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How To Get Away With Murder - Annalise Keating Is Dead - Review: "Laurel Finally Returns"

After what's been a disappointing lead-up to this point in its final season, last night's penultimate episode of How To Get Away With Murder finally showed that the showrunners did indeed realize that they had only two episodes left in the series to begin to wrap things up. However, have they left it too late, and does next week's series finale have too much ground to make up? "Annalise Keating Is Dead" was written by Sarah L. Thompson and Tess Leibowitz, and directed by John Terlesky.

The hour kicked off with some first person narration as Annalise decided what to wear to court. Adopting this technique on multiple occasions for an episode this important - and this late in the series - was a bit strange to me. How To Get Away With Murder has probably only used the technique a couple of times before across its six seasons, and I don't think it had the same level of impact as it could have if it had been used more frequently and allowed the audience to get used to it beforehand. However, given how important her appearance is to her, some of her internal dialog was very good:

If I'm gonna lose I'm gonna lose looking like me.
Also featuring early was Hannah Keating's importance to Annalise in this episode. Things would change quite significantly by the end of hour. More on that in a bit.

Battling with similar, but less significant dress issues were Connor and Michaela. Oliver was helping Connor choose what to wear, and Michaela had her father approving of her attire. The tension between the students here - even though they were separate - was palpable, buoyed by the revelation last week that Connor had signed a new deal with the FBI, and hid that from Michaela.

Eventually, things progress to the courtroom. A trial on this series never ever goes according to plan, so it was no great shock to see the U.S. Attorney try to get Tegan removed as Annalise's counsel due to conflict of interest. Despite Laurel's testimony that Tegan had helped her escape Philadelphia with Christopher, and the argument appearing on shaky ground, Annalise interrupted and said she agreed with the prosecution, and decided to represent herself.

The recess immediately following this decision confirmed why the showrunners were trying to force the awkward chemistry between Tegan and Annalise. In virtually any other legal show or setting, the ousted lawyer would have barged out of the courtroom never to be seen again, but because Tegan is emotionally attached to Annalise, regardless of whether that feeling is reciprocated, Tegan will hang around to provide advice and a second pair of hands to Bonnie. Meanwhile, the showrunners also want their star of the show to have one last stint in court. It's understandable, even if it's a little cringy.

Up next were Michaela, Connor and Laurel's testimony against Annalise, in that order. I thought this was reasonably well managed by the showrunners, with each character basically dropping one big bombshell. It could have gotten much more complex and wordy than it did, so shortening things down a bit was a worthwhile sacrifice for clarity's sake.

Michaela used her time on the stand to say that Wes both pushed Sam Keating over the railing, and also dispatched him for good. But her bombshell was that Wes and Annalise were sleeping together. Annalise's cross-examination caught Michaela in a lie when she denied dobbing in Simon Drake to get him deported.

A small sidetrack here was that Gabriel was in court to watch Michaela's testimony. He was visibly upset and felt betrayed, but he still doesn't know the full story. This is one of the wrongs that next week's series finale may look to right.

Connor's testimony was off to a rocky start when he had a panic attack after getting on the stand. This was spurred on by Frank mentioning to him in passing as he entered the courtroom that Michaela had a new deal. Connor claimed that Annalise ordered her students to dispose of Sam's body and keep it secret, along with trying to portray Annalise as a bully. Annalise caught Connor in a lie by revealing that the essay he submitted about shutting down a gay conversion therapy camp was false, and the camp never existed. She also took a dig at Connor's relationship with Oliver, though it looks like her attempts to derail their relationship didn't work, or at least not yet.

Finally, Laurel's testimony was left to last because it was the most damning, and blew up the entire trial thus far. She revealed her testimony was manipulated by the FBI. She contradicted Michaela's testimony that Wes was sleeping with Annalise by saying that he was sleeping with her, with Christopher as proof of that, and in roundabout terms contradicted Connor's testimony by stating that Annalise didn't have a hand in Sam's death, or the disposal of the body.

