Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Season 5 Episode 6 of How To Get Away With Murder.
This week’s episode was one of the classic How To Get Away With Murder episodes that make you want to throw your remote at the TV and wonder how such analytical and smart characters could make such frustrating choices. Despite that, this week’s episode was much less poignant and memorable, save for the scenes between Oliver’s mother and the happy couple. The episode felt like a choppy showreel of different scenes which didn’t exactly flow well together and felt like a repeat of previous episodes. Here’s what went down.
Last week we saw Bonnie face the demons of her past and travel to her sister’s house to seek answers. Bonnie sends her boyfriend (and maybe future fiance, as the opening scene revealed) away and stays at her sister’s house for a period of time until she manages to dig out the truth from Julie. Julie at first claimed that Bonnie’s son had been sold to an unknown person after he was born, but then she later reveals a much more horrifying truth. Bonnie’s father had not killed the baby but intended to keep it, however, Julie stole it and ran until she reached the woods and buried Bonnie’s baby alive with the intention of “protecting him”. Bonnie is left obviously shocked at this news, and as Frank drives her home she tries to get her sister arrested for possession of unlocked firearms around kids, however, Frank stopped her. This sort of twisted and disturbing revelation is commonplace is HTGAWM, however, the trauma experienced by the Winterbottom sisters sets a unique tone that this feels more like a heartbreaking and desperate act of preservation than a cold-blooded killing. It’s sick in a different way than other secrets have been, and Elizabeth Morton delivers a performance that leaves the audience gut-wrenched at how empty and despondent Julie is.
The episode also brings us back to the Nate Sr. case, where, in the wake of Annalise winning the case for Nate Sr on a claim of insanity, the goal now is to get him to be truly free. Transferring him to a mental institution isn’t enough for the Nate Sr, who wishes to live with his son so badly. Annalise has shown a great amount of personal bias towards this case, whether it be for her fondness of Nate Jr. or her gratitude for her career being restored. Regardless, this personal attachment is something with saw debilitate her earlier in the season. There was desperation beneath Annalise the entire time she was working on the case, which leads her to be reckless. She did not deal with the case in her classical calculating and cold approach. Many could see that eventually, it would impair her job and decisions, and that really came to fruition this episode. Annalise agrees to a deal set forth by Gov. Birkhead that aims to reduce the prison population by 50%. This would be amazing, except Birkhead’s sudden change of heart, coupled with some terms in the contract, leave this deal looking incredibly shady. Against the better judgement of literally everyone on the show, including Annalise herself initially, she takes the deal. Why? Well, because the Governor said that she can get Nate Sr pardoned. However, Annalise’s plan to achieve something good in her career gets, quite literally, shot in the head when someone murders Nate Sr. before he can even leave his cell. The biggest frustration, besides Annalise’s naive decision, is the fruitlessness of it all. After fighting to win the Nate Sr. case so hard, and after watching his case develop since season 4, his murder makes the whole plotline feel a little useless. His story brought such poignancy and called into question many things about the prison system, but seeing it all end in death is so disheartening.
This is a common move as well on How To Get Away With Murder, but after 4 seasons of watching the characters succeed just to immediately have everything ripped away from them, it gets a little tiring. Simply the writing and the fate of the characters is almost predictable, and while Nate Sr’s death was a shocking climax, it isn’t really surprising when you think about it.
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) November 2, 2018
This episode also brought us even more scenes of our favorite and longest running couple on the show. As their ill-fated wedding draws closer, Connor and Oliver celebrate their bachelor party with not just their friends, but also their moms. While this is a unique guest list, it gives the opportunity to show real growth and vulnerability from Oliver’s character through his relationship with his mom. The heart to heart they had in the dressing room nearly had me in tears, as it is beautifully touching and relatable. For many, the constant fear of disappointing your parent impacts nearly everything they do, and the willingness to do anything for their happiness goes hand in hand with that. Oliver revealing his HIV diagnosis and declaring it to be the reason he’s distanced himself offers an amazing insight into who he is as a person, and how his values shape him. His mother, a figure dealt with trepidation due to her dislike towards Connor, shows that she is simply a mother who would do anything for her child and loves him so deeply. Her response to Oliver’s diagnosis is void of any judgement or shame, but can be simply summarized with “I’m here for you until the day I die”. Her character is further strengthened when she makes amends with Connor later on, and it becomes clear that her resentment came out of fear that she was losing her son to him.
— Max Gao (@MaxJGao) November 2, 2018
Overall, the family dynamics that were displayed in this episode- from the dressing room to Connor’s phone call to his dad, to Bonnie’s dark family history and her sister- were all beautifully written. Those scenes further explored characters and their complexities. In the case of Bonnie and Julie, it also shows how much your childhood changes you. The episode was also sprinkled with small victories for the audience, such as Laurel proving herself in the diet pill case, and the lively atmosphere of the #Coliverforeva bachelor party.
Besides that, the episode felt like the same rehashed formula that HTGAWM has used so many times in order to up the ante. Shocking death? Check. Invalidating all the character’s work and progress? Check. Characters being forced/manipulated into a dangerous position? Check. How many times are we going to see the writers beat up the characters in the same way? It makes me wonder why these people haven’t just left and found another career since there’s an obvious pattern that goes on in the show.
To conclude, I’d give this episode a 7.5 out of 10. For an episode that ended with so many unanswered questions (Who killed Nate Sr.? What are the Governor’s motives? What will Annalise do now?), the rating seems a little low. That’s because the questions are the same ones we’ve been asking through all four seasons, only with different details. This season has done a great job exploring new vulnerabilities of characters, however, some more out of the box writing could bring this show to a much needed next level.