Warning: The following contains spoilers for tonight's season two finale of How to Get Away With Murder. Proceed with caution.
Have you caught your breath yet, How to Get Away With Murder fans? Because we're not sure we have after that intense season finale. Charlie Weber warned us it would be show-altering, and he was not lying.
Not only did we finally learn who was truly guilty in the Hapstall case (turns out is was an incestuous Caleb (Kendrick Sampson) all along), but it was also revealed just why Frank (Charlie Weber) owed Sam (Tom Verica) the murder of Lila Stangard, just how far Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) will go to keep Connor (Jack Falahee) in Philly (spoiler: far), and just what caused the crash that killed Annalise's (Viola Davis) baby.
Oh, and somehow we managed to meet all of Annalise's family, while shockingly eliminating another member of Wes' (Alfred Enoch). That's right: Wallace Mahoney (Adam Arkin) was taken out, sniper-rifle style, right in front of his son. In awe of how one show could pull off that much story in one season, let alone one single hour, we got on the phone with creator Pete Nowalk to take a deep-dive into everything HTGAWM. What follows is part one of our wide-ranging conversation.
I wanted to ask you, before we get into the finale specifically, just looking at the season as a whole, how do you feel about it? How do you feel about what you set out to accomplish?
That's a great question to ask me now that I've finished because I can actually think about it. I'm very proud of it. I think we showed that the show has more legs. The question I got way back when we made the pilot was , "Well, is there a season two of this?" And I think that my goal was to show that these characters are people worth watching and worth getting to know more. For me, it's more of an exploration of character and letting these actors spread their wings in quieter moments. Obviously, we have a lot going on, but that's my goal. And I'm really proud of the fact that we were able to pull off these flashbacks and really reveal stuff about both Wes and Annalise and kind of answer the central question in the pilot: What is her deal with him? I think, in general, I'm proud. Of course, there's always things I'd do over, but I don't have time. I don't have the opportunity to do that. [Laughs]
Speaking of developing character, we learned so much about Annalise this season. How much of her character was developed when you created her originally and how much was a realization that when you got season two, you needed to fill in the character? How was that process?
When I made the pilot, I didn't know 95 percent of who Annalise was. The best thing about Viola is that she's also my collaborator. She's obviously a genius on the screen, but she's my teammate in creating Annalise and really creating her backstory. It was only until last year that—in the first season, I was like, I think Sam was Annalise's therapist. I think this show is screwed up enough, and these people are screwed up enough that that's something that I would believe, that they would both break the rules in that way.
It's so much fun because—I've never created a TV show before—to see how the character can reveal herself to you. And I think that's what's so much fun. We've only just scratched the surface of her past. And it's like the more we do, the more it unfurls before me. I guess my answer is I didn't know much, but the more we dig, the more and more I feel like I'm getting to know.
In the finale, we see so much more of her family life. Where she comes from is shaded in, and Cicely Tyson's return as her mother is mind-blowing. How did Cicely's return come about?
The question I probably get asked the most from the first season is: When is Cecily coming back. For me, it was just figuring out a real story reason why she would return, but also, we're literally just working on Cicely's schedule. She's an in-demand actress, and she's really busy, and luckily the dates that worked out were for our finale. So hearing that she was available then, for me, triggered this idea of wouldn't it be a different finale and fresh for the show if we took it out of Philadelphia. And it was really hard, I will say, writing it. It was like creating a whole new world. It's very difficult, and I really relied on Viola a lot to help me flesh out the family and what she thought the characters were like. It was really fun, but at the end of the season, you're the most behind in the schedule. You have the least time to write the script. So, there were times I really regretted it because it was so hard. [Laughs]
I think what we chose to do was not tell all of the stories about her family and where she's from, but just introduce her father. Clearly, that's very unresolved there. Viola was very interested. She was like, "Who's Annalise's father? And what's he like?" And that's something I hadn't really thought about until this season. I'm glad that you liked it. I'm nervous about what other people are going to say about it because it's energetically very different, but I do think it's necessary for us to understand Annalise more and more. And that's what our goal was.
For a situation we hadn't seen on the show before, it felt so instantly lived in. You felt the family, you felt the connection, which I thought was pretty impressive, considering we've only seen two of the people who were in all of those scenes.
I have to give credit to those actors. Gwendolyn Mulamba, who plays her sister Celestine, that's an actor who Viola has worked with before. She's also worked with Roger Robinson, who plays her father, which, having Viola be able to recommend those people was a relief to me because I knew they would just find the nuance in the performance because honestly, I don't think they got the script until, like, two days before. Welcome to TV. So, I give them so much credit for that.
Switching gears a little bit, the flashbacks we see of Frank and how involved he was in what happened to Annalise were pretty surprising. What is it that pushed Frank to do what he did ten years ago, that made him accept that offer?
I think Frank was really young and shallow at the time. We don't know who he was before he started working for Annalise. All we know is that Sam introduced them. Sam dragged Frank out of the gutter and made Annalise hire him. And I think he wasn't secure in himself, and here's basically lots of money coming his way. And, you know, Annalise was mean to him. I think it was a very immature reactive spontaneous decision that really, to me, that sin really explains why he's so loyal to Annalise. I think he basically believes that he killed Annalise's child, so he's doing everything in his life to make up for, really, a dumb mistake that he made when he was younger and more immature.
In the scene when he actually goes and sets the bug in Annalise's hotel room, is there part of Frank that was still deciding whether he or not he'd do it, only to be pushed by the way she spoke to him? Was there a chance for him to have walked out of the room with the bug still in his hand if she's spoken to him differently?
I definitely think so. I think that's the tragedy of the moment. Annalise is very reactive too and can say the blunt thing, and I think he just made a gut decision there which was, "You know what? If you're going to be such a dick to me, then I'm going to do this thing." He tells Sam at the end of the episode, "I thought they would just use it to get a mistrial." He didn't think would end up this way, and that's the tragedy of it. He didn't think that it was as big of a deal as it would be.
When Annalise is talking to Bonnie at the end of the episode and she says "He has to go," there's a couple ways we could interpret that. How should we be interpreting that? Just that Frank needs to get out of her life, or is it even deeper?
That's a question—it's written specifically so you can interpret it in different ways. I sometimes think it's one thing and then other things, but I'm happy for people to wonder about that over the next few months before season three happens. But I will say, this is the ultimate betrayal of betrayals. She's been betrayed by Sam, she knew that. She's been betrayed by many men in her life, and I think there's no patience for that anymore. We haven't seen Annalise kill anyone before or be a murderer, so I don't know. All the questions are fair, basically. What I love about Viola is, I didn't know how she'd preform that line at all, and I think she did it perfectly.
Looking to season three, what road does Frank have ahead of him to fix his relationship with Annalise?
The question is, does he think he can fix it at all or does he just have to run away and hope she never finds him? I think that's a real possibility. I think the other—I don't know how you can fix it, and I think that's what he was dealing with the whole episode. And will she ever let him. It's such a huge hurdle, I don't know how they'll ever get over it.
For part two of our chat with Nowalk, including scoop on who the mystery shooter might be, head right over here!
How to Get Away With Murder returns for season three this fall on ABC.