“Who killed Lila?” didn’t exactly rise to the Laura Palmer (as in “Twin Peaks”) or Rosie Larsen (“The Killing”) level, but “How to Get Away With Murder” certainly milked the mystery for all it was worth. That said, the serialized plot that gave this ABC series its name was almost beside the point, as the program ginned up a fast-paced mix of procedural courtroom drama, as-far-as-broadcast-TV-can-go sex and old-fashioned star quality, thanks to Viola Davis’ ferocious attorney. Based on the two-hour finale, future enjoyment will likely require not sweating the how – or for that matter, who, what, when, where or why.
Initial skepticism about the durability of the concept pretty quickly melted away, as series creator Pete Nowalk juggled enough elements to keep audiences hooked. The question now based on the conclusion (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) is how long this latest Shonda Rhimes-produced hour can continue to play Lucy with the football, inasmuch as its big reveal invited more questions than it answered.
Much of that was predictable, especially since the show so quickly established itself as a hit, creating an incentive to keep this gravy train rolling. So revealing who strangled the pregnant young woman had to happen within a framework that allowed the series to come back with as much heat (or something close to it) in season two.
For all that, “How to Get Away With Murder” owes a considerable debt to the ABC marketing campaign that shrewdly combined the show with “Scandal” as an almost seamless block. The forward momentum created by the murders – the circumstances surrounding the death of Sam, who killed Lila, and of course the constant scheming to avoid detection – could be teased out in dollops because of the sensational cases Davis’ Annalise Keating was handling when not teaching or trying to keep her charges out of jail.
Frankly, the law students running around playing junior detectives has always been the show’s weakest element, and that was no exception in the finale. Spending time with those characters, however, not only created opportunities for all kinds of sexual liaisons but also allowed the producers to slowly tease out the details of Annalise’s personal life, which proved more layered than one might have guessed.
One line in particular stood out from Thursday’s finale, when Annalise discusses who really killed Lila, saying they must choose “the version of the truth that makes the most sense and will let us move on.”
Yet like any good lawyer, that’s actually very artful doublespeak. Because what the finale was really designed to do was dish up a dollop of information – that Annalise’s employee Frank (Charlie Weber) committed the crime – in a manner that would deliver the feeling of a payoff in order to let the show keep moving along this track. (As a footnote, having played the aforementioned Rosie Larsen and now met another violent end, Katie Findlay really deserves a part in a nice, quiet comedy.)
In the short term, mission accomplished. As for how long Nowalk and company can get away with narratively spinning plates in this fashion, let’s just say the jury’s still out.