Apple TV+ limited series The Last Thing He Told Me comes to a shockingly emotional end this week.
In the series finale, Hannah makes a calculated risk on behalf of her stepdaughter and herself, and they’re both still distraught over the disappearance of their husband and father. Plus, a shadowy criminal and a U.S. Marshal offer competing visions of safety for the pair — and no one’s sure which one is better.
The Last Thing He Told Me recap: ‘Sanctuary’
Season 1, episode 7: In the series finale, entitled “Sanctuary,” Hannah Hall (played by Jennifer Garner) is about to make a tough call. In order to protect her stepdaughter, Bailey (Angourie Rice), Hannah must talk to a criminal underworld figure she didn’t know existed two days ago.
Her husband, Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), went on the lam when the FBI raided The Shop, the software company he worked for. Seems the company’s product wasn’t ready for market, but it went public anyway. While everyone else at The Shop got arrested, Owen vanished, leaving only a note and a bag of money for his wife and daughter. Turns out he was already in hiding.
Owen’s former father-in-law, Nicholas Bell (David Morse), worked as a lawyer for the mob. And when he messed up a case for his clients, they killed his daughter, Owen’s previous wife, Katherine (Tate Moore). So Owen turned state’s evidence in retaliation, and began his life anew.
Knowing the raid on The Shop would have plastered his face all over the news, he went into hiding so Hannah and Bailey might stay safe. Now … I kind of call bullshit on this plot point. Why exactly would it have hurt his wife and kid to go on the lam with him? He could have just explained all this to them firsthand rather than putting them in the danger of going to look for clues to discover the information. Maybe it worked better in Laura Daves’ book, where this kind of backward plot logic is part of the genre.
Hannah runs out of options
Anyway, Hannah thinks she has one play left. She goes to Owen’s former brother-in-law, Charlie (Josh Hamilton), and demands to see Nicholas Bell. If she can reason with him, maybe Bailey won’t have to go into the Witness Protection Program like U.S. Marshal Grady Bradford (Augusto Aguilera) keeps suggesting they do.
Grady’s in a panic now that Hannah’s given him the slip, as no one but Charlie knows she’s at Bell’s palatial out-of-town estate. In fact, Grady’s so agitated that he doesn’t notice that Bailey gets a phone call from her dad, the first time anyone’s heard from him in almost a week.
Hannah has little luck working on Bell. He did hard time to protect his family and his clients, but Owen wouldn’t. Instead, Owen fled with his daughter like a coward — at least that’s how Bell sees it. He has no interest in having the man humanized, no matter how much Hannah frames Owen’s actions as being born of a protective instinct with regard to Bailey.
… and comes up with a compromise
So Hannah appeals to Bell’s version of the same instinct. What if she could do something for Bell? What if she made it possible for Bell to have a relationship with his granddaughter, Bailey? He doesn’t want to admit it, but this is about the most appealing thing he’s ever heard. The only guarantee Hannah needs is that none of Bell’s underworld connections will hurt Bailey. And the only guarantee Bell needs is that Owen never comes back into their lives.
Bradford arrives to pick up Hannah from Bell’s, and when he hears about the compromise, he’s livid and frustrated. He thinks it’s a bad idea to trust a criminal, and that this will not actually make either Bailey or Hannah safe. He has no choice but to let them go, however, because there’s no evidence to suggest they’re complicit in anything criminal. So they leave.
Bailey doesn’t want to go into witness protection and all she has to go on is what her dad said during their 20-second phone call: “Listen to Hannah.”
Five years later, Hannah has an opening at an art show for her woodworking, and she’s shocked to look over and see someone browsing in a full (very fake and extremely silly-looking) beard. It’s Owen. She drops a handful of flyers and he comes to help her pick them up. “I still love you,” he whispers, and vanishes. Then Bailey comes in and addresses Hannah as “Mom.”
An emotional end to The Last Thing He Told Me
The big showdown between David Morse and Jennifer Garner is OK, but it lacks the sort of mob movie heaviness for which the writers appear to be aiming. (The stab at The Godfather lighting says as much.)
Still, Garner and Morse do some interesting things with their big scenes. Morse underplays everything, aware that going large wouldn’t have worked. (He isn’t really that kind of actor anyway.)
Garner’s stammering uncertainty is a good mode for her. It works better than the kind of stoic she’s been playing throughout The Last Thing He Told Me. She never really found out who Hannah is. (And to be fair, the character’s a pure fictional construct, jerked around by the whims of the story, so that’s not Garner’s fault. You can’t fully dig into someone like this — a high-profile, soft-spoken, Type A California woodworking artist and clueless stepmom thrust into a world of criminals. That person doesn’t exist.)
For Garner, picking a clear emotional idea and working it out like clay on the wheel is a smart move. She’s very good in the scene, aware she’s doing something impossible, something she can’t walk back.
I also confess, sap that I am, that Bailey finally calling Hannah “Mom” got me pretty good. The Last Thing He Told Me was frustrating for a host of reasons, but building to a moment that really took me out like that … you gotta give it up. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Watch The Last Thing He Told Me on Apple TV+
You can now watch the entire run of The Last Thing He Told Me on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.