ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder” is one psychotic break away from not getting away with murder at all. Wrapped up in a tangled mess of lies, the characters of Shondaland’s latest hit return for the second mid-season premiere, and are more twisted than ever. While Viola Davis puts on a performance well-deserving of another Emmy, the rest of the mid-season premiere falls victim to a haunted past that casts a shadow on the show’s future.

The second season opened with a shock as Annalise Keating (Viola Davis, “The Help”) lays screaming for help in a pool of her own blood. Loyal fans took to the #WhoShotAnnalise hashtag, tweeting predictions and reactions each week for the highly anticipated Thursday night Shonda extravaganza. November’s mid-season finale finally provided some answers, but in true Shonda Rhimes fashion, the answers were not nearly as satisfying as one would have hoped. Providing little clarity, Thursday night’s episode spans six agonizing weeks of Annalise’s recovery, resurrecting old demons uncovered at the shooting as she attempts to save herself and the Keating team from murder’s consequences yet again.

After an electrifying first season, “How To Get Away With Murder” is falling into the all-too-familiar structure of most murder/crime shows: someone does something really stupid (usually murder), and, instead of coming clean, tries to cover it up. Eventually, the consequences of the first really stupid thing don’t seem that bad compared to the mess of blood, lies and betrayal that have accumulated as a result of the cover-ups (usually more murders), and an initially captivating show becomes too convoluted for its own good. Slowly, rooting for the characters who were initially at the wrong place at the wrong time becomes harder as “victims of unfortunate circumstance” are stripped down to “empty villains.” Such is the fate that plagues Wes (Alfred Enoch, “Harry Potter”), one of the Keating Five and the undeniable center of all the murderous fallout. One wrong decision after another, Wes, the doe-eyed underdog at the beginning, has steadily lost relatability with viewers, and the psychological trauma he is unable to shake off in the second mid-season premiere further alienates him. However, Wes is not only the center of his own destruction, but of Annalise’s as well. A complicated back-story between the two begins to unfold at the expense of the rest of the characters, stealing time from Laurel (Karla Souza, “Instructions Not Included”) and Frank’s (Charlie Weber, “90210”) budding relationship and Bonnie’s (Liza Weil, “Gilmore Girls”) turn to the dark side, as flashback-driven storylines compete for screen time with those unfolding in real-time.

Despite the decline in character and plot development, “How To Get Away With Murder” still shines with a groundbreaking performance from leading lady Viola Davis. High on painkillers and bleeding through her raw stitches, Davis is mesmerizingly disturbed in the best way. Drug-laced strawberry ice cream spills down her chin as she slips into a hallucinogenic frenzy, and yet she is still able to pull her shit together to outsmart everyone in court. Her pain, however haunting, is what keeps the ruthless lawyer in the realm of humanity, allowing the complexity of her character to color a show overwhelmed in unrelatable darkness. 

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