February 27, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “How To Get Away With Murder”


A weaker show than HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER would be crippled by its sizable flaws.  With the all-important exception of its central character, Philadelphia law professor and expert criminal lawyer Annalise Keating, and Viola Davis, the richly talented actress who plays her, the rest of the characters and cast are bland to the point of coming to mind only as The Gay One (Jack Falahee as Connor), or The Rich One (Matt McGorry as Asher) or similarly superficial labels.  The episodic courtroom storylines are rudimentary or worse.  Yet Peter Nowalk’s drama has a terrific story engine at its center, supercharged by the touch of Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes, and it’s so fast and twisty that it’s one of network television’s more compelling hours almost in spite of itself.

All season (a shortened one due to the terms of Davis’s deal), Murder has interweaved a pair of murders, first of pregnant undergrad Lila and later of her secret lover, Annalise’s husband Sam (Tom Verica, who’s as busy as any man in show business since he plays this role and also serves as the producing director of Rhimes’s Scandal).  While the audience is in on the fact that one of Annalise’s group of favored students, specifically The Naive One (Alfred Enoch as Wes), killed Sam and then the rest of them, who also include The Engaged One, Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and The Striving One, Laurel (Karla Souza), covered it up (except Asher, who could also be labeled The Clueless One), threads of paranoia and mysterious hidden motives, as well as plotlines like Annalise framing her ex-cop lover Nate (Billy Brown) for her husband’s murder even as she plans strategems to get him freed, have kept Murder hopping.

The first half of tonight’s two-part season finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Michael Foley and directed by Laura Innes, demonstrated the show’s curious dynamic.  On the one hand, we were finally fed details of just what had happened on the night of Lila’s murder, carefully structured so that while Sam and original suspect/Lila’s one-time BFF and Wes’s neighbor/cause/girlfriend Rebecca (Katie Findlay) both appeared potentially guilty, neither was clearly identified as the killer.  Meanwhile, though, we were asked to care about a dull case involving a priest with a chaste but forbidden love for the church housekeeper, and his murder of a pedophile fellow priest.  There are shows (notably The Good Wife and Suits) that do a good job of integrating their weekly courtroom dramas with their serialized storylines, but How To Get Away With Murder isn’t one of them.

The season’s final hour, written by Nowalk and directed by Bill D’Elia, lacked a case of the week and was much stronger for it.  We expect insane twists from a Shonda Rhimes production, and at the very end of the previous hour, it was revealed that Rebecca had literally been taken hostage by our student antiheroes, who at Wes’s instigation once again suspected her of Lila’s murder.  Eventually Annalise, associate Bonnie (Liza Weil)–who’s sleeping with Asher–and paralegal Frank (Charlie Weber)–who’s sleeping with Laurel–provided some adult supervision.  Secrets were revealed, both in interrogation scenes and flashbacks, and the last minutes of the season sprang two giant twists:  although Sam had ordered Lila’s killing, it had actually been carried out by Frank, and in the present day, someone in that house had murdered Rebecca.  That will leave plenty for next season to delve into, along with such mysteries as just why Annalise has such an odd weakness for often-dopey Wes, and how long it can take before Bonnie (or any random viewer) kills Asher out of sheer annoyance.

Murder isn’t nearly as good as it could be.  Last week’s episode had more impact than most of the hours that came before it, and that was because Cicely Tyson, as Annalise’s mother, finally gave Davis something she’d lacked all season:  a worthy match.  (Marcia Gay Harden might have done the same in earlier episodes, but as Sam’s bitter sister, her character didn’t have many layers.)  Davis is consistently tremendous, which is no surprise to anyone who’s followed her career, able to be the thunderous owner of every scene she’s in yet also show profound vulnerability.  Most of the time, Annalise observes her squabbling, immature and often not very bright band of students much the way we do, with a vague sense of irritation and limited interest.  A hurtling pace and plenty of complications, though, have been enough to make Murder thrive.

There’s no suspense about Murder‘s fate on the air.  It’s one of the season’s biggest new hits (although, like everything else on network TV, in the shade of the incredible Empire), and already renewed by ABC for next fall.  During the hiatus, some work on the show’s supporting characters, and either a polish of its individual cases or fewer of them, is all it would take to make a solid entertaining series into a genuinely memorable one.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."