Who is Phil? How The Promised Neverland plays with expectations

The largest mystery of The Promised Neverland was solved once Emma and Norman learned the true nature of Grace Field House in the first episode, informing the viewing audience by extension. Once the mystery is solved, the story is driven by thrills and suspense — dozens of smaller mysteries and hints at an unknown outside world while characters are pitted against each other, forced to assume or approximate how much, or little, they know.

These gaps of information force the characters and the audience to assume or guess as to who knows what. In these gaps, The Promised Neverland shines. Minute details — even the in-universe flowers unique to this series — can be mined for information as can certain framing choices and lighting. This series is specific and directed in what it wants us to notice. Not everything is important but, like Emma, Norman, and even Ray, we don’t know the importance of certain facts or items and can be drawn towards things that aren’t as important through manipulation from Mom Isabella, Krone, or the series’ camera respectively.

Keeping all of this in mind, the series also gives us Phil.

Phil is a younger child at Grace Field House who is first shown during Emma’s energetic character introduction that opens Episode 1. He approaches Emma for help tying his shoes and she carries him down the stairs like an older sister would a younger brother, establishing their dynamic and also Emma’s assumed role within their orphanage “family.” We think little of him in the same way that we regard the black and blond-haired characters on either side of Emma — they’re her younger brothers, and she loves playing with them and helping them.

I don’t remember their names, but I do remember Phil’s. This is because, at a crucial moment in Episode 4 where Ray tells Emma to suspect all of her Grace Field House siblings as potential traitors, Phil’s name comes up as a possibility. We’re told that he has high test scores for his young age, and is one of the more observant children generally. Ray turns out to be the traitor in question, but the series wants us to know about Phil, or at least be able to recall his name.

So begins Phil as a recurring theme throughout the series.

Returning to previous episodes before Ray tells us to suspect him (via Emma) reveals that the series visually separates him from his peers, even in group shots, both before and after Ray brings him up as a potential traitor. Following the fourth and fifth episodes, we know that Ray is the admitted spy for Isabella, but there are similar visual hints to Phil that mirror how the series sowed the seeds for Ray’s betrayal before Norman’s accusation. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Phil is a spy like Ray, but The Promised Neverland wants us to pay attention to Phil for some reason.

Phil comes up time and time again at opportune moments. It’s Phil that discovers Don and Gilda in Isabella’s room, scaring them because they thought it was Isabella herself. In that moment, he is purposefully separated from Don and Gilda visually by a table. Phil is also present in the concurrent plot line to Don and Gilda’s snooping — he’s the one that tells Emma about the morse code in William Minerva’s library books. He stumbles upon Sister Krone as she is snooping through Ray’s belongings and asks her what she is doing. Phil is everywhere, especially once the series first mentions him specifically in Episode 4. With growing tension around the children’s escape as well as both Isabella and Krone, Phil’s actions and appearances are never in a vacuum. They’re framed by the tension of The Promised Neverland itself.

Yet, there’s little to suggest that Phil is a traitor outside of the fact that he’s visually presented as a child who sneaks around frequently. His poses range from shushing Don and Gilda to sneaking down the hallway en route to discovering Krone’s secret search. He’s intelligent and shrewd, but never outwardly deceptive. Phil is given a prominent position in the opening, but is also shown holding Emma’s hand in a gesture of solidarity and trust. He receives similar visual cutaways to Don and Gilda before they were told the truth by Norman, Emma, and Ray. This tells us to pay attention to him, but doesn’t frame him as any sort of traitor or spy.

This could all be a ruse — something to distract the audience’s attention or keep us guessing while the children themselves try to stay a few steps ahead of Isabella, Krone, and the system itself — but when The Promised Neverland decides to point out something through the series’ camera, it’s usually for a specific purpose. Phil’s actions, and the camera, don’t paint him as a traitor, but he’ll likely be important in episodes to come.

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