If you lost track of “How to Get Away With Murder” after the buzzy first season, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The ABC series wrapped up its six-year run on Thursday night, highlighting both its main strength — Viola Davis’ fearsome presence — and how far the mighty fell from when producer Shonda Rhimes’ “TGIT” lineup was in full flower.
Frankly, this is one of those shows that shouldn’t have dragged on this long, demonstrating that you can only get away with a concept like “Murder” for so long. The series had to keep concocting improbable twists and crazy cliffhangers to gin up interest, with additional contortions to keep the various law students in the orbit of their imperious professor Annalise Keating (Davis).
As the arcs built on each other they became increasingly ridiculous, while adding layer upon layer of government corruption. That culminated in Annalise’s murder trial, which played out in the final episode after a teased shooting on the courthouse steps and glimpse of Annalise’s funeral, leaving the implication that she had met an untimely and violent end.
But no, that wasn’t what happened. Instead, the bullets caught Annalise’s tormented associates Bonnie (Liza Weil) and Frank (Charlie Weber), after Frank shot Governor Birkhead (Laura Innes). Annalise, in fact, was actually being memorialized after what appeared to be a good long life, as her former students (in really bad old-age makeup) wistfully remembered her.
It was melodramatic and more than a little manipulative — descriptions that have applied to the show from the beginning, but which were more tolerable before the novelty of its serialized mystery format wore off.
That said, the finale wasn’t entirely unredeemed, thanks to the showcase it provided Davis. Annalise has always been an inordinately complicated character, here admitting during her courtroom summation to being a “bad person,” just not a murderer.
“I’m ambitious, black, bisexual,” she told the jury, amid rattling off a long list of attributes, before concluding, “And I am at your mercy.”
It was also nice to see one more scene between Annalise and her mom, played by 95-year-old Cicely Tyson, who always classes up the joint, having made good on her pledge never to retire.
Although Annalise was acquitted and survived, the blood-soaked finish felt like a way for series creator Peter Nowalk to make her pay a price, while tying up a few extra loose ends as the hour raced through servicing the large cast of characters.
Davis became the first African-American woman to win a lead actress in a drama Emmy in the first season, when “How to Get Away With Murder” joined Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” in a powerhouse night. Thanks to her, the series finale delivered a few reminders of where it began, even if that closing argument came a few years too late to earn a favorable verdict.