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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iHow To Get Away With Murder /ibulldozes its way to a death-filled series finale
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Six seasons, several murders, one penis on a dead girl’s phone, countless basket tosses of a cheerleader, and about a million lies later, and we have finally arrived at the series finale of How To Get Away With Murder. Not every dangling string gets tied up, but I never really expected that from a show that tends to bulldoze through story rather than make everything connect. That said, I’m surprised how much of this final season has focused on returning to the past, dipping back into some of the messiest parts of the series. That said, the final season also has injected a staggering amount of new mess into its web, too. How To Get Away With Murder concludes as it always was: chaotic with touches of brilliance.

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Admittedly, the series finale is pretty much all bulldozing and chaos. There are glimmers of brilliance, and let’s maybe address those first. Above all else, this show has one very powerful force at its disposal: Viola Davis. Never has her performance faltered for even a moment. And on top of that, the writing has always been the tightest when it comes to Annalise. She is a complicated, fascinating antihero. She is one of the greatest flawed female characters of all time. Two monologues touch beautifully on her contradictions, her mess. The first is, of course, that goddamn courtroom monologue. The Annalise Keating courtroom soliloquy to end them all. She confesses to having had to wear a mask for her entire life, always to appease and conform and bend to the will of society. She has had to force herself to look and act a certain way so that the world would take her seriously. She knows she has done all sorts of bad shit, which she boldly confesses to in court. But she is not the monster the FBI wants to frame her as. She can be cruel, unforgiving, ruthless. But she’s human.

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The second monologue comes from Eve...aged-up with the help of hair and makeup...at Annalise’s funeral many years in the future. Eve’s eulogy acts like an explainer of the entirety of Annalise’s being. It’s almost like an artist statement from the writers themselves. It’s beautifully written, if jarringly meta. And it’s a strange way to bring Eve back into the fold, and I say that as someone who loved Eve’s initial introduction into the show and who ended most of these reviews with a “WHERE IS EVE” in the stray observations. This is what we bring her back for?!

I don’t completely hate the eulogy’s veer into meta territory. Annalise Keating is a character who warrants this kind of big reflection. But it does feel like a lot of narrative hand-holding going on. I’m pretty sure any person who has been watching this show from the beginning knows that Annalise was a complicated character. We don’t need Eve to put such a fine point on it.

I do find the final sequence of this show, which chronicles the long life lived by Annalise and ends on this bizarre, gimmicky fake-out funeral, to be some of the most unhinged television I have watched in a minute. I’m not necessarily surprised, but I do feel slightly duped. The Wes/Christopher fake-out is the most palatable part. But a time jump?! Really?! This is some elementary rug-pulling that almost feels Scooby Doo-ian. Yes, Annalise Keating is dead, but surprise! She lived a long life! And also, Connor and Oliver going through that really intense and sudden DIVORCE ahead of Connor being arrested for crimes he did not commit simply because he lost the will to fight anymore? Yeah, that’s all smoothed over in the years between and they’re all good now.

Sometimes it feels like this series finale is so focused on cementing the legacy of Annalise Keating as a complicated, multidimensional character that there isn’t room for character development anywhere else, and that problem is one that has persisted throughout the series. This Connor and Oliver tension hinges on whole seasons of character development for both, and yet it plays out in such a rushed way that barely lets the weight of it hit. Bulldozing really is the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about this finale. Tegan finally confesses her love of Annalise, something that has definitely been brewing for a long time now, but wedged into the finale in the moments following that Annalise monologue sucks all the power out of it to the point where it’s inadvertently comical. Annalise’s reaction is, essentially, “oh, you poor thing.” And that’s the end of the road for Tegan Price.

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Annalise’s is really one of the only arcs that gets closed out in a satisfying way. The rest is bulldoze, bulldoze, bulldoze. The deaths of Bonnie and Frank are so gratuitous that I’m not even sure entirely what to make of them. There is a nice moment between Laurel and Bonnie earlier in the episode where Laurel says that it was Bonnie all along who protected them and not Annalise, but it’s all a little too late. Bonnie and Frank meet tragic endings, but that tragedy doesn’t say much. It should matter that Annalise loses the only two people who consistently showed up for her and did terrible deeds to help her, and yet, we never deal with the aftermath of any of this. It’s conveniently skipped over for the sake of the big funeral scene, which is an oddly hopeful moment for a show that thrives more in its darkest moments.

For all the narrative hand-holding it does do, the places where the show decides to play it a little more coy are perplexing. It’s implied but never fully confirmed that the governor killed Hannah, and it’s implied that Laurel is the one behind Jorge’s sudden death, too. The connection between Hannah and the governor seems tenuous at best, conveniently playing out in court thanks to the flash drive Frank gets his hands on, but the thread is really just that both of them...didn’t like Annalise. How To Get Away With Murder’s supposed sprawling mystery web really boils down to some super simple plotting in the end.

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The central themes on this show have always been immensely compelling, even when the writing sometimes loses grasp of its characters. Trauma and its long-term psychological effects, systemic racism and sexism, and paranoia and privacy have been some of the most consistent themes that the show keeps returning to. And it does so with depth and style, unfurling legal cases that always have more to them than meets the eye. There is always, always more beneath the surface of How To Get Away With Murder’s drama. The show doesn’t always excavate those underpinnings seamlessly, but when it does manage to tell a deeper story, some of the chaos and narrative whiplash comes into clearer focus. That’s not entirely missing from the finale. It touches, at times, on ideas about justice, trauma, sacrifice, identity.

But these touches are just grazes. Outside of Annalise’s courtroom monologue, very little about this finale is firmly held in place. No series finale needs to be completely satisfying in the sense that it feels complete or cathartic, but this one struggles to find a whole lot of meaning in the way it closes its characters’ arcs. What does it mean that Annalise survives and lives a long life even after so many around her were lost or otherwise permanently altered? The show doesn’t have time to address any of the meaning of this, favoring the fanservicey time-jump epilogue instead. Instead of meaningful narrative conclusions, we get more deaths, more chaos.

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How do you smoothly conclude a show that so often went off the rails? That so often was fueled by leaving viewers jaw-dropped with its ridiculous twists? How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t have a real answer. It doesn’t have a whole lot of answers period. And yet, Annalise Keating indeed is its greatest accomplishment.


Stray observations

  • This essay is my favorite thing that has been written about the series’ legacy.
  • Thank you for joining me for six seasons of reviews of this television show. I feel like I often end coverage of a show by saying it has been a wild ride, but in this case IT HAS TRULY BEEN A WILD RIDE.
  • Michaela ends the series with zero friends, zero family. I do not love this arc for her!
  • Annalise...became Christopher’s mentor? I thought Laurel was getting the hell out town after the shooting, but I guess she comes back? And lets Christopher have a relationship with her? This is maybe the least believable thing that happens in the finale!
  • On that note, the show really does end with a character who was previously a baby writing HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER on a chalkboard while saying it out loud...incredible.
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