When the first episode of “The Last Thing He Told Me” concluded, I made a quick note: “Five minutes of story. Perhaps six.” That’s also the tempo of the next six episodes of this drama with no thrills. And it’s not like the rich personalities make up for the lack of entertainment. On the contrary, they aren’t individuals (at least not until the more emotionally charged end); they’re narrative gadgets forced along a path set by a best-selling book. It’s disheartening to see good actors squander their talents on such dry, dreary material, another limited series that aspires to be “Big Little Lies” but ends up being so very little.
“The Last Thing He Told Me” begins with a disappearance, as do many excellent novels sold in airports and read on beaches. Owen Michaels (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has left his house in Sausalito after the FBI raided the firm where he worked.
Is he fleeing because of prospective charges relating to his present work, or is there something else going on? Hannah (Jennifer Garner), his relatively new wife, feels there’s more to this than a typical white-collar fugitive, and not only because he left a message with two words: “Protect her.” Owen’s daughter Bailey (Angourie Rice), whom he has raised on his own since her mother’s death over a decade ago, is the subject of the query. Even if Bailey resents Hannah in a teenage-on-TV kind of manner, she will have to work with her to seek out the truth about her past with Owen in order to have a secure future.
While the authorities investigate what Hannah and Bailey may have known about their missing loved one, including a suspicious detective called Grady (Augusto Aguilera, arguably the greatest thing about this production), the two attempt to put together where Owen could have gone. The painfully sluggish plotline requires Garner to frequently play bewildered or intimidated, while Rice, a wonderful young actor, is given a playbook full of the most clichéd adolescent girl stereotypes the creators could think of. Everything about these characters is annoyingly sluggish. Garner has practically little chance to grow beyond how she reacts to the next revelation about her husband or stepdaughter. And I’m confident that no one engaged in this production has ever encountered an adolescent girl who has experienced extreme trauma or crisis—they’re capable of putting their problems behind when the world is breaking apart.
Hannah and Bailey soon find themselves in Austin, Texas, looking for a childhood memory of a Texas Longhorns game. The way things evolves as the two grow closer to the truth about Owen isn’t credible or engaging, sliding into a bizarre valley between reality and what this programme should be. Viewers of a thriller like this are ready to put up with bizarre coincidences—consider the popularity of Netflix’s “The Night Agent,” for example—but “The Last Thing He Told Me” makes no attempt to be entertaining. It’s sluggish to the extreme, squandering the abilities of practically everyone involved—with the exception of Aguilera, who I’d watch on a police show. He is more effective and connected with what is going on around him than anybody else.
Apple TV+ offers some of the greatest series on any streaming service, and I like the bold risks they take with massive budgets, which allows producers to develop on exciting concepts with A-list casts. However, they have lately established a horrible reputation of taking novels that were successful on the page and failing to replicate that success in a new format. (“Surface” and “Liaison” weren’t novels, but they both sought escape and found only flat narrative.) This one is especially annoying since it finally settles in an unexpected place as a family drama with a shockingly powerful final episode that is clearly the finest of the series. The creators never fully figured out the merits of the tale they were attempting to convey, and they definitely didn’t think about the appropriate duration for it.
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