Laura Dave breaks down Last Thing He Told Me finale and what she imagines for a sequel
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the finale of The Last Thing He Told Me.
The Last Thing He Told Me ended in much the same way it began: with prophetic last words from Hannah's husband, Owen.
In the beginning, he simply left Hannah a note that read, "Protect her," before disappearing from her and his daughter Bailey's life, seemingly forever, after his company came under federal investigation for some nasty crimes.
In Friday's finale, after Hannah and Bailey have gone on their journey to discover who Owen really was and why he ran, they decide not to change their identities and uproot their lives to potentially join him. But Hannah and Owen are reunited once again — he makes a surprise appearance to tell her he still loves her before disappearing again. We also learn that Bailey has finally taken to her stepmother, and goes so far as to call Hannah "mom."
Ahead, EW spoke with Laura Dave — who wrote the book upon which the series is based, and co-created the show with husband Josh Singer — about the controversial ending, how the book originally ended differently, and where she thinks a sequel could go.
Saeed Adyani/Apple TV+ Jennifer Garner as Hannah in 'The Last Thing He Told Me'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just speaking to the adaptation as a whole, as someone who read the book, it felt to me like the show is a very, very faithful adaptation. But there are a few changes. What was the thought process behind those and did you toy with making any larger changes?
LAURA DAVE: Probably the biggest alterations were episode 6 was sort of blown out in a way that wasn't in the book. So the backstory of Bailey [Angourie Rice] meeting her aunt, of Nicholas [David Morse] meeting Owen [Nikolaj Coster-Waldau] for the first time, all that was the imagination of Josh and the two wonderful women who wrote that episode, Allegra Caldera and Erica Tavera. And it was really a way to introduce Nicholas in a way that we would understand him differently, because we don't want to meet him in [episode 7], and him being just sort of the mustache-twirling villain. We wanted to provide some humanity there. So that was one alteration that was sort of on the larger side. And then the other was really providing backstory to a lot of these characters, like seeing how Hannah [Jennifer Garner] grew up as a way to understand why and how she's relating to Bailey.
But a lot of it was moving in a similar manner toward that final moment. When Josh and I sat down, and we first started thinking about this as an adaptation, what we really wanted the show to be very clearly was a call and an answer. That the very first line of the show is Hannah calling out to Bailey in search of her, and that the very last line is Bailey's answer to that when she says, "Mom." And that was going to be the whole movement of the show. We took so many detours and deviations along the way knowing that that was what we had to be the most faithful to, was that call and that answer.
In creating the show, as the person who wrote the book, was there one scene or moment in particular that was the most eerie or rewarding to see actually brought to life?
That would be the conversation between David Morse, the actor playing Nicholas Bell, and Jen, playing Hannah Hall, in episode 7. Because when I wrote that in the book, everything in me was writing toward that exchange, toward that meeting. Because often, in a thriller or a mystery, that would be the moment where guns would come out blazing or someone would be choked from behind or what have you. But what we had here was that it was really a meeting of the mind and a manipulation. I thought about it in terms of almost being a three-act play in which they're meeting, they're in conflict, and the resolution is going to be somewhere neither of them thought they would ever go. And the reason they go there is for this kid that they both love, even if it means for Hannah sacrificing Owen, and even if it means for Nicholas really sacrificing everything he thought he was capable of doing in the interest of having a relationship with his granddaughter. So watching those two actors perform in that scene, was a big few days for me.
Let's talk about the finale. So much of the series is put in motion because of Owen's choice, but in the finale, we get to see what happens when Hannah makes her big choice. What do you think Owen thinks of Hannah's ultimate decision?
I have spent so much time thinking about what Owen thinks. Actually, when I started writing the book in 2011, in several of the early iterations, you had about 100 pages from Owen's point of view.
