Thank. God. It’s. Thursday.
Shonda Rhimes’ TGIT lineup returns Jan. 29 from its since-November hiatus, and while Mer and Der may be on the rocks and Olivia has gone missing, let’s fast-forward through “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” and jump to the 10 o’clock hour on ABC where a murder has just been committed.
The midseason premiere, titled “Hello Raskolnikov,” picks up right where the first half of the freshman hit left off — with blood on Wes’ (Alfred Enoch) hands and Professor Annalise Keating (SAG winner Viola Davis) peering over her husband’s (Tom Verica) dead body, thanks to her students.
“All of the sudden, everything is at risk,” Enoch told Variety at an advanced press screening of the return episode on the “HTGAWM” set. “Everything could be snatched away, everyone is fighting very hard to keep that, to keep their lives intact.”
Now that Murder Night has passed, the thriller will feature a new format (a “mini reboot,” says showrunner Pete Nowalk), as the mystery continues to unfold on the morning after Sam’s murder.
“The show needs to be different,” Nowalk tells Variety, explaining that flash-forward scenes are a thing of the past, now that the series has caught up with its #WhoKilledSam timeline. “I don’t want the show to feel formulaic that way.”
Nowalk adds, “Obviously it’s something that I’ve always really liked about the show, using the flash-forwards. To stay real to the show and not exhaust the audience with cutting back and forth in time, we just needed to come up with a different way to tell stories about these characters so it’s just energetically, the show feels different.”
The main question of the back half of the season is, well, “how do they get away with murder?” ponders Nowalk.
“What I was always really fascinated about with the idea of these characters who really didn’t like each other and didn’t choose each other and are now going to be forced to be in each other’s lives in a really intimate and intense way [is] they don’t necessarily trust each other, but they need to,” he says. “I found that diving into their characters and their interpersonal dynamics and peeling away the onion of that was really exciting for the rest of the season and different than the first half. I’m hoping the characters get to know each other better and surprise us with how they react.”
Jack Falahee who plays the fantastically-spastic Connor explains, “The second half of the season is going to explore the alliances being made and enemies and how these relationships shift, given that we’ve all sort of committed this murder together.”
Though Bonnie (Liza Weil) was not aware of Sam’s fate at the end of the midseason finale, thanks to sharing a hot-and-heavy moment with Asher (Matt McGorry), Weil agrees that with murder on their minds, Annalise’s protégé’s take new shape.
“That’s really the interesting thing about these last episodes is that dynamic shifts from episode to episode and sometimes a few within an episode,” Weil says. “You think people are going have moments of completely losing it and shifting loyalty and then it’s on somebody else.”
Nowalk sheds light on the character development to come, now that the Keating Five has to work together to conceal their crime — which may not go so well, given Sam’s remains being tossed into a dumpster. (Have these law students not learned anything from “Law & Order?”)
“Laurel (Karla Souza) comes into her own,” Nowalk says. “It’s almost like she was bored before, but now she’s kind of found who she is and her calling in a weird way.”
As for the rest of the crew, anyone has the potential to crack under pressure at any time. Enoch told press, including Variety, that Wes’ loyalty lies with Lila’s suspected murderer-turned-his-girlfriend Rebecca (Katie Findlay) more than with Annalise who now knows that he killed her cheating, lying husband.
Nowalk adds “all rules go out the window” for Connor and Michaela (Aja Naomi King). “They’re floating in a scary way. They have to discover who this new version of themselves is.”
Even Asher, the only student not directly involved with killing Sam, could turn against his crew, if and when he learns of the murder. “I don’t think he would have stood there for it. He has a very strong moral compass,” McGorry says of his peers’ dead deed. Falahee chimed in, “he’s like the good guy,” to which McGorry replied, “He’s still got to be a little bit of a douche-bag, but ultimately, he does have a good heart, even if it’s a douchey heart.”
Though the two guys stand on different ends of the “morally ambiguous” spectrum in Shondaland, McGorry and Falahee share laughs and goof around on set, even coining their character’s ship-name: “Casher.”
Back on screen, “HTGAWM’s” final six episodes will only get messier. As Falahee puts it, “They’ve committed a murder, so that’s not great.”
Debra Birnbaum contributed to this report.