmed it through DNA tests with a lab technician he's befriended and is sleeping with. Some detail on the files Nate was browsing through indicate Bonnie was raped as a young teenager by a Councilman Lindgreen and several other men who may be the father of a son to whom Bonnie is the mother. The episode later implied that Gabriel is that son. That Bonnie was sexually assaulted isn't new, but this is additional information on top of what we've heard previously.

Lastly, relationship dramas! Laurel broke the news to Frank that she was moving out to live with the others in Oliver and Connor's new house. Frank proposed to her, but she turned him down. Playing off of the Scandal crossover last season, Michaela is trying to pick things up with Marcus. She leaves an awkward voicemail but he blows her off. Asher is still pissed at Michaela for her cheating on him, and I'll repeat Bonnie and Miller's continued development, though Bonnie is 100% in it for ulterior motives whereas Miller's intentions are more genuine at this stage. At least they decided not to take things further in the office. Again, repeating, Nate is seeing the lab technician. Good for him, I say.

So what do I think of all this? As I mentioned earlier, picking up on where things left off has been easier than I expected. I also don't have any major complaints in terms of what went down aside from the fact that the baptism scene was a tad overdone, and that Laurel's own baptism gown turning up was not a positive sign. Laurel's parents were so heavily involved in last season that their storylines need to be left to lie for now at least.

That leaves the season's trademark flash forward to cover, independently of the other five headlines. With a three month time jump from present day events, and following the format used in the latter half of last season, the location for this season's flash forward mystery was set in the premiere's opening scene. At the party celebrating Connor and Oliver's wedding, an angry Frank demands Annalise's attention. He gives her some news which cannot be heard by us, which prompts Annalise to slap him in the face. The camera moves outside, and the episode's final scene - also a flash forward - merge to show someone bleeding out onto the snow before collapsing with baby Christopher just feet away. Then Bonnie appears, and seems to try to suffocate the victim.

The unique aspect about the flash forwards in this premiere - and likely for the season as a whole - is that the story is told in first person from the perspective of the (single as far as we know at this stage) victim. The blinking eye effect over the camera was cleverly used to convey this, and it's an exciting reinvention of the concept for this series. The labored breathing that can be heard has no discernible gender, but I'm a tad disappointed to find that Bonnie is already off the list of potential candidates given she's always been among the earliest to be ruled out as a victim in the past couple of seasons. Annalise and Frank are also likely off the table.

Many long term HTGAWM fans would have likely seen the novelty and shock and awe factor of the flash forwards wear off, but the first person perspective concept is a sure sign that innovation among the writers room is sill abundant. This season, the flash forwards also offer up the possibility that no one is actually dead yet, because Bonnie hasn't yet killed the person through whose eyes we are watching things unfold. Another large question mark lies with how the baby got there in addition to the victim. He's a bit too young to fire a gun, stab someone or push someone down the stairs.

I believe Annalise's opening speech to her prospective students contains some decent foreshadowing into the season's events. Not only did it contain several references to death, but it also referenced the sacrifices, brutality and ruthlessness needed to succeed in the class, as well as to change the world. Gabriel established another theme very early on concerning rule-breaking. These are all elements to look for as the season progresses.
I don't care if you follow the rules.
I also agree with Annalise's description of Asher when she explained why she didn't select him for her class despite his critical work on her class action last season. If Laurel was the major focus of last season, this could be an indicator that it's Asher's turn this time around.

From a technical aspect, the cinematography in this premiere was noticeably improved, with particular mention going to the variety of steadicam and dolly shots used, often with large changes in zoom and focal length to boot. In addition, HTGAWM episodes in more recent seasons have often used sheer pace instead of quality storytelling to create a perceived increase in intensity, but the balance tonight was just about spot on. I really hope this continues for the duration of the season because it's a more significant factor to my enjoyment of this series than it is to many others.

In all, this fifth season premiere of How To Get Away With Murder did a great deal of things right. It didn't need the shock and awe factor to be effective in introducing a new season with fresh ideas and a new perspective concerning its trademark flash forwards element. The three new series regular characters were introduced rather unspectacularly - again something I have no issue with. Lastly, the numerous references to events from last season in particular were very well handled. Bring on next week.

Thanks for reading! It's good to be back for another wild ride, and I'd love to hear your thoughts and theories on the premiere in the comments below so don't be shy! Just below is our opinion poll so you can rate the episode too. See you all right back here next week.

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