How to Get Away With Murder Recap: Head Case

Back off, Marcia Gay Harden. Photo: Mitch Haaseth/ABC
How to Get Away With Murder
Episode Title
Best Christmas Ever
Editor’s Rating

Last week on How to Get Away With Murder, it seemed that one Annalise Keating and her murderous mentees were all set to see their slaughter of Sam go down quietly, now that they were all for one and also #TeamAnnalise.

Except then there was a hitch. In the form of Marcia Gay Harden. That’s right, Murder fans, Shondaland’s brought out the big guns. Because in Sam’s sister Hannah Keating, you can rest assured, Annalise is about to meet her match.

The Setup: 
Annalise is wiling away the days between Christmas and New Year’s in a pancake- and vodka-fueled haze at the Hamrick Hotel, ignoring calls from Nate and her team. By "vodka-fueled haze," I mean straight-up cleaning out the minibar. As the ball drops, so do the tears, fast and furious.

When she finally returns to the old Keating Victorian (rocking a really cute cobalt-blue coat), purportedly from a visit to her mother’s, Hannah’s already settled in — after all, it is the house she grew up in.

The first thing Hannah does is call Annalise out on the fact that she's going off on visits to her mom while her husband is missing. “When a person’s missing, you stay. You put up posters so that you’re there when they come back.”

Annalise tells her that Sam’s not coming back. He’s guilty. He’s gone. “Would you come back?”

Hannah says she saw him the day after the dead girl, Lila, was supposedly killed. They shared lobsters; he fixed the squeaky front screen-door. He was looking forward to “a fresh start.” Doesn’t sound like a killer to her. Annalise’s answer: “People don’t make sense.” She hands a box of evidence over to Hannah and says, quite definitively, “He is not the man we thought he was.” B

This Week’s Lesson:
First day of the new semester and we’re back in the classroom — woo-hoo! “This is How to Get Away With Murder, the second semester — where things get even harder than they were in the first.” 

Michaela’s making small talk and rocking a knockoff rock. Connor doesn’t care; he’s worried about Hannah’s arrival. Could mean trouble. Wes, meanwhile, is caught off-guard by the Hannah revelation. Why didn’t Annalise tell him? Because he’s still on a need-to-know basis. 

And that’s really the heart of the this week’s lesson: Keep your mouth shut. The more people who know your business, the more likely the secret is to get out. A

Case of the Week:
Back at the office, we meet a DUI walk-in named Jackie. A skeptical Annalise lets her have it — she thinks she’s a “rubbernecker,” there to get a good look at the freak who sold out her own husband — but then the woman says her husband’s holding two girls captive in their basement. She’s been with the guy since was 16 and couldn’t get pregnant, so he showed up with Rachel. Then Lynn, who’s now pregnant again. The last time the baby died, which is why Jackie's turning herself in.

The team is conflicted: The newbies think she should pay, but Annalise wants to get the woman a plea. “She was 16 — she’s a victim of his abuse, too. What, have you guys never done anything bad that you need a lawyer for?” She’s got them there.

Annalise goes to the DA and cuts the deal without even giving them her name. “If the DA agrees, then it's your job to make sure every word out of your client’s mouth is an element you use in their defense.” The lady confesses, claiming she did everything she could to protect those girls.

Annalise asks for three years' probation and outpatient mental treatment, which elicits frowns from the team. “She’s a victim," Annalise snaps. "That’s how the cycle of abuse works. So stop judging and do your job.”

But the judge won’t seal the plea deal until she hears from the victims firsthand — a closed session. No public, no jury, no press. 

In the interviews, it all seems to be going smoothly. But then the girls tell Annalise that Jackie gave them spiked warm milk, something to knock them out before her husband would come in to rape them. Uh-oh. When Annalise confronts her, Jackie says, “You’ve never been raped, have you? Because I have been. So, yes, I helped put them to sleep. But only so they wouldn’t have the memories.”

In listening to the tapes, Wes comes across another problem. Jackie slips up twice: using the words “our baby” and “Lynn deserves to keep this one.” It doesn’t add up. Turns out the other supposedly dead kid is alive — and Jackie’s been raising her herself. When Annalise confronts Jackie, she confesses, but she won’t tell Annalise where the girl is unless she gets the plea deal. The child’s 4, and Jackie told her husband that the little girl, Heather, died — she had seen the way he’d starting looking at her, so she did what she had to do. Now Heather’s alone with her giraffe, waiting for Mommy to come back.

Annalise gets Jackie her deal and sends cops to get the girl, but she's not done: She tells Jackie the girl is safe — and then tells her the plea is gone. After all, the best liar in the room with always be Annalise. She’s withdrawn as Jackie’s lawyer. Good luck finding another one.

Ouch! And with that, Annalise reminds us why we’re watching in the first place. A ripped-from-the-headlines case; a complex, all-grey defendant; an emotionally compelling and divisive crime — and then, of course, a delicious twist. It’s procedural at its finest, Murder-style, and while it doesn’t necessarily throw back to the matter at hand, it definitely reminds us of Annalise’s more human side while demonstrating that perhaps, even in the eyes of her ever-trusting mentees, not everything she does is flawless. A

Christmas Breakdowns
Last week we were thrown into thick of things. But the clock is ticking, so of course we need the backstory. But this time around, we get it in more efficient little snippets, and not nearly as breakneck as usual, which makes them way more easily digestible.

