Since lockdown began in New York, my roommates and I have been slowly re-watching the brilliance that is Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get Away With Murder, just in time for the show’s finale, which airs this Thursday evening. For those of you who haven’t seen it, now is the perfect time to dive into this delightfully convoluted (and brilliantly acted) nighttime soap.
Six years after it premiered, How to Get Away With Murder remains one of the most chaotic television shows I’ve ever watched. After all, who could forget the iconic Season 2 scene where Annalise is yelling at the Keating Five, trying to provoke one of them into SHOOTING HER in an attempt to frame her client for a murder that another one of her students committed? That’s television, baby!
But this blog isn’t about the wild plot of the show; this is about Annalise Keating. One of the delights of any Shonda Rhimes show is how she writes her black female protagonists. They are, for lack of a better phrase, genuinely complex characters who often swing from anti-hero to villain back around to reluctant hero once again. Annalise Keating is a dark-skinned bisexual black woman, who is a brilliant (though ethically... questionable) lawyer who has also dealt with trauma and abuse, which the show doesn’t hesitate to name but also is far from the most important or interesting part of her character.
Annalise is not always likable and is rarely concerned with being likable, but she is also loyal to a fault and fiercely protective of those around her. She is confident in her legal prowess but much less assured when it comes to her relationships. The show revels in her moments of strength and triumph but also leaves space for her failures—without punishing her for them. She can be furious in one moment and tender in the next.
(Side note: Viola Davis really acted her ass off in this role.)
It doesn’t really matter whether you love Annalise or hate her. Really, I couldn’t tell you how I feel about her. Regardless of the show’s numerous attempts to grapple with her morality, it’s clear that central to the genius of Annalise Keating is her refusal to fit into any one particular box. In creating Annalise, Shonda Rhimes gave us the gift of a nuanced black female character—a true rarity.