A Simple Favor Ending, Explained: Why Does Emily Fake Her Death?

At the end of Paul Feig’s 2018 crime thrillerA Simple Favor,’ Emily Nelson’s ruse is blown to smithereens by Stephanie and Sean joining forces. Tired of Emily’s various ploys and games to gaslight them into doing exactly what she wants, the duo becomes alert to her viciousness. Emily holds Stephanie and Sean at gunpoint in the final crescendo, before firing a shot on Sean. With Stephanie’s life in jeopardy, an element of clever thinking saves her as she livestreams Emily’s entire confession on her vlog channel, thereby incriminating her. In the penultimate moments, the police arrive to arrest Emily as her whole plot falls to pieces before her eyes, while she gets taken down by a speeding car! SPOILERS AHEAD.

A Simple Favor Plot Synopsis

‘A Simple Favor’ begins with Stephanie narrating how she met Emily Nelson at her son’s school to her vlog followers. Emily, the mother of one of Miles’ schoolmates, invites Stephanie to grab a few drinks with her as they collect their kids. Stephanie joins her new companion and discovers that Emily is married to Sean, a writer who published a novel ten years ago without any recent work to boast about. This frustrates Emily, who seems unhappy about her husband’s current status. Stephanie and Emily connect over the influence of a few martinis, and a friendship is established soon.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie to babysit her son, Nicky. She then disappears from their city, and because Sean, Emily’s husband, is in London, there is no one to take care of the boy. Stephanie babysits Nicky for two days as she finds it impossible to contact Emily. Emily doesn’t pick up any of her calls, which incites feelings of foul play within Stephanie, who realizes something is wrong. She contacts Sean, and the two decide to contact the police.  

After the police get involved, Stephanie detours to Emily’s workplace. She gets involved in a kerfuffle with the agency’s security for sneaking around the office. Ultimately, Stephanie finds out from Emily’s office that she had left for Miami on work-related business. However, this turns out to be false as Summerville, the detective working on Emily’s case, reveals that Emily never took a flight to Miami. During all this time, Stephanie has been acting as caretaker regent of Emily’s house, and she and Sean develop a closer relationship.

A call from the police soon arrives at Emily’s home, saying that her whereabouts have been tracked to a lake in Michigan. Sean hurries there, only to see Emily’s drowned corpse being taken out of the water. A funeral wake is held in quick succession, and while mourning his wife’s loss, Sean finds solace in Stephanie’s presence. The two of them end up sleeping together, which results in Stephanie’s moving into the house of her former best friend. Detective Summerville makes a pit stop at the house to inform Stephanie that Sean had taken out a $4-million life insurance policy on Emily before she disappeared, something she was unaware of.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Stephanie begins an investigation of her own. She digs deeper into Sean’s relationship with Emily, trying to ascertain the nature of the enigmatic woman. Meanwhile, another phone call arrives on Stephanie’s phone from someone she believes to be Emily. The woman on the phone refers to Stephanie’s past relationship with her half-brother Chris, something she mentioned to Emily in one of their discussions when she was alive. Unnerved by the call, Stephanie takes matters into her own hands by spending all her efforts uncovering Emily’s past.

She meets with Diana Hyland, an artist who has a painting of Emily in her studio Stephanie recognizes. However, when enquired, Diana refers to the woman in the painting as Claudia, a woman who was once her lover and source of inspiration. The woman, whom Diana refers to as a con artist, disappeared from her life without traces. Using a cloth Diana has that belonged to Claudia, Stephanie discovers that Emily is Hope McLanden, who has a twin sister named Faith. Stephanie follows up on this and tracks down their mother, who has been living on her own as a recluse. From her, she learns that the twins killed their father when they were sixteen.

A Simple Favor Ending: Whose Body is Found in the Lake?

