Let’s talk about that ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ winter finale

Dec. 2, 2016, 2:04 p.m.

Caution: spoilers ahead.

I’m shocked. The Internet’s shocked. The first nine episodes of Season 3 of “How to Get Away with Murder” were a whirlwind — the season began with a new mystery, as always, and this time, it is that brilliant but hard-headed law professor and criminal defense lawyer Annalise Keating’s house has burnt down in a raging fire, with someone very dear to her heart in it. In classic “HTGAWM” fashion, flashbacks intermittently break each episode up, giving the viewer small hints at figuring out and piecing together the mystery in the present. This season, the flashbacks follow Annalise’s now-sophomore law interns, known as the Keating 5 — Wes, Laurel, Michaela, Connor and Asher — along with snarky Keating 5 enemy Simon, as they compete for Annalise’s favor in her new pro-bono, hands-on law clinic class. As the episodes progress, the flashbacks creep closer to the present, and in the winter finale, we finally find out who dies.

And it’s not pretty.

When the season premiered, I read a fan theory that Wes would die because of his aloof behavior in the flashbacks and his scant appearances in the present. No one believed it because obviously, creator and showrunner Peter Nowalk would never kill off the character whose shoulders the entire show initially had rested on.

But then he did.

Looking back on it, should anybody be surprised? Not really. Should anybody be sad? Not really. As TV fanatics know, writers rarely kill off any of the main cast members. It’s usually too risky a move because people get angry, the show loses a strong and stable character, and plot lines can get completely thrown out of whack. Now, this varies from series to series, with some shows (see: “The Walking Dead”) developing a brand identity based on killing off seeming vital members of their main cast.

But there were those who thought that “HTGAWM” might go with the safer, more clichéd choice and just kill off a character who was billed as main cast but nevertheless wasn’t really part of the core group. In this case, the most likely candidates were Nate and Frank. And both of them had it coming too — at the end of Season 2, Frank admitted to Annalise that he was partially responsible for the death of her unborn child. And partway through Season 3, Nate broke off his relationship with Annalise after vehemently criticizing her. Plus, it wasn’t going to Bonnie. Her life on this show has just been really difficult, and if she were killed, it just wouldn’t be fair.

For faithful “HTGAWM” followers, the show built tension by slowly winnowing people off the list of potential victims. Episode 2 confirmed that the newly-promoted-to-main-cast Oliver is still alive when he found Annalise and wiped the memory on her phone. Episode 3 showed Bonnie commiserating with Annalise after the fire. Laurel eventually turns up, bloodied and burnt, but still living. Connor, unsurprisingly, is shown safe and in bed with another man. And eventually, after the deceased is revealed to be male, we’re left with only Frank, Nate and Wes.

Ever since the show’s conception I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Frank, and I can’t seem to form an opinion on Nate. Even though Frank’s pretty broken inside, he’s loyal and can carry out Annalise’s tasks like nobody’s business, which make him a valuable ally. He also seems to genuinely love Laurel, and I’ve been dying for Laurel to finally find love. Nate just seems like the average guy on a show that involves a lot of crazy, and his role on the show hasn’t been all that pivotal — I didn’t even realize he was part of the main cast until Season 2. He’s been on and off with Annalise, and because he’s a cop, he’s helped to cover up many of Annalise’s and the Keating 5’s crimes. Which makes him likable, I guess. But his personality is so bland that he just doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose on the show. His death would be pretty easy on the viewer but pretty hard on Annalise. Which could work. And yet, after all the buildup, I was kind of hoping for something more.

Wes, on the other hand, I have just downright disliked, ever since Season 1. Even though Annalise is technically the main character, the plot that began this show revolved around Wes. The only reason I am still watching this show is because all the other main characters are fantastically entertaining. In Season 1, Wes initially started dating Rebecca, Annalise’s client in a murder case. And he was constantly defensive of her to Annalise and the Keating 5. Yes, people do things for love, but really? His relationship with her did not feel at all genuine, and Wes goes through so much trouble to protect her without thinking of Annalise and the rest of the gang. He fights, he yells, he goes into hiding and gets everyone worried, and he seems to be unable to handle himself. Seriously, does this guy have any sort of moral compass? Or any grasp on decent coping mechanisms? It’s one thing for a TV character to be morally compromised. It’s another thing for them to be selfish and dumb.

And eventually I got sick of the “HTGAWM” vicious circle — Annalise gets angry at Wes, Wes walks out, Annalise and Wes make up. When it’s revealed that Annalise let him off the law school waitlist because she felt guilty about her role in his mother’s death, Wes basically goes off the deep end. And while what he has been through is certainly traumatic, Annalise has been helping Wes ever since the beginning. The things that Wes has been through are no excuse for him to turn against Annalise again and again. So should I have been rooting for his death? Probably not, but I’m not terribly sad about it either.

But I was definitely surprised by Wes’ death — so props to Nowalk and his writers. Since Wes held up such a large portion of the show, it was a bold move. And now with Wes gone, we’ll thankfully get to see more of the cast I enjoy watching — although the rest of the season will still feature Wes and will probably follow up the coroner’s claim that Wes was dead before the fire.

Now we’re left wondering who killed Wes, why exactly the house burnt down and who, in fact, will get away with murder this time.

Contact Olivia Popp at [email protected]

Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.

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