There’s no denying that one of the reasons behind the success of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder is Viola Davis‘ flawless interpretation of one of the most complicated characters on TV: Annalise Keating. Annalise is one of the most complicated, well-written characters on TV right now, so we thought that she deserved her own piece in our Character Analysis series.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of How to Get Away with Murder
Next to Wes, Annalise Keating is the main character of the series. She is introduced as the professor of Criminal Law 100 and a defense attorney who represents all types of criminals. Her introduction in the series as that of a flawless person. She is someone who has everything in life: a successful career, a home and a family. Not only that, but she is also regarded as incredibly intelligent and sexy. Annalise is seen as an inspiration, someone that all her students, especially the Keating 5, aspire to be. The first impression any viewer could get from just watching the very first scenes is that Annalise is someone who has everything figured out in life. Not for nothing she’s the “hero” of this story, right?
These first impressions could not be further from the truth. In fact, Annalise Keating is one of the finest examples of how, very often, people who appear to be perfect on the outside are only putting up a facade to hide what’s really inside. Of course many of the things that make Annalise take off her mask are due to the events that take place in the story, but Annalise’s life has never been perfect. Starting from her childhood, her family was poor and she was sexually abused by her uncle. She does have, however, a loving mother, one that would do anything for her, including burning down the house in which they lived with the abusive uncle inside. There’s really no wonder why Annalise is willing to do such terrible things just to protect those around her, as that’s exactly what her mother did.
Considering that at the time I’m writing this we are in Black History Month, I couldn’t write this analysis without mentioning one of the most powerful scenes I have seen on television in recent times. And that is the scene in which Annalise prepares to go to bed by taking her wig and make up off. In an interview on The Ellen Show, Viola Davis said that she was the one who told the writers that she had to take off her wig because she wanted to “be a real woman”. The practice of putting on a “mask” (both literally and figuratively) to face society is common for women everywhere, but especially for black women. The reason why this scene is regarded as one of the best scenes in HTGAWM (and this show has A LOT of great scenes) is because it actually showed a woman of colour in her natural un-madeup state. We usually see black women wearing wigs and tons of make up when occupying positions of power, while their natural state often has connotations of lower ranks of society or people with lower income. The natural look on Annalise’s face along with the raw emotion of the scene complemented perfectly and exemplified that Annalise is just a person and that any person can be Annalise.
Annalise is a mess. As viewers, we are allowed to see her in her best moments and in her worst, and that isn’t something you can say just about any main character nowadays. Main characters are often in a moral high ground. They are good, they are righteous and they do the things that are perceived as “being a good person” in modern society. Just taking a look at Western comic books, you will find many more superheros as main characters than villains or anti-heroes (which is also one of the reasons why everyone is so hyped for Deadpool ). But the thing is no one is perfect, which is why many people struggle to see themselves in today’s fictional characters and instead choose to idolize them or look up to them. Annalise is no role model, but while I rarely agree with her decisions, I find it very easy to see myself in her struggling and her insecurities and to empathize with her in some way. Ironically, the fact that Annalise’s character can be unlikable is what makes her likable.
I don’t want to finish this essay without mentioning a new aspect of Annalise that has been introduced in this second season, and that is her bisexuality. Little has been said about it as we only learned this fact after the re-appearence of Eve, former classmate and girlfriend. And wasn’t that the biggest F you to heteronormativity? Annalise didn’t “choose” to go lesbian. She was always bisexual, it’s just that everyone assumed she was straight just because she was married to a man. I also feel the need to mention her relationship with Wes/Christophe, but considering that the bomb has just been dropped and that we dont’ have much information yet, I’ll wait it out. And so we keep peeling off layers of Annalise Keating! Don’t worry, though. Considering how fascinating this character is and how she keeps growing and evolving, I will definitely be back with a Part 2 of this analysis!
In the meantime, I will let the amazing Viola Davis finish this:
“There is something about Annalise that, even in the midst of this fiction, feels real. Taking off the wig, the unapologetic way that I just allow myself to be a mess. I think that a lot of women can relate to that. The secrets, revealing her private moments, and then puting on that very public persona and mask” – Viola Davis (x)