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HTGAWM: Annalise Returns Home and the Hapstall Case is Finally Solved in “Anna Mae”

By on March 18, 2016
CICELY TYSON, VIOLA DAVIS

(ABC/Mitch Haaseth) CICELY TYSON, VIOLA DAVIS

By Chelsea A. Hensley

For a season finale, “Anna Mae” is risky.

Other shows have done the quiet season closer before, but HTGAWM has become known for its explosive conclusions. Changing the rules now could end up leaving some viewers dissatisfied, but “Anna Mae” does what it can to wrap up a lackluster murder case while still delivering answers to a few burning questions.

Cramming finale-type revelations into the episode’s final moments does enough to make the episode read like a finale, but the bulk of “Anna Mae” is devoted to Annalise’s willful (but temporary) separation from Philadelphia.

Her students, Bonnie, Frank, the Hapstall investigation and the ADA are left behind as she takes off to Memphis for a family reunion twenty years in the making.

Home Sweet Home

“Anna Mae” is really a testament to what a rich character HTGAWM has in Annalise Keating, and what a lucky strike it was that the show ended up with Viola Davis to portray her. Regardless of HTGAWM’s other failings, it’s yet to drop the ball with Annalise, and that can only be attributed to the firm grasp all parties have on her character. There are the writers, who are consistently unraveling Annalise’s many layers, and there’s Davis who is a walking masterclass in acting. The show consistently produces meaningful material for her, and Davis takes it in stride.

HTGAWM has been invested in Annalise’s history as a means of shaping her into the woman she is today, and by dropping her back into a more casually filtered world in which her biggest issue is her mother’s reunion with her estranged father, we get to see a side of Annalise that may as well not really exist in Philly.

She slips easily into the position of a child, a marked difference from the confidence and certainty she has in her work. She’s been forced to parent a bunch of (ungrateful) kids back in Philly, and she’s in a consistent holding pattern of cleaning up their messes.

But here she’s in the position of daughter and allows her mother to parent her instead. The more time Annalise spends away from her students, the more intentional this appears. Though she bristles at her family’s teasing (“Is that Michelle Obama?”), she clearly enjoys the simplicity of life there.

The finale almost has an entirely different show when it’s set in Memphis, some alternate reality (or even some really good fan fiction) in which Annalise returns home to her family. It’s not the suspense-driven drama we’ve been getting. It feels more like a certainly dramatic but relatively mundane family drama.

Annalise’s sister resents her for not taking part in caring for Ophelia, Annalise takes issues with Ophelia’s reunion with Annalise’s absentee father, and Nate’s surprise arrival makes for some convincing comedy as Celestine and Ophelia react to Annalise’s love interest.

“Anna Mae” zips through a few genres in its run time, and Annalise’s trip finally culminates in her receiving some closure regarding her son’s death. She confesses to her mother about her pregnancy and her son’s death, and with Ophelia at her side she’s able to give him a burial.

When trying to figure out how I want to discuss every episode, and choosing which bits will fit in which section, it’s become so easy to simply draw a line between Annalise and what everyone else is doing. HTGAWM has been doing the same thing, and Annalise is almost always the stronger element.

There’s nothing wrong with Annalise being the show’s best piece, or at least it wouldn’t be if Annalise was the show’s focal point. But HTGAWM insists on being an ensemble so we have to spend some time with other people, and that time is usually deeply unbalanced in quality.

When Annalise turns her phone on, she plunges back into the world she ran from, and it’s disappointing because we’re back there, too. And now we’re forced to pay attention because Annalise is involved.

Annalise is a force of nature, but “Anna Mae” suggests that her minions have the potential to figure out their problems without her, and they do…kind of. We never get to see this be realized, and Annalise swoops in to save the day once again.

NEXT: Two Bodies + One Disappearance = Does It Even Matter?

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