After seven episodes of The Last Thing He Told Me, the latest mystery show from Hello Sunshine, I find myself asking the question: what’s the point? Looking back at Hello Sunshine’s other mystery shows, Big Little Lies was about the petty nature of rich communities and abuse against women, and Little Fires Everywhere was about the difficulties of motherhood and privilege based on race and class. So what is The Last Thing He Told Me about?
Well, here’s what it’s narratively about: a woman named Hannah recently married a man named Owen and is having trouble connecting with her new teen stepdaughter, Bailey. Things become even more complicated when Owen suddenly disappears out of nowhere, and neither Hannah nor Bailey has any idea where he went.
Thematically, however, The Last Thing He Told Me just feels so pointless. There are some themes brought up here like the relationships between stepparents and stepkids, and the illusion of truly knowing someone because you’re married to them, but these themes are never explored past surface level.
It’s never explained why Bailey dislikes Hannah so much, especially when Hannah is nothing but kind to her. Bailey even calls her Maleficent at one point — why? Bailey doesn’t remember her mom much since she died when Bailey was really young, so it’s not like Bailey sees Hannah as someone replacing a prominent presence in her past. The show seems content with just saying, “Well, you know how teenagers are, especially when they’re close with their dad!” but it rings false.
If Bailey loves her dad so much, shouldn’t she at least be civil towards the woman her dad’s dating? There must be some other reason why she has such open disdain for Hannah, but the show never bothers exploring this, which makes Hannah’s loyalty towards Bailey feel forced as well. She’s not protecting Bailey because she genuinely loves her, she’s doing it because she feels an obligation to do so.
As for the theme of secrets in a marriage, Owen’s second life has nothing to do with Hannah, so his love for her is never truly questioned — not by Hannah or by us. There’s nothing to truly challenge Hannah’s trust in Owen, so Hannah goes through the episodes already knowing what she should feel regarding her relationships and never truly questioning them: trust Owen, protect Bailey.
This also makes Hannah a thinly-written character and an uninteresting protagonist: the mystery has nothing to do with her save for the fact that her husband is involved in it. By the third episode, I started to wonder if Bailey should’ve been the protagonist instead — she’s known her dad far longer than Hannah has, and the mystery does, in large part, involve her.
Jennifer Garner does her best as Hannah, but she’s simply not given a lot to do. Angourie Rice as Bailey feels like the true star of the show. She’s a very charismatic young actress who effortlessly shows a wide range of emotions throughout The Last Thing He Told Me, so it’s unfortunate she also has to deliver so much eye-roll-inducing dialogue where she’s rude toward her stepmom.
I’d like to believe teenagers are much more complex than just irritable kids controlled by their angst, especially when School Spirits, another mystery show released this year, had teen characters that felt so complex and filled with depth.
All of this wouldn’t be such a problem — after all, mysteries can just be fun mysteries, just like horror doesn’t always have to be elevated — if not for the fact that The Last Thing He Told Me seemingly takes itself so seriously. The show takes that slow-burn family drama approach that Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere also took, but unfortunately doesn’t have the substance to back it up.
As an avid bookworm, I quite like it when movies and shows take this approach, considering how one of a book’s biggest strengths over a movie or show is that it’s allowed to devote more time to every scene. By the third episode, I was even having fun following Hannah and Bailey around, playing amateur detectives and trying to figure out where Owen went. Sure, not a lot was being revealed, but that was also kind of the fun letting the suspense build.
When things start being revealed, however, is when The Last Thing He Told Me completely falls apart. Not only is the ending disappointing and unbelievable (I won’t get into it much since I’m trying not to spoil much), but most of the reveal is also done through expository dialogue. The sixth episode is nothing but expository dialogue, and considering how everything’s being explained to them, it makes you wonder if it was even necessary for them to do their own investigating.
There’s also one aspect of the detective period that really made me roll my eyes and groan, and I’m just about sure it’ll have this effect on you too. As they try to solve the mystery, Hannah and Bailey go to different places from Owen’s past, and almost every place unlocks a memory in Bailey’s head from when she was four.
What’s more, it’s lazy writing. These moments feel like happenstance: Hannah and Bailey are rewarded for simply doing the bare minimum of going to a location when doing detective work. It would’ve felt so much more rewarding if the two discovered these things through active investigating, rather than just relying on the off chance Bailey suddenly remembers something.
I would only recommend The Last Thing He Told Me to diehard mystery fans, and even then, only if they’re looking to kill time and have nothing else to watch. There are moments of fun to be had when the show plays towards ambiguity, but the more things are revealed, the more purposeless everything feels. At the end of it all, the show is too surface-level with its themes to have anything deep or interesting to say, and too self-serious to be a frothy romp.
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The Last Thing He Told Me is a toothless family drama that’s too unsatisfying to even be just a fun mystery, making this one of Hello Sunshine’s most lackluster titles.
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