There is no doubt about the fact that we are in the midst of the “streaming wars,” where every single streaming platform is vying for the audience’s attention to stay with them for as long as possible. The telltale signs of this phase of entertainment were already there before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. But as soon as we got holed up in our homes, unable to go to the theater, and started spending hours, weeks, and months on our mobile devices, studios tried to capitalize on it by turning everything into a TV show or a miniseries. That’s why a lot of material that had the potential to be nothing more than a 90-minute movie or a short film was stretched into 8 hours of content. We did get our hands on a lot of good stuff—that’s true. However, we can’t ignore this ongoing trend of making a nothing-burger look like a happy meal, starting with the topic of today’s discussion, “The Last Thing He Told Me.”
Hannah is a woodturning artist who is married to Owen, who is a high-ranking official at a tech company called The Shop. Owen’s daughter from his previous marriage, Bailey, isn’t all that happy about Owen and Hannah’s union and doesn’t think twice before giving her the cold shoulder. Bailey is an aspiring singer and is in a relationship with Bobby, and they’re planning to move together to the same college. All seems to be going relatively smoothly when Owen disappears, leaving behind a cryptic message for Hannah, telling her to protect Bailey. Soon after that, Hannah learns that The Shop’s top executive, Avett, has been arrested because the company is guilty of partaking in embezzlement via one of their recent projects. And although everyone claims that Owen has run away to avoid this, Hannah isn’t ready to believe that. Things are made all the more complicated when Bailey receives a duffle bag full of cash, and Hannah is visited by a U.S. Marshall named Grady, warning her about the consequences of non-cooperation.
The existence of “The Last Thing He Told Me” reminds me of a theory that I formulated after watching “Daisy Jones and the Six,” where I question the intellect of book readers who make bestsellers out of the most mediocre stories. In an attempt to emulate the success of said books, producers adapt them into shows, miniseries, or movies, which end up being even more mediocre than their literary counterparts. However, since books are still considered synonymous with intelligence, the quality of the writers or the readers is seldom critiqued. Instead, the onus is put on those adapting the text, with the common phrase “the book is better.” That sounds like a lot of nonsense because if I strip away the visuals and the performances and just look at the plot of “The Last Thing He Told Me,” all we are left with is a hodgepodge mixture of every predictable mystery-thriller ever. And this time, you don’t have anyone to blame because Laura Dave, the writer of the book that the miniseries is based on, is one of the screenwriters. Hence, my advice to readers is to improve their taste and give their attention to literary pieces that deserve the attention and live-action treatment.
Coming to the visuals, because it’s a miniseries, after all, there’s not a single frame in this 7-episode slog that stands out. It’s weird because Michael McDonough has worked on numerous movies and TV shows where the cinematography is the highlight. Yet, here he’s unable to prevent the show from looking like one of those run-of-the-mill thriller series from Star World. Of course, the directors and the production designers are guilty here, too, as they make the vibrant and almost fantastical city of Sausalito seem like a bland and depressing place to live. It’s truly marvelous how they achieved that because one needs to be incredibly talented to kill the vibes of a floating city. As for the editors, they try their hands at a couple of match cuts and draw an emotional connection between the flashbacks and the current events. However, since the direction is so basic and the writing has no depth, none of that elevates the viewing experience. So, after a point, turning off the screen and listening to the progression of the plot feels like the sensible thing to do.
The only aspect of “The Last Thing He Told Me” that can stop you from doing so is the performances of the cast. Jennifer Garner embodies Hannah’s confidence and resolve in an effortless fashion. Her physique reflects the fact that she has the strength to take on the difficult task of woodturning and punch a hole through someone’s chest if they test her patience. Her not needing to resort to physical violence only goes to show that she has great trust in her manipulation skills and mental presence. Angourie Rice always ensures that you can empathize with Bailey because, after a certain episode (I won’t mention which one), she essentially becomes a blank slate. But instead of confounding you with Bailey’s confused state of mind, she internalizes her shock and disorientation, thereby allowing you to project your feelings on her. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau mostly appears in flashbacks to give vague bits and pieces of information, and that’s disappointing. Augusto Aguilera dominates the screen at every opportunity. The way he asserts his power in every situation is impressive. The rest of the supporting cast has some familiar faces, and all of them deliver fine performances.
The miniseries spends a large amount of its running time building up its big bad villain, because of whom Owen has vanished into thin air. At the end, all we get is some more of that buildup and an unceremonious end to Hannah and Bailey’s journeys. Now, you can say that it’s a cliche to go for an explosive showdown because that’s what every other mystery thriller does. Here’s my counterpoint. If you’ve spent around 7 hours repurposing every cliche in the history of the mystery genre as well as the thriller genre, the least that you can do is give the viewers a banger of an ending. At least then, we’d have something to remember the show by. You have to earn your anticlimactic closing ceremony. You can’t just do it in the hopes of coming off as an outlier amongst every piece of “content” that’s trying to take viewers on a twisted ride, as it’s better to be cliche than to be deemed pretentious as hell. With all that said, please watch the miniseries on Apple TV+, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.