Annalise goes to rehab, while the Keating Four struggle to move forward from Laurel's disappearance.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
September 26, 2019 at 11:01 PM EDT
Richard Cartwright/ABC
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How to Get Away With Murder is back — for its sixth and final season. And damn, if it isn’t kicking the doors in and bringing some twisty season 1 energy to help it go out with a bang. Saying goodbye to this show is going to be a wild ride.

The episode is book-ended by two funerals — both Annalise’s, one very much imagined, the other TBD. Annalise is in rehab for her drinking, and she’s been asked to visualize her funeral. What she sees is Bonnie telling Frank they’re free now and an elementary-school-aged Christopher wanting to shoot her body in the casket to be sure she’s dead. So, you know, cheery imaginings.

Annalise is, unsurprisingly, not making friends at rehab. She goes by Karen and refuses to open up to any of her fellow patients, largely because she feels the need to keep her secrets. Besides, she’s not really following the rules, keeping her cellphone on to field information from Bonnie and not engaging with the exercises her therapist presents.

Eventually, the therapist asks Annalise to be frank about the names she calls herself, and she unleashes, releasing a volley of hateful thoughts about herself including “drunk,” “selfish,” “mean,” “slut,” “monster,” and “failure.” All of this builds to an exercise where the therapist wants all of the patients to bash the bad thoughts they have about themselves with a baseball bat, so they can release them. It’s still not working for Annalise though. Instead, she’s consumed with how the people at home need her help. She wants to get better. But she’s fixated on wanting to leave everyone behind while fearing their pain would be her fault. The therapist warns that she needs to learn to forgive herself and put herself first or she’ll never get better.

Meanwhile back at home, the K4, now down to three, aren’t thrilled Annalise has abandoned them in their hour of need, and they’re bickering about what to do. Michaela wants to go to the FBI and report Laurel missing, while Oliver wants Frank to torture Xavier Castillo for answers. So, a broad spectrum of reasonable responses to this tragedy.

Tegan is also under fire, and it is now confirmed that Emmett Crawford did not survive his poisoning at the end of last season. She’s being questioned by the police, insisting Emmett did not seem suicidal. We flashback to that night to see Tegan call Annalise to tell her Emmett’s dead, and she worries she’s next. But there is one bright (and suspicious) spot: Tegan’s been promoted to managing partner at Caplan & Gold in Emmett’s place.

There’s still the question of Michaela’s birth parents. While she’s consumed with worry for Laurel, Oliver, Asher, and Connor are digging further into the connection to Annalise. It seems Annalise once defended Dwight, Michaela’s birth father, and he was a pre-law student. They agree not to say anything to Michaela until Annalise returns, while Connor fixates on why he was chosen.

Frank decides they should try pinging Laurel’s phone to see if it turns up any leads. Meanwhile, Gabriel is still in the dark and wants to see Michaela. He thinks she’s avoiding him because of their feelings, and he wants her to know he likes her and wants her. Asher comes out and claims Laurel wants to talk to Michaela (to cover her disappearance) and then goes all middle-aged dad and asks Gabriel what his intentions are with Michaela. He’s worried Gabriel is still working for the FBI but is relieved when Gabriel insists he’s not so he can still enjoy his grilled cheese sandwiches. Priorities, Asher, priorities.

Nate is convinced further foul play is afoot, and he goes to Bonnie to demand the name of the person doing Emmett’s autopsy. She wants him to move on, but eventually relents — and his suspicions aren’t unfounded because when he tracks the guy down, he learns Emmett’s body has been transferred to London for autopsy and burial. And the person who signed off on this is none other than Tegan Price. Tegan has an excuse though — after Nate interrupts her getting emotional over Emmett’s glasses, she explains the other partners forced her to sign off on it. He finds it convenient, but she tells him how she found Emmett on the floor and administered CPR begging him to breathe. In short, Emmett was her friend and Nate should back the hell off.

Meanwhile, we find out just what sent Annalise to rehab. The night Emmett died, Tegan called Annalise with the bad news — this after Laurel had already disappeared. So, it sent Annalise on a drinking spiral where she was so drunk she was dancing with questionable men and doing coke in a bathroom. Cut to: Annalise waking up in a hospital where we’ve just heard a doctor tell Bonnie she had cocaine, MDMA, and fentanyl in her system. Annalise is barely coherent, but she begs Bonnie to get her help.

Connor and Oliver aren’t having any luck pinging Laurel’s phone, and while Oliver keeps arguing for Plan: Have Frank Torture Answers Out of People, Connor is running scared. Oliver, however, is done being afraid. He offers to protect Connor. Then he makes good on protecting him (with his penis). ALL. NIGHT. LONG.

Michaela and Asher try to ignore the sounds of Colliver’s protection session while having their own heart to heart. She reveals she and Gabriel have yet to do it yet. Wow, after all those sexy longing looks? Really?! But she admits it’s because she’s afraid her relationships are doomed due to everything the K4 has done. But as Asher points out, Oliver stayed with Connor even after he found out about it all — so there’s hope yet. Aww, Asher, did you actually just talk your ex, whom you’re obviously still in love with, into sleeping with another guy? You sweet, silly fool.

Frank feels like the rug has been pulled out from under him. Namely, because he’s thrown off by discovering that Laurel asked Connor and Oliver, not him, to be Christopher’s guardians. But he’s still insistent that Laurel did not orchestrate her own disappearance. Because she didn’t bring Christopher’s crocheted giraffe the baby can’t sleep without, and she’d never be that cruel.

