HTGAWM: ‘Ask Him Stella’ is Dragged Down by Bad Subplots

HTGAWM Ask Him Stella
Photo Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

How to Get Away with Murder made the smart decision to slow things down this week. This is a show that moves at a break-neck pace and, as we’ve seen from its last two unbearable episodes, the twists can lack any semblance of logic when they come that quickly. So, a slower episode, without any major twists, was necessary. And this creative decision led to a mostly satisfying episode – until an ending that fell flat on just about every level.

But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about the basics. “Ask Him About Stella” was a largely character driven episode that Annalise bonding with a recently relapsed Isaac. On one level, Annalise cares greatly about her former therapist, and she can also relate to him as an addict in recovery. But, this being How to Get Away with Murder, there are ulterior motives involved; Annalise wants to find out the truth about why Isaac’s daughter, the titular Stella, killed herself three years ago.

This subplot wasn’t perfect. We, as an audience, are still expected to believed that Annalise is tortured by her husband’s death, even though her sorrow only appears whenever made necessary by the story. The relationship between Isaac and Annalise is also one that dwells in a grey area, not because it’s mysterious or suspenseful, but because it feels underwritten. Do they like each other? Is the relationship strictly professional? It’s hard to tell.

Luckily, their scenes together work due to some phenomenal work from both actors. This is Jimmy Smits’ best episode since joining the cast, and he manages to make Isaac’s relapse feel believable, while still keeping instep with the series’ melodramatic tone. Davis, meanwhile, remains one of television’s strongest performances, and her final scene with Isaac this week is tragic and deeply suspenseful thanks to her work.

The week’s other subplots, however, left much to be desired. An entire subplot about Nate’s father being in jail felt like an excuse for the actors to shout statistics about mass incarceration to one another. Bonnie’s subplot failed to even take off this week, as she attempted to get close to a new prosecutor (Nip/Tuck’s John Hensley) to help manipulate a case, a recycled plot device that has been used in just about every legal drama – including this one.

And, in the most egregious plot development of the week, Connor and Oliver decided, on a whim, to reinstate their engagement and start planning their wedding again. This begs the question: why have them break up in the first place? Why does this show insist on creating drama when it will mean nothing in a few weeks? Don’t get me wrong – it will be exciting to see these two finally get married (#Coliver), but their relationship becomes less interesting with each romantic reunion.

But then we get to the Scandal-sized elephant in the room: this week’s episode laid the groundwork the much-hyped about TGIT crossover event, and the set-up is worse than I could have ever imagined. After her class-action lawsuit hits a dead-end, Annalise is ready to give up her passion project. But Michaela knows who to call! Cut to: Annalise in DC, sitting in on a lecture being given by Olivia Pope.

This, of course, is a laughable development for a number of reasons. How does Michaela know Olivia Pope? Why is Olivia Pope giving college lectures? Does this series – which has mentioned Obama in the past – now take place in a world where Fitzgerald Grant is President? And how, exactly, will Olivia – a “fixer” – help Annalise win the case?

When HTGAWM returns in March, after the Olympics come to a close, we’ll see just how much damage this ridiculous plot twist does. But Kerry Washington has only been on screen for five seconds so far and I already have a bad feeling about it.

Ask Him Stella Overall rating: 4 out of 10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites