How To Get Away With Murder, Ep. 1.14 and 1.15: “The Night Lila Died” and “It’s All My Fault” stick the landing

JACK FALAHEE, ALFRED ENOCH, CHARLIE WEBER, AJA NAOMI KING, LIZA WEIL, VIOLA DAVIS

How To Get Away With Murder, Season 1, Episodes 14 & 15: “The Night Lila Died” and “It’s All My Fault”
Directed by Laura Innes and Bill D’Elia
Written by Michael Foley and Peter Norwalk
Airs Thursdays at 9 PM and 10 PM on ABC

How To Get Away With Murder wraps up its season with a two-hour finale that solves the central mystery while leaving some questions unanswered. Some of the episode is a slog, padded out by yet another snoozy case of the week, but the last 10 minutes are as suspenseful as anything on television. If Peter Norwalk and the writers can figure out how to drop the procedural element of the show and more fully explore the actions of the regular characters, some of whom are not much more fleshed out than when the series began, the show will be much improved in season 2.

But that final sequence is fantastic, using flashbacks to build suspense rather than to lazily communicate exposition. And though the reveal is unsurprising – Frank killed Lila on Sam’s orders – the slow pan up to Frank’s face as his hands choke poor Lila is stylishly shot and perfectly paced. It’s a mostly satisfying resolution to a mystery that often seemed to lose momentum during the course of the season. So much time is spent on the law students covering up Sam’s death and disposing of his body that solving Lila’s murder is pushed aside for episodes at a time. Especially since everyone is convinced that Sam is the murderer, the show is content to worry about other things until Wes starts suspecting Rebecca late in the season.

Unfortunately, what precedes this exciting climax are two hours (two hour-long episodes mashed together due to the premiere of American Crime next week) of red herrings, Wes moping around, and not nearly enough Viola Davis. Thankfully, the matter about the priest – he killed a fellow priest who molested a kid who killed himself – is wrapped up in the first hour. If the writers want to continue showing us Annalise’s cases, they need to realize that a facile thematic link to whatever is happening in the main plot is not enough to make the audience care. Take a page from The Good Wife and create cases that are interesting on their own and cast charismatic guest stars who can raise the level of the writing.

Mystery shows, especially American ones that have to last 13-14 episodes, are dependent on shifting suspicion onto one character after another over the course of a season, regardless of evidence or logic. It’s impressive that How To Get Away With Murder shows as much restraint as it does, having the characters fully suspect Sam for the bulk of the season, doling out a few seeds of doubt just to keep things interesting. But that makes Wes’s suspicion of Rebecca seem a little arbitrary, and that plot’s path down a PCP-laced breakdown and a Delaware mental institute proves anticlimactic. Much more intriguing are the ways the entire cast seems under suspicion in the final episode. A quick shot of Bonnie looking shifty or a stone faced Wes makes everyone a plausible murderer for a second or two, even if they have no possible motive to get rid of Lila. Annalise herself, who has a good reason to off the co-ed sleeping with her husband, seems the likely killer for a minute, and wouldn’t that have made a great reveal? But it turns out that Frank did the deed after some coercion from Sam. Sam’s ultimate guilt makes Wes and Annalise’s actions justified, and gets them – our ostensible protagonists – morally off the hook. So Annalise’s speech to Wes, telling him it’s best to just believe Sam is guilty for his own sanity, proves unnecessary.

That’s sort of an easy way out, having Annalise suggest self-delusion and amorality in theory, but not having to use it in practice. If Sam had turned out to have nothing to do with Lila’s death, if Wes had killed an innocent man, he’d have to reckon with that and either embrace Annalise’s philosophy or reject it. But except for whoever killed Rebecca, the characters can now go into season two ethically uncompromised, which might make them easier to root for, but it creates a less interesting dynamic going forward. There is a cold, black heart beating within How To Get Away With Murder, and hopefully it will expose itself more fully when the show comes back in the fall.

Other thoughts:

Does Annalise know that Frank killed Lila? If so, does she know Sam ordered the hit?

Oh boy, that scene with Conrad and Oliver was heart wrenching.

So in the last episode, Aja Naomi King finally got something interesting to play. Her scene with Lynn Whitfield was stellar and Michaela is no longer my least favorite character on the show.

That honor goes to Wes, who continues to be as unexpressive as ever. Also, his American accent became shakier as the season progressed.

I think I’m done with Bonnie and Asher, together or apart.

Marcia Gay Harden and Cicely Tyson better come back next year.




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