Monday, November 9, 2015

How to get away with a TV heroine who will break every commandment but one

"How do you sleep at night?" - a sex worker just acquitted of poisoning her lover, due to some questionable courtroom tactics by defense attorney Annalise Keating, to Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder

"Alone, on very comfortable sheets. I like expensive bottles of vodka." - Annalise Keating

As portrayed by Emmy winner Viola Davis on How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating is the new Emily Thorne… only not quite so noble… and with a fiercer wardrobe.

For those who have forgotten about the anti-heroine of the dearly departed Revenge, let me remind you of one of her key characteristic: For all the asses she kicked (and names she took while she was at it), not once did Emily ever actually kill anyone.

She pointed this out to her half-sister Charlotte in one episode when Charlotte pegged Emily as an old hand at murder after she herself had killed someone. And her non-killing ways was a major plot point of the series' denouement: Emily was about to off Victoria Grayson, but her father David showed up and did the dirty deed instead because he didn't want his little girl to be haunted forever by having human blood on her hands.

Unlike Annalise, however, Emily's general motive was a lofty one: She wanted to avenge her father by seeking revenge on the people who had framed him for a crime he didn't commit. Though the body count was high by the end of Revenge, Nolan Ross aside, Emily was ironically the only main character who never killed a single person... or shot someone several times in the abdomen with intent to kill (take a bow from the grave, Daniel Grayson).

As for Annalise's overall goal, she just doesn't like to lose. To the brilliant defense attorney, winning is everything, and to get to that end, she'll frame innocent people, tamper with evidence, lie, cheat and steal. But up to now, she's drawn the line at the one crime for which she defends her clients.

In one interesting storyline twist, the terminal wife of Annalise's ex-extramarital lover Nate asked Annalise to help her kill herself. I spotted the dying wife's ploy a plot twist away. Of course, she wanted Annalise to help her kill herself so that in death she could bring down her husband's former lover.

Maybe Annalise saw it, too, but that's not why she didn't do it. "I'm not the woman you think I am," Annalise said when the dying wife, as Charlotte had with Emily, assumed she was an old pro at killing people.

The greatest irony of How to Get Away with Murder is that as the series progresses, Annalise is close to becoming the only major character who actually hasn't gotten away with murder. (For the record, the woman who asked her how she sleeps at night was also guilty as sin.) Nate's wife eventually got him to do what Annalise wouldn't, making him the latest in the main cast to kill.

Yet, somehow, all of these characters with blood on their hands peg Annalise as the monster. I suppose their hypocrisy allows them to sleep at night. Maybe they don't sleep at night. No one has asked. And if someone did, I doubt they'd have as amazing a comeback as Annalise.

I can't think of a TV character since Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls who's as skilled at comebacks as Annalise. Here are two from the November 5 episode:

"Me not paying attention to you is the best compliment you could ever get. 'Cause that means I don't have to worry about you. Now go back to the office and stop being needy."

"Sharon hates you, Dale. You're a stalker, you're pathetic, and you're fired."

Although Murder can be maddening (for one of several things, the manic non-linear approach feels gratuitous - Revenge also tampered with time but only sparingly), Annalise never is. Her sartorial eloquence, her occasional flashes of vulnerability, and her quick wit are the main reasons why I can't not root for her.

But most of all, I'm solidly #TeamAnnalise because she's a flawed, tortured, complicated, bisexual (yes!) anti-heroine who knows that one should always deliver the punchline right before walking away.
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