Those trying to predict the ending of the Apple TV+ limited series “The Last Thing He Told Me” may have fallen into the trap author Laura Dave saw in the genre that initially prompted her to write the book.
The disappearance of Owen Michaels (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) from his wife Hannah (Garner) and daughter Bailey (Angourie Rice) doesn’t look good at the beginning of the series, especially when his tech company The Shop goes under investigation for fraud. Hannah and her stepdaughter Bailey spend the rest of the show unraveling the complicated reason for Owen’s disappearance, but Dave told TheWrap she wanted to upend the way these stories usually conclude.
“Often when I watch something or read something in the thriller genre [that] involves a love story, you either find out that the husband was bad and then the wife gets some sort of revenge and starts again, or the husband is good, and they’re reunited,” Dave told TheWrap “I wanted to live in the paradox of the gray of that, what if he’s good, and they cannot come back together? Well, what is that saying about love and hope and grief and joy, and the way that things live on even if they don’t look exactly like, we might have wanted them to look? We’re all human, everyone makes mistakes and how are we going to move forward from there?”
It all traces back to Owen’s first wife and her father Nicholas Bell (David Morse), who offered legal services to a family of criminals. Tragedy struck Owen and his father-in-law when Bailey’s mother was killed suspiciously in a car accident. Owen became convinced it was the men who employed Nicholas, so he leaked evidence that got his father-in-law put behind bars. Now his father-in-law won’t forgive him, which made Owen go into hiding and rename both himself and his daughter. The risk of appearing in the news over The Shop was too great for Owen to risk, as his motivation is to protect his daughter.
Hannah (Jennifer Garner) boldly visits Nicholas once she figures out the connection between him and Owen and Bailey/Kristen, and she strikes up a deal with the lawyer that he can meet with his daughter if he vows to protect her from whatever forces took her mother. He warns her that Owen cannot come back into the picture if this is the case, and Hannah agrees.
“The complete story here and the primal story is a story of someone becoming a mother in a very unexpected way. I wanted to tell it in that unexpected way because I think, thank goodness, there’s a variety of ways we all find a path to motherhood or parenthood, and some of it has nothing to do with people we birth,” Dave said. “It has to do with a friend who really needs us, or a fur baby or a niece or whomever. I wanted to honor all of those families and find hope in that, and that your happy ending doesn’t have to be running toward romantic love above all else, but rather running towards something that feels more like contentment and permanence and joy for everyone.”
The looming threat of Bailey’s family history doesn’t completely dissolve though, as Hannah senses eyes on her at the end of the show. Some eyes are less threatening than others, as Owen slyly visits Hannah undercover for the briefest of moments. Olivia Newman, who directed the first two episodes and the finale, wanted to infuse the show’s final moments with a sliver of looming threat.
“It was important to feel that she was in her power, that she was still doing well, that she was very grounded. Yet there’s still this sense that she’s aware that she could be watched at any time because of the deal she’s made at the end,” Newman said. “This sort of calm, happy sense that we find her in, there is still this feeling that at any moment somebody that she’s unaware of could have been sent to watch her. Especially after the incident that happens. What she gained is the thing that she never expected and wasn’t necessarily looking for.”
Dave realized early on that she was actually telling two love stories in her novel — the one between Owen and Hannah and the one between Hannah and Bailey.
“I thought I was telling one love story when I started, but I was really telling another love story. The way that we tried to honor that in the series and stay to that True North and answer the question not only of ‘Can we ever [fully] know the people we love the most but what are we willing to do for the people we love the most?’ is to have the show feel like a call and an answer,” Dave said. “The very first line of the series is Hannah calling out to Bailey, and the very last line and the last word we hear is Bailey’s answer to that question.”
Right after Owen visits Hannah secretly, Bailey walks into the exhibition and calls Hannah “Mom.”
“You believe that these women are going to be okay no matter what, and they’re going to be okay because they have each other,” actress Jennifer Garner told TheWrap.
“The Last Thing He Told Me” is now streaming on Apple TV+.