After seven episodes of this series I still have a lot of questions for the screenwriters and author Laura Dave: most importantly, why does dad Owen (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) go on the run to protect his family when it’s him the bad guys want? Surely the only way to protect his family and stop the bad guys chasing them is to give himself up?
As expected, the writers shroud the mystery at the heart of the show behind B-plot twists and turns with little pay-off, just to keep you going. In episode four Hannah and Bailey track down Owen’s supposed former professor to find out if Owen lived in Austin, Texas before moving to California. The professor is played by Victor Garber, Jennifer Garner’s dad from Alias, which is a fun little nod if you remember that series. As a teen I used to binge the box sets in the basement on scorching hot summer days, so Victor and Jennifer together on screen is kind of nostalgic. Jennifer Garner is a nostalgic performer for a lot of people—there is something so warm and maternal about her, with her ethereal look of concern, followed by her smile that says nothing is wrong—don’t worry, darling.
There are lots of moments like this in the last four episodes of The Last Thing. Jennifer can also play hardball though, which she does with the US Marshall Grady, who keeps trying to get Hannah and Bailey to disappear and abandon their old lives through the Witness Protection scheme. Why is he so emotionally invested? Grady is overly concerned and his motives are still questionable – this guy is way too interested in Hannah’s case for it not to become a plot point. But it doesn’t.
Victor Garber helps Hannah onto the next plot point, which is tracking down Bailey’s mother. Bailey and Hannah realise they need to stay in Austin because Owen’s old life was here—or was he even called Owen? Was he Ethan in a former life? The fourth and fifth episodes follow Hannah as she tracks down Ethan’s first wife, Bailey’s mother. Hannah checks out a bar in Austin which she suspects is linked to Bailey’s past and happens to see a photograph of a woman who looks exactly like Bailey. The photograph does indeed show Bailey’s mother and the bartender happens to be Bailey’s uncle but he gets suspicious of Hannah, so he chases her out. Hannah starts to
think maybe Owen ran away from Austin for a good reason. But again, if he’s worried about keeping his daughter safe why does he leave her to fend for herself? Meanwhile Hannah and Bailey are still on the run. There’s a good callback to one of the first scenes of the series when Hannah smashes her phone screen, shattering her husband’s image on the screen saver. Now we see why she smashed her phone, and it wasn’t because she found out something awful about her husband, but because she realises she’s being traced by the bad guys.
She then heads to the US Marshall’s office and stays there for a long time. Bailey goes missing while Hannah was in the sketchy bar, and it turns out she’s gone to find her aunt who lives in Austin. The aunt immediately recognises her because conveniently, she looks exactly like her mother. To be fair the two actresses do look exactly alike. Hannah is very worried about Bailey though and so is the US Marshall—but where is the threat? No one appears, gun in hand, to capture Bailey and use her as a ransom to lure her father, Owen. Is that not the first thing a brutal crime mob would do? But no crime mob ever appears; just brief glimpses of shifty men that come to absolutely nothing.
The series then flashes back to fill us in on a lot of what happened in Austin all those years ago. Bailey’s parents were young and in love, and her mother was the daughter of a crooked defence lawyer who was in with the mob—a nation-wide crime gang with eyes and ears everywhere, so we’re told. But these people never appear in the show. First we’re told that Bailey’s grandfather is manipulative and dangerous and probably responsible for his daughter’s death—then by the end Hannah is having a heart-to-heart with him and promising him visiting rights to Bailey. We see him violently angry, smashing a brandy glass with his bare hands in front of Hannah— then we’re told he’s not a threat—he’s just ‘sad,’ Hannah says. I watched the whole series and I still don’t know who the bad guys are, why Owen is in hiding or who killed Bailey’s mother.
Bailey finally learns to trust and even to love her step-mother, a sentiment which is conveyed through a gentle moment when they hold hands on the flight back to California. Years later they’re at an exhibition for Hannah’s wood sculptures and while guests slowly arrive and Hannah arranges the gallery pamphlets, a dirty man with a wizard beard and a baseball cap comes up behind her. He grazes her finger with his own and they have a brief moment of reunion before Owen slips back into the shadows. Is he really satisfied with that life, never holding his wife or daughter in his arms again? Spending every waking moment on the run from thugs who want to kill him and his family?
Owen is a coward if you ask me, and not worth the heartache that he’s caused these women. In the end their trials bring Hannah and Bailey together, unwanted stepmom and moody teenager-turned wise young woman. They both lost their mothers at a young age, and they both find fulfilment and comfort from each other, and sod the rest of their dysfunctional family. At its heart the show is really about absent mothers and how families fall apart when the mother is gone. The message is a good one in the end, but it sure was a convoluted road to get there.