SERIES REVIEW – The Last Thing He Told Me is an eight-part thriller series on Apple TV+ based on the novel of the same name by Laura Dave, starring Jennifer Garner as Hannah Hall, who becomes embroiled in a mystery when her husband Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) disappears during an embezzlement investigation. The only clue she leaves behind is a note that reads “Protect him”. The “she” is Bailey (Angourie Rice), Hannah’s 16-year-old stepdaughter, with whom she is not on good terms. Together, the two women try to uncover the truth about Owen’s past and present, while the FBI and other dangerous forces are hot on their trail.
The series builds on promising material, as the novel tells a gripping and twisty tale of intertwining family drama and criminal mystery. The series creators, Laura Dave and Josh Singer (who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Spotlight), are also experienced writers who are able to hold the viewer’s attention. The cast also looks strong, with Jennifer Garner proving her ability to handle both action and drama in Alias, and Angourie Rice, a talented young actress who has appeared in Black Mirror and Spider-Man. In supporting roles, we see familiar faces such as Aisha Tyler (From Among Friends), Geoff Stults (The Grace Clinic) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones).
Unfortunately, however, the series fails to capitalise on these strengths and ends up being a boring and formulaic creation, full of logical lapses and clichés, and the characters are flat and unbelievable. The series fails to hold the viewer’s interest because it drags on too long with unnecessary subplots and flashbacks, while the main mystery unfolds slowly and sluggishly.
The Garners can’t get the hang of it
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Last Thing He Told Me is that he fails to adequately portray the relationship between the two main characters. Indeed, there is no chemistry or dynamic between Hannah and Bailey. Garner and Rice’s acting isn’t bad either, but they fail to convincingly convey the conflict and rapprochement between a step-parent and step-child. At the beginning of the plot, Bailey seems to hate Hannah because he feels she is trying to replace her real mother, but soon this tension disappears and instead a more friendly tone develops between them. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if there was a reason or explanation for this change, but unfortunately there isn’t. The story does not show why they begin to trust each other or why they begin to love each other. It just happens and that’s that.
The other big flaw of the series is that it fails to arouse the viewers’ curiosity about Owen. Owen remains a mysterious character throughout, who is only revealed little by little. This in itself would not be a problem if this information were interesting or surprising, but unfortunately it is not. Owen’s past is full of clichéd twists and turns that we’ve seen a hundred times before in other films or series. Nor is Owen’s character very developed or sympathetic. We cannot understand or accept why he lied so much to Hannah and Bailey, nor why they loved him so much. Coster-Waldau’s acting doesn’t help much either, as she just keeps a bored and jaded expression on her face throughout.
Great basic idea, untapped potential
The third major weakness of The Last Thing He Told Me is that it fails to exploit the potential of the basic idea. The series could explore a fascinating theme: how does the disappearance of a man with a secret past affect the life of a family? How do those left behind cope with the process of seeking justice and grieving? How does a new family dynamic develop between a step-parent and step-child? How does this affect everyone’s identity and trust? These are all questions that would be interesting and relevant today. But unfortunately the series does not address them in any depth or nuance. Rather, it only touches on them superficially in a few clichéd scenes or dialogues that add nothing new or original to the subject.
The series fails to show why these issues are worth addressing, or why these characters are worth rooting for. Its final words fail to touch the hearts or minds of its viewers, and this is perhaps its biggest flaw.