The Problem with Evan Hansen
We should caveat this by saying that we liked Dear Evan Hansen. You can see our review where we gave it 4 stars. But despite having us in floods of tears by the interval it lost that last star with a weak and all too neat ending and the more we think about it the more problematic we find it. Obviously, there will be spoilers.
The premise of the show is based on a misunderstanding and a lie. That lie is initially not Evan’s fault and by continuing it he brought comfort to the Murphys as well as allowing him to hide his own suicide attempt to himself. But through the show Evan’s motivation morphs away from comforting the family. He purposely writes and continues to write false e-mails, creating a character the Murphys never knew. After becoming intoxicated by the fame and popularity he’d never known, he creates a foundation, not to the keep the memory alive but to keep his new status. He uses the situation to seduce a dead boy’s sister (he can never think that would end well and even if he was telling the truth this is a morally questionable relationship from the start) and along the way gets a surrogate family, selfishly allowing them to give him everything he wanted and which prevent them from facing up to the reality. And these actions cause a great deal of hurt and pain to his own mother who herself is struggling. Although he himself is also hurting it doesn’t excuse his actions.
It’s a credit to the writing and actors that after all that you still like him. And fear for when it will come crashing down. But it never does. Once he admits the lie the Murphys don’t tell anyone. His lie is never exposed to the wider world and so he never has to face up to the pain he caused. And the show never forces him to address his own suicide attempt which by the end is still hidden.
For the Murphy’s part, having lost their son for a second time is it realistic that they would forgive him so easily? Would the sister never have told anyone what happened? The final scene is just for Evan to receive an absolution from Zoe. It’s still all about him.
Furthermore, what moral message does this send out? Is it good that this web of lies happened without any consequences to the person who cultivated and grew them? It’s this moral gap which prevents the end offering the same emotional punch of the first act.
The two pronged issue is there are no consequences for his actions nor are his personal issues addressed. He is in no better or worse position by the end of the show than at the beginning but the show creates the impression that suddenly he is in some way cured, an unrealistic proposition, while simultaneously being a celebration of a liar in a time when fake news is all too prevalent - how would you feel knowing you’d fallen for the hoax?
The writes had been brave in writing a story that deals with anxiety in a raw and honest way that people can relate to and learn from. But the realism they brought and the education they give people is destroyed in the search for a happy and simple ending and the show is all the weaker for it.