Creating more tension, drama and questions that its previous seasons, the writers and actors in the third season of How to Get Away With Murder have created one of the best watches in recent years.
As in previous seasons, the first half of the season’s narrative regards the events leading up to a devastating scene; season 3 has perhaps the best one to date. Annalise Keating’s house and law firm base is blazing, with a gathered crowd around. When Annalise (Viola Davis) arrives to witness her home burning down, it is revealed that the fire service found a couple of bodies in the wreck, one of whom is deceased. Annalise’s reaction makes it clear that the unknown person is someone she knows dearly. This sets up the season very well, as the first half gives clues as to who has perished in the fire, with the typical secrecy and misleading information we have come to expect for the writing. The brilliant middle episode, where the fire occurs, had me on the edge of my seat more than any show has in recent years. But this type of central event is a very smart decision, as it means that the second half of the season, which typically has had a slower pace and less tension when the truths are revealed, was full of questions and flashbacks centered on the the deceased individual.
As usual, the acting really turns characters who appear odious and selfish and makes them brilliantly developed. Viola Davis continues to carry much of the show’s emotional core, and her character Annalise has her most powerful arc of the show to date. Her transformation from a shell overly reliant on alcohol to a devastatingly shrewd individual, via a few episodes spent in prison for the death of the mystery individual, was massive. But Davis’ terrific portrayal ensures that the character remains grounded in believability. The many facets of Keating’s personality are on show in practically every episode, such is the strength of the character. I also love the fact that the writers have introduced more elements of her life outside of being a defense attorney, right down to the funny scenes in the salon Annalise visits.
After slightly subdued appearances for several of the younger cast members in the second season, their characters are given much more material to work with, most notably in their relationships with their family and partners. This is helped by the fact Conrad Ricamora is promoted to the main cast as Connor’s (Jack Falahee) boyfriend Oliver, who has a lot of potential and comes from a completely different angle than the rest of the cast members and in this season alone, helps to bring new dynamics to the main cast instead of just those at the law firm. Both Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Laurel’s (Karla Souza) poor family relationships come into focus this season, whilst Wes (Alfred Enoch) is under the spotlight for the shocking murder of his alleged father in the previous season.
Every one of the lead actors has their moment to shine in this season despite the slightly larger cast; it feels like so much happens in terms of narrative compared to season 2 in particular. Liza Weil is doing a great job to elevate the initially cold character of attorney Bonnie Winterbottom into a multi-layered individual. On the flip side I’m not sure that, following his departure from Annalise’s employment at the end of season 2, Frank Delfino’s (Charlie Weber) narrative arc here is strong enough to keep him as a fundamental presence, especially since it feels like he returns to where he started by the end of this season. Away from the primary cast, it feels like the attention to detail in creating multiple secondary characters that have a genuine role to play, such as the Dean of the college Annalise works at, Annalise’s family and the multiple individuals working for the DA. In doing so, no scene feels wasted; every one seems to contribute to the development of secondary and guest characters as much as the primary ones.
The third season of How to Get Away With Murder creates many questions, and though it answers many of these and those from previous seasons, the questions remain long after the identity of the arsonist regarding their motivations. A shocking end of season cliffhanger could present Annalise and her students with their toughest battle yet in the future. But future seasons will have to go a long way to even match the tension and drama created in season 3, one of the best seasons of a show I have watched in a long time.
Season Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