Yes. So I have all of those answers. I think there are two reasons that Owen was so — let's call it succinct, so we don't kill him — in the "protect her" note, and one was a time thing. He really had to go for reasons that, if there's ever a book sequel, will become clear. And the other is that I wanted to really get into this idea of, can we know the people we love? I love that even if all the details change, on a soulful level, even if you evolve, even if you shift the way we all shift over a lifetime, I believe that that answer is yes, and I wanted them to believe that about each other despite everything. And so what I think is, Owen may not have known exactly what Hannah was going to do, and he might not have wanted her to do some of the things she did. I imagine he did not think or want her to get on a plane and go to Austin. That said, what he knew she would do is anything that needed to be done for Bailey. And so in that way, she did exactly what he thought and exactly what he would've hoped for.
Let's talk about his decision to come back into Hannah's life, ever so briefly. Do you think that was selfish of him to do?
I understand why people might be angry that he came when he did. I understand that this entire time he's been watching them and worrying about them. And I believe — even if when I wrote it I didn't know what the reason was, and I had no agenda beyond the fact that that was a moment where he chose to come back — I believe there was a reason.
Do you think Hannah tells Bailey about the encounter?
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Laura Dave
So what I am gathering from this, is that maybe we should expect a sequel?
What I will say is, I had no intention of writing a sequel. I had no intention of it when I was writing the first one. It was closed for me. Over time, and thinking about the way that readers have engaged so intensely with that last scene — in good and bad ways, people either love it or some people are like, "How dare you not put them back together!" — I've been asked some questions around this in different capacities, and I started thinking about what the answers are. So now I don't know. I can imagine the world in which that sequel could come to be.
Have your own feelings about the ending changed over time?
I had an original ending for the first five years I was working on the book. I would put it down and pick it up and put it down and pick it up. And that ending was so strongly embedded in my heart that I could not let it go, and that was a more traditional reunification [between Hannah and Owen] ending. And then when I had my son in 2016, and I realized that this was the primal story of someone finding her way to motherhood, the way so many of us find our way to motherhood in ways that don't look like, and thank goodness, just the only one way. People mother fur babies, people mother friends. I love the idea of paying homage to found families in all the ways they look. And when I realized that that was the story I was telling, I had to let go of that initial ending. That was the ending I was holding the closest to. And when I found this ending, I wrote it in one afternoon, sort of the last two chapters, and I never deviated again or thought about it another way again. Which is why I say five years or eight years, or 10 years later, in the epilogue, because I really felt like these characters were going to get to this exact moment at some point in the future.
Can you imagine Hannah and Owen being together at some point in the distant future?
I can imagine it. I can imagine the answer... It's sort of like Schrödinger's cat, but it's Schrödinger's Hannah. I can picture it going one way or another way. I have a friend who talks a lot about when she was about to get married, she saw the person she thought she was going to marry get into a taxi. And that sometimes she imagines what would've happened if she called out. And I sort of think about that last moment like that. He walks out and what's going to happen if she calls out after him or goes and finds him, and what's going to happen if she doesn't?
I think that ambiguity is probably what makes the ending have such a lasting impact, though.
Yeah. Well, I appreciate you saying that because I think that what I had often seen [in other stories was] that if someone's bad, then they're kept apart. You see the wife and the husband's horrible, and then they're kept apart, and she gets revenge or she starts fresh. Or someone's good, and they reunite. But what happens if neither of those things get to happen? If someone is good and they're lost to you, what does that look like? And you say the word lasting, what makes it last for people, and I think it's because there's both heartbreak and hope in that. The door has to be open because everyone did the best they could, and yet the door's also closed because everyone did the best they could.
Right, and you can even interpret it differently based on what phase of life you're in. Jennifer Garner told me she would go up to you and confront you about how unfair the ending is, like, how could you write this?
[Laughs.] She did. One of the many special things about Jennifer, was every time we'd get to the end and we would read the script again, and again and again, she'd cry at the word "mom." And Jen, in one of the letters she wrote when she was thinking that this show would be a good match for her, she talked about being the grown up in the room. And as we grow up, we all have to at some point accept that we're the grownup in the room. I think that last moment, in a nutshell, is what happens when you're the grownup in the room, where you can't get exactly what you want and you can't run screaming about it, and you have to turn around and do what's needed for the children, whoever those children are.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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