The Heroine Journey in How To Get Away With Murder

Introducing a brand new storytelling device during the penultimate episode of a six seasons-long series is a bold move, but How To Get Away With Murder loves to go big, especially when it has backed itself into a narrative corner. The show is undeniably good at blowing shit up. And it does so spectacularly in this episode. But with explosions come debris, and that’s the part that How To Get Away With Murder has difficulty dealing with.

As for that brand new device, we’re suddenly let into the inner thoughts of none other than our complicated anti-hero Annalise Keating. Her voiceover reiterated the character’s paranoia, ego, feelings of contempt toward the system. The sequence of her trying on different blazers in the beginning and ruling them out because she knows how they’ll be received (reactions that take both the jury’s sexism and racism into consideration) taps into the kind of character intimacy that has been largely missing from the show. The voiceover device is used unevenly, but it’s effective, yielding both humor and tension. I just wish it provided a more consistent throughline for the episode, which ends up unsurprisingly overstuffed.

Speaking of that system that Annalise hates, she has very good reason to. The deals the FBI strikes with Connor, Michaela, and Laurel expose what a sham this whole process is. They’re literally being forced to perjure themselves to bring down Annalise. They’re being used, and what’s worse is that it has divided them from each other. After all they’ve been through, they’re forced to do this one last thing together but they’re also forced to act in their own individual interest. Connor lies to Michaela after renegotiating his deal. Laurel, whose dramatic entrance back into the show has been a long time coming and does not disappoint, negotiated down to probation. Frank throws a wedge in the prosecution’s plan by slipping to Connor that Michaela got a better deal, and Connor immediately has another faked panic attack about it to buy himself time. Intentionally divided and manipulated by the FBI, the remaining members of the Keating Five are all scrambling without much to hold onto.

The end of How To Get Away With Murder sees these characters wondering about their own goodness. It’s an inevitable ending for a show that has persistently pushed its characters to the edge, complicating the distinction between bad actions and bad people. Gabriel goes to Michaela and says that it was sick of her to be there the day his father died and then get with him, and he’s not wrong. He doesn’t have the full picture, and that does matter, but there’s still truth in what he says. Annalise exploits Connor’s insecurity about whether he’s good or not when she cross-examines him and attempts to paint him as someone who manipulated and lied to Oliver. It tracks that Annalise would take this tactic, but it’s a little frustrating that this is the context in which Annalise most emphatically identifies as bisexual on the show.

It’s more compelling when Annalise tries a different tactic with Laurel, manipulating her outside of the courtroom instead. She says that if she lies on the stand then she’s no better than her father, and Laurel strikes back that she’s acting as a mother, acting in Christopher’s best interests. Both of their motives are firmly rooted here and tap into their character histories. Laurel doesn’t know how much her comment about Annalise not having children stings. This episode ahead of the finale suffers from some of the usual issues this show has, like overloading the plotlines and throwing any semblance of courtroom realism in the garbage, but these one-on-one character moments remain a great strength.

The reveal that the FBI asked the students to testify that Annalise was sleeping with Wes is a genuine twist. And the FBI being such a nefarious actor on this show makes for a compelling story about the injustice of the justice system. But this whole big conspiracy that has come together at the end of the series—linking Hannah, Birkhead, the Castillos, and the FBI is definitely messy even as it masquerades as an overarching master theory for everything that has happened on the show. All of those actors on their own have been hazily developed. Together, they’re like a Frankensteined mess of muddled motives and hasty writing.

Meanwhile, the huge revelation that Frank is Sam’s son and probably Hannah’s too goes barely touched for most of the episode. Annalise gets Bonnie to try to use it to strong arm Hannah into testifying on Annalise’s behalf, and the fact that the show couldn’t get Marcia Gay Harden back for the episode is a little distractingly obvious (Bonnie deals with Hannah’s lawyer instead). Other than that, Frank’s parentage doesn’t play much of a role in the story and doesn’t get much of an emotional reaction even from the characters who are in the know. It drives home one of the most consistent weak spots for How To Get Away With Murder: sometimes the twists are just twists. The WTF moments grab that initial jolt but then fizzle out with little ramification. The characters on this show are often too desensitized to everything happening around them, and it makes it harder to be invested in the twists and how they might affect them.

The latest WTF moment comes at the end when Hannah is found dead with a gun in her hand. We’re left to wonder if she really did commit suicide or if Birkhead killed her or if Frank did. Because the issue of his parentage does finally come up at the very end when Bonnie tells him the truth after a grand confession of his love. So there are attempts to root this twist in character, but it still ultimately feels rushed. Yet another death in the final inning. How To Get Away With Murder, like a lot of its characters, tends to solve its problems by killing them off—literally. And just like it does for the lives of its characters, this only begets more problems.

Even though she admits to the FBI’s coercion, most of what Laurel testifies smacks of truth, and Annalise knows it. They all did lie, blackmail, and bend the rules for their clients. They all were scared of saying no to her, and they all craved her praise for their own reasons. Laurel ultimately tells the truth in more ways than one: She reveals the FBI’s coercion, but she also doesn’t let Annalise completely off the hook. But it’s unclear if Annalise holds herself accountable for the bad things she has done and, in particular, the way she has helped corrupt the actions of her students. Despite us being in her head, How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t go quite deep enough into the character’s psyche.

In some ways, we actually get more of the interiority of Michaela, Connor, and Laurel. Laurel is desperate to prove she can be good and not like her father, and she’s the only one who fully flips on the FBI. Michaela and Connor finally learn that they ultimately lied to each other despite their initial solidarity. But because we’re dealing with so many different characters and their genuinely complicated decision-making and motives, it’s hard to really latch onto them. The character development in “Annalise Keating Is Dead” boils down a little too simply rather than allowing for those complexities to really simmer. If you’re gonna blow things up, you have to deal with the emotional fallout, and that sometimes gets lost in all the attempts to tie things up ahead of the end of the series.