Laurel torpedoes family dinner at her clan’s posh Palm Beach pad by regaling them with details from Sam’s case and then announcing she’s dating two guys at once. Her father banishes her from the table. (Feliz Navidad, indeed.) Back in town, Cranky Frankie insult alert! When Laurel decides to chat about Connor’s car — loaded with forensic evidence — right there in the courthouse, he tells her to be quiet and sit at the kiddie table while the adults are taking care of things. 

Connor’s home in Grand Rapids. His sister is trying to set him up, but he’s not interested, and he tells her about Oliver. Back in town, he gives Oliver a hideous yellow-and-green-knit hat, but Oliver reminds him that they’re not together. Still, he lets him stay in for a movie. When Connor leaves, he discovers his car is gone. Oops. Connor tells Frank, who tells him to report it to the police. “Don’t you want the insurance money?”

Back at Wes's, a Christmas card for previous tenant Rudy arrives in the mail — with a $20 inside. Wes wonders why Rudy's relatives wouldn’t know he doesn’t live here anymore. Suspicious. Later, he has another nightmare and wonders about those scratches on the floor.

In Philly, Asher’s hanging out with Frankie on Christmas Eve. Later, when Bitter Blonde takes him aside to tell him to get his act together, he tells her she hurt his feelings, which totally catches her off-guard. “Everyone here makes fun of me all the time, but you didn’t, and then you were mean to me for no reason. But whatever, I’ll stop being a jerk.”

Meanwhile, Hannah gets a lead on Sam: upstate. Annalise seems to have her hands full with her “house of horrors” case; Bonnie says she’ll look into it, but Hannah is still a bit flummoxed by Annalise’s odd reaction to the news. Later, as she pulls up in front of Nate’s, Annalise knows she’s being followed — by Hannah. She was right all along.

Michaela’s spends New Year’s at Gracie Mansion with Aidan. Should've been a blast ... except she catches him flirting. With another guy. She asks if they’re screwing, but it turns out it’s Holden Wescott, one of his colleagues on the mayor’s campaign. She apologizes, but Aidan says they should postpone the wedding. 

After the case is resolved, Laurel takes it upon herself to be in charge of group therapy — on the wraparound porch of the old Victorian, of course — telling them she got back with Khan and had a fight with her family. Wes confesses to nightmares, that he’s scared he’s going crazy. But Michaela’s not sharing. So Connor wants to talk about how Laurel sold them out. “These two, the quiet ones, the dangerous ones, they’re still playing us.” Laurel says that’s why they need to be upfront — if they’re not in it together, they’re going to get caught. And, of course, that’s exactly when Hannah shows up.

These well-executed outtakes offered some insight into the mundane but very motivating moments that are driving each of our little murderers along their paths. Tensions are set up nicely, alliances have been set up and shattered, and we’re sure to see things boil over in coming episodes. B+

A Date With Nate
In bed (naturally), Nate’s conflicted. Annalise ignored his calls on Christmas; his wife is still in treatment but he told her about Annalise. She wants him to be happy, to move on, but he's not sure. Poor guy. So conflicted between his beautiful, powerful, secretive lover and his Über-understanding, cancer-stricken wife. What's a man to do? C

All’s Well – Or Not Really at All
Hannah might not be getting very far with Annalise and her murderous minions, but she does know a weak link when she sees it. And she sees it in Bitter Blonde Bonnie. She tells her that there’s not a shred of Sam’s DNA on Lila's body, which means Annalise could get the case thrown out in a heartbeat. If she wanted to. Seems she doesn’t want to, though, doesn’t it? Which is weird, considering that Sam is her husband. Would Bonnie know anything about why? Then Hannah makes her case for Bonnie’s help. “I know how special you were to Sam.”

Frank arrives just in time to put an end to those shenanigans. As he always does. B

The Takeaway:

Later, Frank tells Annalise that the New York call bought them some time. But not for long. “She wants answers, Annalise,” Frank says. “You want me to handle it? Just say the word.”

But this is family; Annalise has to take care of it herself. So she cooks dinner. “I am who I am; if you don’t like it, I don’t care,” she tells her sister-in-law. But Hannah knows that’s bullshit and demands to know the truth — so Annalise tells her. She confesses that she’s been sleeping with Nate since summer. That she found out about Lila three months ago. That she did everything she could to cover Sam’s tracks. That she tried to help him.

The tears are just the right touch. “All this time, I was praying you were hiding him somewhere, that it was all a ruse,” Hannah says. “That you had him some place safe.”

“He’s gone,” Annalise says. And it’s perhaps the truest thing she’s said in a long time.

Across town, Wes, at home in his rundown apartment, still wrapped in his coat and scarf, sees a news report on TV: a body found in the landfill. Sam Keating’s body.