8:00pm PT by Jean Bentley
What 'How to Get Away With Murder' Season 5 Could Look Like After That Finale Cliffhanger
[This story contains spoilers from the season four finale of ABC's How to Get Away With Murder.]
In a pinch, How to Get Away With Murder's fourth season finale was designed to be able to serve as a series finale. But while the ABC Shondaland drama has not officially received a fifth season order, he in no way intends for the episode to actually serve as a series finale.
"Not at all," Nowalk told reporters, including THR, during a recent screening of the season four finale. "I don’t want to end on a mystery. I’d want there to be answers. I guess we’d have to make a movie or something. I’d do it on my iPhone if I had to."
Thursday's episode tied up several of the show's long-running storylines — and, of course, set up several new mysteries (including one very big cliffhanger that introduced a key new character). Below, Nowalk shares his thoughts on the episode's biggest beats, his plans for season five, his current working relationship with boss Shonda Rhimes (who recently departed ABC Studios for Netflix) and whether he's writing to a specific series ending.
Asher and Michaela's brutal breakup
Though law students Asher (Matt McGorry) and Michaela (Aja Naomi King) have been on the verge of a split ever since she hooked up with Olivia Pope's right-hand man Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) during the Murder-Scandal crossover, and the duo finally ended things for good. Except Asher still clearly loves his boo, and the door seemed to be open for an eventual reconciliation. However, the Annalise Keating-inspired move Michaela pulled in order to help the group out of their latest legal situation might cause Asher — and Connor (Jack Falahee), Oliver (Conrad Ricamora), Laurel (Karla Souza), Bonnie (Liza Weil) and Frank (Charlie Weber) — to think of her differently. Annalise (Viola Davis) certainly does.
The group's fellow law student Simon (Behzad Dabu) accidentally shot himself while they were stealing data relating to Laurel's corrupt father, Jorge (Esai Morales), from the law firm where Michaela and Simon interned. In order to keep him from snitching on them (after he regained consciousness), Michaela reported him to ICE, getting the Pakistan native deported. The problem? Simon is gay, so she effectively sentenced him to either death or a sad, closeted life in Pakistan. Can the group forgive her for doing something so brutal?
"It's up for debate whether she did the right thing or not," Nowalk says. "I mean, obviously Annalise has done a lot of bad things. She put Nate in jail way back when in season one, and Michaela was horrified by that. But part of becoming an adult is to realize you can't always do the right thing and protect yourself at the same time. So that's exciting to me ... the student becomes the teacher, and how does the teacher handle that?"
The group's quest throughout the season has been to catch Laurel's businessman father in his corruption, and they were finally able to get him arrested by having his lawyer, Michaela's mentor Tegan (Amirah Vann), rat him out (and since he was behind the death of DA Denver in the finale, he'll be gone for a while). Annalise also convinced him to drop the custody battle for Laurel and Wes' son, Christopher, and got the infant back to his mother. But what happened to her mother, who was also part of the conspiracy that led to Wes' death? That's still unclear. And while Laurel maintained that she had nothing to do with her mother's disappearance, she had scratches up and down her arms as she stepped into the shower at the end of the episode.
"Laurel's a great mystery box, of course. Laurel has obviously grown up around some pretty horrible people, and the whole premise of the show is we don't know what we're capable of until we're in an emotional moment or locked in a room," Nowalk says. "So, I do think something clearly happened. The scratches aren't from a cat we haven't seen. Just what happened, we don't know. I think that's something we'll probably find out sooner than later [in season five]."
After Annalise teamed with Olivia Pope to bring her class-action lawsuit to the Supreme Court in the Scandal crossover, she finally learned the verdict in the case: she won. The recovering alcoholic ended the season in an unusually peaceful place, and at a career crossroads: Does she want to take a more publicly visible position? Does she want to go back to teaching? Does she want to practice on the national stage? All things she'll have to figure out in the new season, says Nowalk.
"I haven't made any specific decisions. But what I do love for Annalise is right now she's really doing well with her sobriety and she shed a lot of her own self-hate. I think the Isaac therapy actually really helped her. And I think she's in a good place, because she can see hope, finally — what she hasn't seen in a long time," he says. "What I do love is this idea that the class action and being a different type of defense attorney will really drive her. We started the show with her trying to take on outlandish, wild, tabloid cases for the power and the money. And I think there's something in her that maybe wants to counterbalance all the bad stuff she does with maybe doing more good work for people and taking on more criminal justice reform cases."
While she'll always be close to the group, she probably won't become their teacher again as they enter their 3L year. "I think they're always connected by their wrongs, and I think they're connected by blood. That baby is a connector for all of them. That's the one hopeful thing in their life. Whether she's their teacher or not, I want to make it feel as different and real as possible. I don't think she's going to go back to teaching their lecture," Nowalk adds.
Plus, they might not even still be in law school if the show returns for a fifth season. Connor might, because he's heading back to school (Annalise's shout-out from the steps of the Supreme Court helped his case to be let back in after failing out and not dropping out like he told everybody), but Nowalk is not ruling out a longer-than-normal time jump.
