Greatest TV Characters - Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder
For Intentional Women's Day 2021. we revisit some of our Greatest TV Characters features, looking at TV's best female characters. Becky Kukla looks at the modern reimagining of Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder...
Please note, this article was originally written in 2018
Annalise Keating is a very hard person to nail down. When she is first introduced in ABC's critically acclaimed TV show How To Get Away With Murder, Annalise is a cool-headed lawyer, at the very top of her game. She is running a kick-ass criminal defence team, she is lecturing in law at Middleton University, and she also runs a special extra-curricular scheme - taking on five gifted students from her law class and putting them to work in her office. Fondly named 'the Keating five', the students and Annalise become tangled up in a web of lies, deceit, and murder (to put it lightly) before the end of their first year at Middleton , and the end of the season one.
As a testament to Viola Davis' portrayal of Annalise, Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead in a Drama Series in 2015. Long overdue, but absolutely deserved - this win propelled How To Get Away With Murder and Annalise's character into the spotlight, celebrating the authenticity and diversity in the show.
How To Get Away With Murder originally sold Annalise as a confident criminal defense attorney, someone who was self assured, in a happy relationship and damn good at her job. After the murder of Sam and the revelation of Annalise's past - this persona is quickly revealed to only be one part of the complex labyrinth which is Annalise Keating.
From horrific childhood abuse at the hands of her uncle, to lasting guilt over the death of Wes' mother (revealed in season four), to the grief of losing her unborn child - to say that Annalise's journey has been fraught would be an understatement. How To Get Away With Murder is a particularly dramatic show (even for Shonda Rhimes), but it is how Annalise deals with the carnage around her which gives an insight into her personal journey.
In season one, Annalise's interactions with Nate (her police officer lover) offer a glimpse at the things which haunt her. She implies to Nate that she doesn't love her husband Sam, and certainly doesn't trust him. After Sam's murder, Annalise begins to unravel rapidly - she becomes a recluse, refusing to meet with anyone or to leave her bed.
A milestone in the series (and possibly the most important episode to date) Mama's Here Now is the introduction to Annalise's mother, Ophelia. It's the first time Annalise talks about the abuse she suffered as a child. Ophelia arrives as Annalise is at her lowest and takes care of her. We learn that Annalise believes her mother didn't do enough to stop the abuse, but Annalise soon discovers that her mother set fire to their family home with Annalise's Uncle inside - killing him. This knowledge is the catalyst that Annalise needs for closure, but it also opens up a raw wound inside her that she has been ignoring for a long time. This wound only gets bigger the deeper into the series we go.
It seems that Annalise believed she was 'damaged goods', and fell in love with Sam whilst seeing him for therapy. We can recognise Annalise's need for love and affection after the events of her childhood, but also understand her deep rooted disgust at Sam for taking advantage of her. This is a theme in all of Annalise's relationships throughout the series - the need for love and approval that comes hand in hand with a deep mistrust of anyone who attempts to get too close to her.
Her relationship with the Keating Five is also laced with power dynamics and complicated emotions. Whilst Annalise has been known to manipulate all of them at some point, it is her relationship with Wes which has consistently been the most involved and intricate. This has often lead to a bizarre mother-son bond between them, and with Wes' tragic death in season four - who knows what kind of spiral Annalise will end up going down.
Why Annalise is Such a Great Character
It's hard to think of a female character on TV at the moment (if ever) who has been allowed to be so utterly complex. Annalise is a fantastic character because she is contradictory, hypocritical, wildly selfish and power-hungry as well as being astonishingly caring, kind, protective and fiercely intelligent. Simply - Annalise is allowed to be human. Her identity is never reduced to 'sassy, black woman' or 'strong female character'. Annalise is strong, yes, but she has flaws (oh boy, does she have flaws), that the audience are allowed not only to see, but to connect with.
"I am who I am. If you don't like it, I don't care."