“Hi, I’m Philip” ends with a sex montage that’s oh so quintessentially How To Get Away With Murder. Frank and Laurel, Oliver and Connor, Michaela and Caleb, Nate and Annalise—they’re all boning! These people shouldn’t have time to breathe, but they still find time to get it on. Isn’t that what this show always promised? Sexy things and sometimes murder? At least it’s giving us what’s on the label. But as much as I do unashamedly appreciate this ending for what it is, “Hi, I’m Philip” does not really do much to correct the overflowing mess How To Get Away With Murder has found itself in in the weeks leading up to the midseason finale. If anything, it only adds to it.

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Philip shows up all menacingly, then turns out to be a red herring, then turns out to be a real threat after all. Philip offers a get out of jail free card for the Hapstall case, but the real revelation is that he’s somehow involved with Catherine, who might not be as innocent as she insists. Caleb show Michaela the gun hidden in their home—the piece of evidence that Sinclair has been trying to get her hands on all season. Caleb and Catherine’s actions all season have seemed wildly inconsistent, but this marks a very clear turning point for Caleb, who finally does the smart thing instead of just heroically (stupidly) trying to save his sister. It’s still unclear exactly what Catherine is doing, but she might be a parent killer, so that’s something.

How To Get Away With Murder is stuck in a place right now that it got stuck in for large stretches of season one. There’s too much plot going on, for one. It’s falling into the same trap Damages did in every season after its first, trying to outdo itself and spin way too convoluted of a web so that it becomes harder and harder to actually care about the answers to the questions because there simply are too many. Damages, at least, even at its most overstuffed, always fell back on the strength of the relationship between its leading ladies. The character dynamics there were almost enough to keep the show grounded, even as the story went off the rails. How To Get Away With Murder technically has several complicated relationships. But none of them are even close to being as well developed as that between Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons on Damages.

The character moments in “Hi, I’m Philip” either don’t mean all that much or just don’t seem emotionally honest. Annalise punishes Frank for screwing up in what’s becoming a recurring plot this season. Frank and Laurel bicker about each other’s respective upbringings. Laurel becomes the new Bonnie, which apparently just means being Annalise’s secretary. None of it is particularly compelling, and any semblance of character work just gets buried under the ever-swelling plot. Even Oliver and Connor, who are usually my favorite relationship on the show, don’t do that much here. Even though Philip ends up only wanting to talk to him, Oliver goes through a pretty traumatic experience at the beginning of the episode, and yet the only emotion we really see him work through later is distress over the destruction of his beloved laptop. “Hi, I’m Philip” may end with a bunch of characters coupled off for a sex montage, but I really have no idea how we got there. It turns out sexy things and sometimes murder needs a little more substance.

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The highlights of “Hi, I’m Philip” come from the ongoing war between Sinclair and Annalise, which peaks with the discovery of Sinclair’s bugged pen. Annalise flawlessly pulls one over Sinclair, using her own weapon against her. And that tiny nearly undetectable smile that Annalise throws at Sinclair after besting her is some real Viola Davis magic. So little on this show makes sense to me, especially when it comes to character motivations, but I think Sinclair’s hatred of Annalise actually tracks quite nicely, even if we don’t know all that much about her. Sinclair seems to be on the quest for justice, and Annalise is about as corrupt as they come. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most of the characters who go up against Annalise are doing, technically, the right thing. The writers do, in a twisted way, make us want to root for her, which is part of the fun of How To Get Away With Murder. We’re rooting for the team that breaks all the rules in order to get what they want. But that can be a hard sell week after week, especially as Annalise drifts deeper and deeper into corruption. Sometimes these characters feel real, but in an episode like “Hi, I’m Philip,” they’re just too focused on what’s happening instead of how they feel about it that they no longer feel grounded.

Speaking of breaking rules, Nate sure does a decent amount of that this episode. He spends a lot of time helping out Annalise, and he tells her with his mouth that and then subsequently tells her with his abs that it’s also because he still wants her. But at this point, it’s too hard to believe that Nate really is on her side after everything she has put him through, especially when he also doesn’t look so innocent in those flashforwards. So the only conclusion I think we can make here is that Nate is just cozying up to Annalise once again in order to destroy her. Cool. Well, get in line, Nate. Everyone at this point is trying to bring down Annalise, and they all have their own reasons to do so. Nate certainly has reasons of his own, but from an audience perspective, Nate’s hypothetical vendetta against Annalise has the lowest stakes of any of the other vendettas against Annalise in progress, because Nate is by far the least developed character. I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to make of him, and I don’t think Annalise knows either at this point.

Stray observations

  • Connor: “You’re the perfect example of why straight people shouldn’t be allowed to breed.”
  • Annalise: “He’s going to send your hick ass back to whatever haystack you crawled out of.” Sinclair, not missing a beat: “I’m from Connecticut.”
  • I miss Eve.
  • At least the episode mostly sidelines Wes, who really has had the least to contribute this season. Of course, it’s also a bit of a strange move to just completely drop last week’s quasi-revelation about him and Annalise, but How To Get Away With Murder seems very committed to playing the long game with that one.
  • There’s no way it can be that easy to change the name on a criminal record.

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