"Most of them will be 3L. Connor has a lot to make up, then we'll see where we come back and I'm always open to skipping time," Nowalk says. "They could be dropouts, graduates, who knows, next season."
Who is Gabriel Maddox?
At the end of the episode, Nate (Billy Brown) found a stash of files on the entire group (except him) in Denver's desk. The juiciest tidbit: A DNA test that noted the child Bonnie had at 15, a result of rape, could still be alive. But does Bonnie know that?
"All we know is Bonnie said in episode five that she was told her child was dead. But is she lying? Is someone else lying to Bonnie? It's all possible," Nowalk teases.
But that wasn't the only family-related revelation: At the end of the episode, Frank was at Middleton U's law school sign-up day and saw a handsome new student named Gabriel Maddox (played by actor Rome Flynn). Frank immediately called someone on the phone and told the mystery person on the other end, "The good times didn’t last long. Her kid's here." Whose kid is he talking about? Bonnie's? Annalise's? Someone else's entirely? That's a mystery that will certainly be addressed in the fifth season.
"We really like to play with the pronouns here," Nowalk says. "Obviously, Gabriel has a mother, and Frank knows of that mother or knows the mother. So that is a huge mystery, and we're going to be giving hints about it all next season." Plus, he adds, "I want people to get to know Gabriel before we know his origins."
While the series has not been picked up for the fifth season, Nowalk wrote the finale as if there would be more. "We obviously do a lot of cliffhangers on the show," he says. "There are cliffhangers: There's who is Gabriel? There's why does Laurel have scratches on her forearm? And there's what are in those files that Nate found?"
But his intent was to clean the slate of much of the seasons-old drama that has surrounded the students and Annalise for so long. "I'm tired of some of the old mysteries. I think that was our challenge, just to show some character growth and clean slates and new relationships and people starting fresh. There's going to be things from the past that always come back, but this is a real, new journey — to the point where I feel like if you dropped off the show a little bit, you could maybe come back and get sucked back in if we do a good job."
He's already begun thinking about not only the new mysteries in season five, but also the new flashback and flash-forward structure. "Shockingly, the writers and I have already talked about what they are next season. Usually in the beginning we're just like, 'Don't know,' and we come up with it as we go," he says. "But I think next season, my feeling is they're going to be twisty, but they're also going to be more fun. I don't want to give away too much, because I also could change my mind. But I think they're going to be more fun and a different tone."
Another thing he's certain about: Oliver and Connor will definitely get married. "I personally kind of hate weddings, and I hate the trope of it, so we're going to do it in our own fun way," he says. "Obviously, this wedding we've been setting up forever. I didn't want to do it in the finale because I didn't want to do something that just felt rushed. So when it comes, it will be good."
The fact that so many loose ends were tied up in the finale means that if the show comes back, there certainly could be some changes in the cast. "I hope not," Nowalk says. "I love my cast and I love these characters. I really believe that there's a lot more to discover, and those files are a symbol of that. What did Denver dig up on them that maybe these characters don't even know about themselves. This always goes back to the question of why did Annalise pick them. Was there a reason why she picked them in the beginning? Why has she stayed so loyal to them? So all of that is still to be investigated."
Nowalk also says that while he has an idea for what the final season of Murder could look like, he's not the type of writer who adheres to a strict plan.
"I have an idea for the last season, for sure," he says. "Obviously, it's hard, because you don't know when that last season's going to be. So I've been pretty honest about this since the beginning. When you write a pilot, I didn't know who killed Sam. So, am I the type of writer who knows how the show's going to end? No. And I think that's life.
He continues, "People change really quickly. Trump became President, I feel like the whole world changed in a night. So that's kind of how I'm writing. I never thought Annalise would argue at the Supreme Court. I didn't think she'd give a shit about that. Now I'm really proud of her for that. So, yes. I think there's a trajectory that I'm keeping in mind, and not wanting to get there too soon. Working on Grey's Anatomy season 4, nobody thought it was going to go to 15, or whatever it's at. So you've just got to be flexible. Hopefully, people believe it."
The state of Shondaland
Rhimes remains an executive producer on Murder, and she is who Nowalk pitched the Supreme Court crossover idea to. But Nowalk says she hasn't been involved in the show's day-to-day operations in a while, so nothing will change now that the producer has a mega-deal at Netflix.
"She's still an executive producer, her and Betsy Beers. I was just with Betsy having a meeting. Creatively, it's the same as it's been really since the beginning of the first season. She's always been, like, 'Fly, little birdie, fly,' pushing me out of the nest," he says. "So at this point, I'll go to her when I have a question. I can still do that. She still works on the show. We all still work together, just her new stuff will be at Netflix. So it really doesn't change anything for me. We'll still work in the same building. That's my separation anxiety. I'm just like, 'Don't go yet.' But she's been so good about just giving me my wings, to be cheesy."
What did you think of the Murder finale? Sound off in the comments, below.