‘How to Get Away With Murder’ Winter Finale Recap: Shock to the System

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Warning: This recap of the “Who’s Dead?” episode of How to Get Away With Murder contains spoilers.

We think we’re so good at TV. If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, then watching television is often the only thing any of us will ever be good at. We predict where storylines go, we guess punchlines before the characters do, we recite actors’ résumés with the fervor and accuracy of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. We know that shocks, twists, and sudden deaths are the lifeblood of any series, and by now we know the telltale signs of a character not long for their world. Did the actor recently book a pilot? Did that character suddenly get way more screen time than usual? Is his or her storyline conveniently separate from the rest of the characters’? If so, don’t get too attached.

These days we use the term “shocking twist” loosely. We’ve seen most of ’em before! But How to Get Away With Murder landed a doozy of a sucker punch this week. When the beginning of Season 3 promised to kill off a character by Episode 9, we jaded TV viewers immediately looked to the supporting cast: Who was it gonna be? And as the season eliminated possibilities with each passing episode, two likely candidates emerged: Nate and Frank. Both were inessential to the main premise, and both had storylines seemingly at their conclusion (or, in Nate’s case, borderline nonexistent). According to TV logic, one of them could be killed — it’d be sad for sure, but not exactly premise-rattling. “Who’s Dead?” not only subverted our expectations, it did so in a way that more than justified its season-long tease and reminded us that when a show is as audacious as this one, we can never truly know what to expect.

Wes is dead.

There will be a lot more to say about this as the second half of the season explores the fallout, but for now let’s talk about this incredible episode of television!

We began in the classroom, where Annalise was now just straight-up asking her students to defend serial killer Ted Bundy in court (hypothetically).

It provided an opportunity for students to give oral arguments (upon which they’d be graded) attempting to defend the indefensible. But the entire scene was intercut with what happened in last week’s harrowing conclusion: Annalise BEGGING Frank to commit suicide in her living room.

Frank did not commit suicide in Annalise’s living room. Bonnie was able to talk Frank down by reminding him that they loved each other and, even more devastating, that if he died she would have NO ONE left. Annalise, of course, was standing right there, and despite calming down, she still grumbled that Frank deserved to die. To say that these three have an interesting friendship would be accurate.

The next day Annalise was feeling a certain way about the dark turn her life had taken, so she did what any sane person would do: Get her hair done by Mary J. Blige!

Mary J. Blige gave Annalise’s ’do some upkeep and also reminded her that as a newly sober person she was allowed to go a little crazy. She also tipped her off that a certain assistant district attorney had been sniffing around, which put a little pep in Annalise’s step. Nothing energizes her more than a trifling enemy!

Wes was not super-comfortable with the fact that Laurel was hanging out with Frank again, or what exactly their relationship was anymore. In a series of scenes that played out for the rest of the episode, the two bickered about it over and over. Wes never really believed that Laurel was over Frank, and Laurel kept getting exasperated that Wes wouldn’t believe her. Trouble in paradise! (Paradise would be a strong word here.)

I loved that Annalise went into this lady’s office and pretended to bury the hatchet, even inviting her to get a drink and bond as sisters-in-law. But by the end of the conversation, they were shouting in each other’s faces about how, yes, a catfight would be beneath them both, but also CATFIGHT IT IS. The more pressing point was that the ADA was officially investigating Annalise now, and even though Annalise didn’t know what exactly the ADA was looking into, she did not like this one bit. By now, Annalise has enough skeletons in her closet to properly call it a mass grave.

Because all of the law students did a great job of hypothetically emancipating Ted Bundy, Annalise gave them all passing grades! This meant they all began drinking booze from Dixie cups, and Michaela and Laurel even kissed on the mouth! A drunken Connor maintained a bitter ’tude toward Oliver because of their most recent breakup, and when Oliver reminded him of the time in Season 1 when Connor claimed to have an addiction problem, Connor sneered that it had been a lie and basically admitted he’d been covering up the fact that he’d been involved in a MURDER. Oliver didn’t actually put this together until later when two Google searches revealed the truth, that Connor had helped cover up Sam’s murder. But, in general, I have to say that drunkenly admitting to covering up a murder is a classic party foul. Nobody needs to hear that at at party.

Brett Butler made her official entrance as Trishelle Pratt, Michaela’s “swamp trash” adoptive mother. Not too much came of this plotline, except for perhaps the most shocking twist of the entire episode: Back home Michaela goes by “Mickey”! Anyway, Trishelle had recently left her husband and needed a place to crash.

Michaela was not thrilled about this idea, and compounded with several other longstanding grudges, she was going to need her mom to leave ASAP. But before that happened, Asher, Connor, and Laurel showed up very drunk and started doing shots with Trishelle! (I loved when Trishelle took a gander at Connor’s Humpr app and seemed pretty into the idea.) Moms!