Back in rehab, Annalise launches on her nosy roommate, Sally, pegging her as a basic bitch popping pills and chardonnay while feeling superior for being a mom. This provokes Sally to admit she hates her kids — so much so, that’s she been to rehab four times. She wants to run away from her family forever, and Annalise admits she feels the same — and she doesn’t even have kids, just people who need her. This heart-to-heart leads her to reveal her name is really Annalise and that she helped cover up the murder of her husband.

When she wakes the next morning to hear police outside her door, she’s convinced she misplaced her trust in Sally. But it turns out another patient snapped and beat up a cook. She goes to Sally and tries to play off her revelations, claiming she was loopy and making things up. But Sally doesn’t buy it and gives her a meaningful affirmation — “I see you and I love you.” While nothing else in rehab has worked for Annalise, this gets to her. She goes to her room to finally complete the pillow smashing exercise, unleashing all her hurt into it with her fists. “You’re not a failure, you’re not trash, you’re not cold,” she sobs. “You deserve to be loved and touched and felt. You deserve to be free. Forgive yourself, Annalise. Forgive yourself because I forgive you.”

If Viola Davis is planning on running an Emmy campaign for her final season in this career-changing role, this is a hell of a start. After watching six seasons of this woman’s mess — of her struggles to love herself, to own her trauma, and to forgive herself, most especially for things beyond her control — this is one cathartic, emotional set piece. Davis is knocking it out of the park, yet again, from episode 1. We will never get tired of watching her deliver week after week. To be honest, it’s probably what we’ll miss most about the show.

Nate is like a dog with a bone, searching for Tegan online and locking in on a photo of her with Jorge Castillo on some sort of panel in Mexico City. And Tegan remains an enigma, as we see her settle into her new office and toss Emmett’s glasses into the trash with the words, “Boy Bye.” Is she just letting go? Or is something more sinister afoot? Nate gets interrupted by a phone call from Annalise — she’s back in town and needs a ride from the airport. And to be honest, the way you know Nate is still #TeamAnnalise is that he drops everything to pick her up. As all good Angelinos know, you only agree to pick someone up from the airport if your love runs true and deep.

But it’s not all good news — the London autopsy ruled Emmett’s death a heart attack. And if you watched the season 5 finale, you know that’s the furthest thing from the truth. As Annalise says, it’s a good thing she’s back — because something is rotten in Denmark Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Michaela takes Asher’s advice and goes to Gabriel to admit she wants him too. She reveals to him that Laurel and Christopher are gone, but she doesn’t tell the whole truth, saying Laurel left of her own accord. But the point stands that she’s tired of being left behind by people she loves. She wants Gabriel to promise to never ghost her, lie to her, or break up with her without an explanation — or she’ll cut his you-know-what off and throw it in a garbage disposal. And we’re pretty sure Annalise would find a way to defend that in court. They finally sleep together, but their cuddle sesh is interrupted by a text from Annalise demanding the K4 come to her apartment.

That’s ok, though, because Gabriel is fielding calls from his mom — who, as it turns out, is spying on him from a car on his block. She’s here in Philly and also just happens to have a box labeled with a case number and the words “Dr. Sam Keating.” Then, a withheld number texts her that Annalise is back in town. Gonna guess that’s not good for anyone.

At Annalise’s apartment, the K4 gather and apparently her pillow beating did such wonders for her, she wants them all to try it with her couch cushion and the poker from her fireplace. She tells them to beat out the guilt, shame, lies, and fear. “Bury it, bury all of it,” she says like she’s Kylo Ren showing them how to embrace their dark side or something. Most of all, she wants them to let go of Laurel, to treat it as her funeral and say goodbye.
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But don’t worry, it’s not all harsh kiss-offs. Bonnie and Frank are at the house right now with the police having reported Laurel and Christoper missing. As the police tear apart Christopher’s nursery for clues, Frank takes aside a photograph and finds a mysterious key lodged in the frame. Super unclear if he already knew it was there.

Then, the K4 gives the singular most moving, impressive acting performances of their time on this show, letting loose on the pillow as they beat out (heh) all their insecurities. Asher bellows that he’s a good man;  Connor insists he’s not a monster and none of this was his fault; Oliver focuses on reminding himself he’s a strong, confident, powerful man; and last of all, Michaela vents her abandonment issues, screaming about how she does everything on her own. “I’m alone, but I’m brave. I’m strong. I’m proud. I want to be happy. I deserve to be happy. I choose me,” she sobs.

But this poker-stoked release is short-lived. C’mon, you didn’t really think they’d find catharsis in episode 1, did you? Asher ruins the moment by revealing to Michaela that Annalise knew her birth parents. “If that’s true,” Michaela pledges, “I’m going to kill you.” Then we see what looks like a poker with blood splatter flying through the air.

And our funereal book-end returns. This time we’re in a hall, not at a graveside, and there’s a much bigger crowd. But the body is the same. We hear the officiant asking the Lord to “lift up our dearly departed Annalise and give her peace” as we pan to a flower-framed portrait of her.

So, what do we think about the beginning of the end? Is Laurel alive or dead? Is Tegan involved in Emmett’s death? And is Annalise really dead (my money’s on her having gone full Gone Girl for the sake of escaping to a remote beach away from the needs of the K4, Bonnie, and Frank)?

Sound off in the comments below or hit me up @themaureenlee with your thoughts.

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Viola Davis stars as a law professor where she teaches, wait for it, how to get away with murder.
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