Note: This review does contain some mild spoilers of the first and second series.
The brilliant first season of How to Get Away with Murder was always a tough act to follow, but this season is a great success, thanks to a combination of great writing and acting to keep the tension high for the characters and the audience.
The key features that made the first season of How to Get Away with Murder so successful has one again returned for its sequel. At the heart of the events of this season is a devastating premise: Annalise Keating (the brilliant Viola Davis) is lying on the floor of a mansion, bleeding out and close to death. This is arguably an even more impactful image than that of the first season, and that as viewers is what we want to see, with writers taking more risks knowing how the audience will respond. As in its predecessor, small hints are dropped in the episodes leading up to the fateful incident, many of them red herrings. This element was also done well, however in this instance the simplicity of the revelations in the first season felt more impactful than these, which occasionally felt a bit too complex and disjointed, with the action jumping between different groups of characters instead of sticking with one central focus.
In a similar way to the first season, the intensity doesn’t diminish when Annalise’s near-death experience has played out in real life. The focus for this season attempts to expand the lives of the older characters at Annalise’s law firm by switching to a case a heavily pregnant Annalise had a decade ago, one that directly impacts on a young Wes and his mother. The truth behind Wes’s involvement in his mother’s death and the identity of his absent father, as well as the fate of Annalise’s baby, is played out well, thanks to good acting in these scenes. Out of all of the students in the show, Wes (Alfred Enoch) was developed the most in the first season, and these reveals have marked him as the main protagonist from the younger cast. This has made him an intriguing character, but has made some of the others feel underused as a result. The franchise does appear to be branching in new directions though, judging by the many questions raised by the final couple of episodes, especially a shocking end of season cliffhanger, so the likes of Connor (Jack Falahee), Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Laurel (Karla Souza) may yet get a more impactful character arc, as they did in Season One.
None of the protagonists (or the antagonists for that matter) are written with either black or white motivations, which is testament to the writing of the show. The writers manage to manipulate its audience to empathise or at least understand the main characters’ motivations, in a similar way that these characters manipulate guest characters. The team at Annalise’s law firm manage to do some pretty despicable things to the lives of others in order to keep their secrets, for the most part unpunished. The season revolves around a central case defending the two adopted children of a rich couple who were violently murdered, in contrast to the mostly episodic cases of the first season. This gives the writers the opportunity to entwine the actions and guilt of the main characters into the other central narratives. The writers’ manipulation of the viewers to at least like the characters makes us feel complicit is a very clever trope as it increases the tension that the characters feel, as though we feel that we are getting caught at the same time. I can only hope that the show continues in future seasons to deliver such delicious tension and shocking moments as they have done in the first couple of seasons.
The second season of ABC’s addictive crime drama continues to shine a light in the genre. Brilliant performances throughout the cast, most notably the always reliable and powerful Viola Davis and up and coming Alfred Enoch, elevate the personal narratives of the characters, whilst the writing and its shocking twists surprise the audience at every turn. With several questions raised from an effective cliffhanger twist, I can only hope that the next season of How to Get Away with Murder is as much a serve as this one.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆½
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