“The Last Thing He Told Me” ends with Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), disguised in a very long beard and baseball cap, finally connecting with his wife Hannah (Jennifer Garner) at one of her wood-turning exhibitions.
The Apple TV+ drama follows Hannah and her stepdaughter Bailey (Angourie Rice) as they try to piece together clues about Owen’s disappearance after his tech firm The Shop comes under investigation for fraud. As they figure out the complex reason why he vanishes, Hannah and Bailey forge a bond beyond their step relationship, with the last word of dialogue being Bailey calling Hannah “mom.”
The penultimate scene sees Hannah glimpse Owen by the wooden wedding ring he made to match hers. When she realizes it’s him in her woodwork exhibition, she drops some paperwork, and he bends to the ground to pick it up, whispering “The could’ve been boys still love you,” to signal that he is okay.
“Any beard hides you a little bit. It changes your features, and we tested it with Jennifer. She didn’t know we had this beard. She was on the studio lot, and she was just sitting minding her own business between takes, and I snuck up beside her, and she just noticed this guy sitting next to her,” Coster-Waldau told TheWrap. “She was shocked, and then she got a real emotional reaction because Jennifer was so incredibly focused on this journey, and it’s a lot to carry. When we all saw the reaction to this, that’s what sold us on the idea of the beard as a way that he could hide in plain sight.”
In another life, literally, Owen went by the name Ethan, and he renamed his daughter Kristin Bailey. Coster-Waldau centered his portrayal of Owen on his becoming a father.
“I think the moment he became a father is what defines him and has been what has guided his choices — we find out later — these very extreme choices,” Coster-Waldau said. “The love of his daughter and the focus on keeping her safe.”
Coster-Waldau wanted to portray the differences between Ethan and Owen as well as the fact that Owen is mostly portrayed through Hannah’s memory.
“So many of Owen’s scenes are all other people’s memories. It was always about connecting those dots, and obviously, [in] these early scenes, he’s just the nicest guy. There’s no flaws in this guy at this point,” Coster-Waldau said. “[Owen]’s much calmer in the present day. It’s a very grounded man you meet where, when you go all the way back to when he was really young, he’s not as confident in himself, but he finds that confidence with Nicholas.”
Nicolas Bell (David Morse) is Owen’s father-in-law, but they are estranged because of some criminals that Bell worked for as a mob lawyer, who may or may not have killed Owen’s first wife and Bailey’s mother. Owen exposed Nicholas’ illegal work, getting him sent to jail, so his father-in-law hasn’t forgiven him. He changed his and Bailey’s identity to ultimately protect her.
“Those memories, there is this sort of slant of the person who’s having the memory, remembering it in a certain way. It should still feel like we’re tapping into the truth and the essence of who Owen was. It is supposed to be the sort of authentic piece of who he truly was,” director Olivia Newman said. “There wasn’t a Bailey version versus a Hannah version [of Owen]. Both of them are remembering the core truth about who this person was and the way he interacted with his daughter and the way he interacted with his wife.”
Hannah welcomes the opportunity to work with Bailey and figure out where Owen went, but Bailey remains very stubborn until she realizes that Hannah is the only person she really has that fully relates to what has happened with Owen.
“With a mystery you stay with the core of the story, which is the love story between the stepmother and stepdaughter. How do they find each other? Do you need the bloodline to form a real love relationship?” Coster-Waldau said. “That is what the show is saying, and I believe that to be true because that is the core. All the other stuff is just helping to move these two women together.”