Annalise showed up to Nate’s parking structure and demanded to know if he was gonna snitch on her or not to the ADA. He was offended by the accusation and their argument devolved into a nasty spat where she accused him of abandoning her, and he told her to F off basically. Needless to say, within minutes Annalise was back home drinking entire bottles of vodka. It’s hard staying on the wagon when it keeps rolling by your ex’s house, you know?

So, after a long afternoon of drinking straight vodka and also burning all of her files and destroying her laptop (out of paranoia), Annalise drunkenly stumbled over to Bonnie’s house, where Bonnie attempted to get her to drink water and eat soup. Bonnie was a true Mother Teresa figure in this episode.

And then this happened…

Hahahahaha WHAT? I mean, it’s truly saying something about how jam-packed this episode was that a casual kiss between Annalise and Bonnie barely makes the top 5 most memorable moments. But, yes, a drunken Annalise kissed Bonnie and it was amazing. I doubt anything will come of this, but as an added twist on their already weird relationship, it felt important.

Here’s where the episode began to get forebodingly greenish. We knew Wes was going to somehow narc on Annalise for something she’d done, but this episode revealed that the authorities had discovered Rebecca’s remains out in the woods and wanted to trace them back to Annalise. At this point Wes fired his lawyer (for suggesting he pin the murder on Annalise) and began his own scheme of some kind. But what?

Bonnie had already gotten wind of the investigation and strongly suggested to Frank that he “take the fall” for Rebecca’s murder, as he was the only one who could “save” everyone. Which was pretty rich considering BONNIE had murdered Rebecca and had caused this problem in the first place. Frank was baffled about why Bonnie would claim to love him so much only to then ask him to “fall on a grenade.” It was all very weird! But we’ll get back to this conversation in a second.

Meanwhile, we saw Nate walk into Annalise’s empty house. This couldn’t be a good sign, right? And that bottle of vodka near the unattended fireplace couldn’t be a good sign either, right? And a little later on (though it was unclear how much later), we saw Laurel enter Annalise’s house ostensibly to meet Wes. And in a long, unbroken shot, this happened:

OH, NO! Well, that explained how Laurel got all charred and laid up in the hospital.

We were then treated to basically a rehash of every flash-forward we’d seen throughout the season, including Bonnie calling an unknown person and alerting him to Laurel’s pregnancy. That person was Frank! And let me tell you, I was very happy he wasn’t the person #UnderTheSheet. Storywise it could have made sense if he’d been killed off, but seeing as he’s one of my favorite characters on TV, I would have been bummed to see him go. So if you were like me, you were probably going, “Nice knowing ya, Nate!” Except then it wasn’t Nate! We saw Nate enter the morgue and unveil the actual victim:

It was Wes.

The shock came in several waves. First it was like, BUT THE FLASH-FORWARDS! As it turned out, his flash-forward had been a decoy. That scene hadn’t happened at the same time as the others, but rather in the recent past. Something happened between Wes’s meeting with the detectives and this moment right here, and that thing hadn’t been good for his health. The second wave was more like CAN THEY DO THIS? Wes was not only one of the main students, but had been the closest thing to an audience surrogate since the beginning of the series! His storyline was not only integral to Annalise’s, it also touched almost every other character’s. These ladies know what I’m talking about:

This episode then continued to break our hearts with what amounted to a montage of each character’s learning of and then grappling with Wes’s death. Just lots of long shots of shattered, open-mouthed grief. So tough.

And just when it began to set in that HTGAWM had really gone there… Nate arrived at Annalise’s jail cell to drop one last bombshell: Wes was already dead before her house exploded. Meaning, he’d been murdered. And that, my friends, is the next big mystery for this season to uncover. Remember that conversation between Bonnie and Frank? Did it lead to one of them murdering Wes? Nah, too easy. Or remember a few episodes back when Connor (out of the blue) threatened to murder Wes if he went to the cops? I do! But if there’s one thing this episode proved, it’s to never expect the most obvious option.

Finally, in what amounted to a devastating salute, we got to see the moment when Wes left the police department (with a mysterious new urgency) and walked out into heavenly daylight. Because this show plays with multiple timelines, I think we’ll continue to see a lot of Alfred Enoch on our TV screens when the series returns in January. But it doesn’t change the fact that from here on out, this show will be different. And devastating.

“Who’s Dead?” was peak How to Get Away With Murder. This show has always made a promise of keeping us on our toes, but this one got us on our toes and then pushed us off a ledge. It’s truly hard to know how these characters will ever recover from this, how the show itself could ever return to case-of-the-week normalcy. But that just makes it more vital and engrossing than ever. HTGAWM just capitalized on three years of character work, astonishing acting, and ingenious writing. This particular twist won’t exactly leave us with the warmest feelings this holiday season, but I think I speak for all of us when I say I can’t WAIT for it to return.

What did YOU think of “Who’s Dead?”

How to Get Away With Murder returns Jan. 19 at 10 p.m. on ABC. Watch clips and full episodes of HTGAWM for free on Yahoo View.