As the second season of How To Get Away With Murder it wasted no time in letting us know who killed Rebecca at the end of the first season, the season three strokes of “melodrama” since the end of the second season under the rug what quickly as possible.
Frank killed Wes’s father in order to have something on Annalise. Wes and Annalise promptly head to the woods to literally scream into the night and everyone’s back to business. Murder class is back in session!
Of course, How To Get Away With Murder’s modus operandi is to repeatedly pull the rug out from under its characters and viewers, so there’s still a good chance that Wes’s father’s murder isn’t as solved as Annalise thinks it is.
But for now, it’s just off to the side, Frank’s absence a crucial part of the emotional stakes to the premiere but not necessarily all that urgent, even with Annalise ominously texting from a burner phone she keeps hidden in her jewelry box.
Watching the premiere amounts to waiting for the shoe to drop, but at the same time, that wait is largely devoid of suspense and tension. I waited, but not from the edge of my seat.
Much of “We’re Good People Now” amounts to a lookback on how Annalise and the Keating Five spent their summers, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Annalise helped Michaela get out of a DUI.
Asher’s poor now that daddy’s dead. Connor read Giovanni’s Room poolside and made Annalise promise to never hire Oliver (a promise she very quickly breaks). Wes got a cute girlfriend named Meggy who is a hugger. Annalise planted some flowers. Laurel tried to convince everyone that she is not Team Frank.
It’s unclear exactly what Bonnie did this summer, but hopefully she took a much needed vacation. Look, the summer flashbacks weren’t completely useless. It is very refreshing to see these characters take a moment to feel and to talk about their feelings openly.
There are certain character moments that are genuinely fascinating, like the fact that Michaela and Connor seem to be coping with the trauma of working for Annalise in opposite but parallel ways, Michaela going from an up-tight perfectionist to a party girl and Connor conversely opting for a much more relaxed and quiet lifestyle.
Although, Oliver drops a bomb on their functional—compared to everyone else on the show—relationship by dumping him in the episode’s most gutting scene.
But even though there are glimpses of character work and emotion in those summer flashbacks, they still predominantly seem like heavy-handed table-setting. Sometimes, the show’s nonlinear way of storytelling creates brilliant suspense and urgency; other times, it’s just superfluous.
Tellingly, the emotional moments that take place in the present land much better. One thing the premiere does exceptionally well is keep its characters firmly rooted in the emotional ramifications of their past actions.
Sometimes, there’s a tendency for these characters to become oddly divorced from the past for the sake of keeping the story moving along, but that isn’t the case here. Oliver and Connor’s breakup comes from an honest emotional place that reaches back into their character histories in a meaningful way.
Laurel and Wes’s relationship also makes for an understated highlight of the episode, with Wes confessing that he has distanced himself from her because of her association with Frank.
How To Get Away With Murder has always struggled when it comes to balancing its serialized storytelling with its cases of the week.
Every once in awhile, it will bust out a case that’s as immersive as the more long-term drama between the main characters, but it’s rare. In “We’re Good People Now,” Annalise is teaching a pro bono clinic—something she proposes when the school takes away her criminal law class in an effort to transition her into a research position.
As part of the course, her students take on actual cases. For their first, they have to defend Karim, a father who is facing deportation after being found in possession of marijuana. The case brings to light the very real and serious problems with U.S. immigration policy, but it all happens on the periphery of the episode.
Like so many of How To Get Away With Murder’s courtroom subplots, it’s just sort of there. Karim and his daughter are barely developed characters. Any moment intended to be suspenseful in the trial comes off as forced and hollow.
I’ve been rewatching season one of The Good Wife, which only makes How To Get Away With Murder’s shortcomings when it comes to imbuing its cases of the week with urgency and depth all the more glaringly obvious.
Whether they were judges, opposing counsel, or clients, the tertiary characters on The Good Wife were treated with just as much nuance and detail as the main characters. They would sometimes only be around for one episode, but they weren’t treated like temporary guests.
How To Get Away With Murder is a less hospitable host. There have certainly been major exceptions, but one-off characters on this show are written like one-off characters, drawn in big, vague strokes.
So yes, watching “We’re Good People Now” amounts to a lot of waiting for something to happen. When Michaela shouts “boring!” at Laurel mid-episode, I found myself agreeing. We’re three seasons into How To Get Away With Murder now, so we know the drill. Someone’s going to get murdered.
Ah, but here is where How To Get Away With Murder changes the game a bit this time around. Someone indeed gets murdered at episode’s end, but we don’t know who. Someone died in a fire at Annalise’s house, and her reaction indicates that it’s someone she cares about, but we don’t get to see their face.
Over the course of the next several weeks, How To Get Away With Murder will not reveal who is dead but will reveal one person per episode who is not dead. It’s quite literally a game, and on a different show, I would roll my eyes at such an unconcealed gimmick.
But a murder reveal game is perfectly at home on How To Get Away With Murder. One of the best moments in HTGAWM history was when Annalise Keating uttered the words “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?,” and a murder reveal game is the same brand of bonkers that works on this show.
There’s a strong sense of self-awareness behind the decision to structure the first stretch of the season like this, like showrunner Peter Nowalk knows exactly why people keep coming back to this show.
But it could easily go too off the rails, too. But “We’re Good People Now” is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It plays it all a little too safe and a little too according to expectations. Summer’s over. Let the murder games begin.