I've basically glossed over Laurel's reintroduction to the series, so lets go back to that. In her first stint on the stand, she revealed Tegan helped her escape her current situation in Philadelphia, and also revealed that Tegan helped negotiate her release when she was kidnapped as a child. We know precious little about Tegan's relationship with the Castillo family, but this comment by Laurel finally gives us a better understanding of Tegan's overall purpose. But how she was able to help Laurel disappear so abruptly, completely and thoroughly, and beyond Frank's, and her family's ability to track her down, still requires some suspense of disbelief.

It was pleasing to see Laurel get some decent screen time beyond the courtroom scenes as she had a lot of explaining to do. Reuniting with Frank was the right move, and it was one of the most moving scenes this season (to be fair there haven't been many). Laurel was pretty rational in her decision-making, which I think most viewers can respect. This was further cemented when she batted back Annalise's pleads for help and a favorable testimony, with Frank also in their presence in the carpark. Laurel also delivered one of the most brutal lines I've heard in this series:
The woman with no children doesn't get to tell me what to do with mine.
Laurel met with her fellow students twice, initially just after her first stint on the stand, and subsequently when her second testimony was done. She sowed the seeds of doubt between the deals Michaela and Connor had, revealing her own deal involved probation only, whereas Michaela's was later shown to be the same, leaving Connor high and dry with a deal involving five years' prison, but immunity for Oliver. This will without doubt create conflict between the trio, but they still don't know whether Annalise winning her case will be more beneficial than losing.

My favorite moments in this episode involved Nate and Jorge - the first time Jorge has been involved in anything I've enjoyed. Nate is truly the dark horse at this point, and has had eyes for Governor Birkhead for some time, with Annalise's trial being a major distraction for everyone else. By conveniently letting Xavier's body be discovered, he forced Jorge into believing Birkhead has crossed him. A clever move for sure.

The final moment to cap off is a bigger twist than Frank being the son of Hannah and Sam Keating. Hannah's testimony was going to be vital to Annalise's case, and she was willing to do anything to get it, including signing a deal with significant sums at stake, and that would still leave Annalise's reputation tarnished. However Hannah wouldn't survive the hour. Her lawyer would find her dead, apparently from suicide. A playback of a conversation between Bonnie and Frank involved Frank admitting he still loved Laurel, but nowhere near as much as her, only for Bonnie to turn around and presumably reveal to Frank who his parents were. The precious final words of confirmation were missing before the episode ended, but like I guessed last week, Frank didn't look like he knew what Bonnie was talking about. He could well have killed Hannah to destroy Annalise's chances at winning her trial, or was in fact the Castillos as Annalise believed when she heard the news?

All will hopefully be revealed next week, but my level of concern for the quality of the series finale has been raised. There is an enormous number of stories to be wrapped, and plot holes to be filled. Will the Governor be taken down? Will Jorge find out the truth behind his son's death? Will Annalise win her case? Who killed Hannah? How is Wes alive? Will we learn why Robert and Solomon reappeared? Will FBI Agent Pollock's story be revealed? Will the murderers of the likes of Rebecca, Xavier, Miller, Emmett and more be caught? Will anyone live happily ever after?

And lets not forget the three questions the finale's promo asks: Who killed Annalise? Will they get away with it? And how will it end?

I'm sure many of you have questions of your own that you hope next week's finale will answer, and I'd love to hear what they are in the comments. For me, I think this episode still fell a bit short of what was needed of it. There have been better penultimate episodes during the series than this one. The first person narration was a tad jarring, the hour lacked any real intensity, and though Hannah ended up dead, not actually seeing her at all made it far more difficult to connect with this supposed vital link in the overall story. Flashbacks next week are one final hope for a chance to see Marcia Gay Harden back on this series, but if she didn't feature in this episode of all episodes - in which she dies - I'd say it's a foregone conclusion that she won't return in any living capacity next week. I did enjoy Laurel's return, however. She was well utilized, and fit back in with unexpected ease. Lastly, like I mentioned earlier, Nate's storyline is very intriguing.

That's all for this penultimate episode of How To Get Away With Murder. Thanks a lot for reading, and I look forward to reading all your thoughts and theories in the comments below. See you right back here next week for the series finale.

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