The body found in the lake belongs to Emily/Hope’s identical twin sister Faith. Emily reveals the identity of the dead body to Stephanie at the grave and says that her sister killed herself. However, this turns out to be a lie because the entire incident is depicted through flashback sequences to the audience, in which we are made aware that it is Emily who drowned her sister. After Faith gets killed, Emily makes it appear to those investigating her disappearance that it was her who was killed instead, thereby confounding everyone.

Emily/Hope and Faith’s story stretches back to when they were teenagers. Because they grew up under an abusive father who left them no freedom by ruling over them like a harsh baron, the siblings wanted to get rid of him. Through an act of arson, they burned their house down along with their father, who was still inside. Following the patricide, the pair ran away to escape the authorities and found other ways to blend in and not stick out. To ensure they never got caught, they decided to split up and go their own ways with the promise that they would reunite later.

The reunion never materialized because Faith never showed up. Hope eventually became Emily, who decided to pour all her efforts into building her own wealth and status by moving up in the world. Then out of the blue, fourteen years after they were separated, Faith contacts her sister to meet her. When Emily decides to show up, Faith tells her that she wants a million dollars from the former. Spiraling into alcoholism and heroin addiction, Faith tells her sister that if she doesn’t get that money, she will confess their patricide to the police, which will lead to their arrest.

Emily cannot allow her life to fall apart so easily, especially due to a threat from someone else, even though the person is her sister. Playing along with Faith’s demands, Emily follows her through the woods and into the lake where she wants them to take a swim. There, when the slightest hint of opportunity comes knocking, Emily drowns Faith and leaves the latter’s dead body to be found by the authorities.

Emily/Hope is someone who killed her father to secure her freedom. When Faith shows up, especially after abandoning her twin sister for a life filled with heroin and alcohol, and threatens the same freedom, Emily’s murderous impulses reignite, leading her to kill the former.

Why Does Emily Stage Her Death?

Emily has several reasons to fake her death, especially regarding her lofty standards, her previous life, and what she feels she is entitled to. Trapped in a relationship with a man who is not as ambitious or far-reaching as her, Emily constantly moans about her poor stock. She doesn’t like her house, drab life, and job. A whole host of dislikes have crept into her field of view, and she wants to get rid of them.

So, when Emily’s sister Faith shows up to blackmail her for money, Emily finds herself in a precarious position. Faith, from whom she had been separated for a long time, is no longer the twin sister she is close with. She is now deep into her heroin addiction and alcohol problems, and as such, this makes her a liability and loose end in Emily’s world. Emily has carefully built a world where she is on top of everything and married into comfort with a son she actually cares for. Her life is at least stable, if not entirely satisfactory, but Faith’s hasn’t been.

At the same time, while considering her unhappiness with Sean, her husband, it becomes all too much for her. Although their relationship has been an advantageous way for her to gain a stable footing, she is deeply frustrated by Sean’s lack of success beyond the one book he had published ten years ago. Their relationship is no longer affording her the kinds of luxury she feels she deserves. Emily needs to move on, and after learning about the insurance money Sean had taken out on her life, she sees the same as the “way out” of her supposed misery.

Thus, Emily sees only one solution to her problems. As soon as Faith gets killed, Emily realizes that she can use her dead sister to her advantage. She slips her engagement ring onto Faith’s hand and makes it seem like it is her dead body in the lake. For Emily, it is a way of killing two birds with one stone: escape from a relationship and a life that hasn’t been giving her anything anymore, and her sister who comes back to her life to threaten her life.

Do Stephanie and Sean End Up Together?

Stephanie and Sean don’t end up together in the final scenes, but they do have a complicated relationship that begins after Emily’s supposed death. Initially, the pair get to know one another after Emily goes missing and Stephanie becomes the temporary caregiver in the couple’s house. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of Nicky, Emily’s son, and even becomes Sean’s confidant when he deals with crises. With his wife missing, the pair end up spending a lot of time talking about Emily and discussing what they can do to make the period easier.

The relationship steps up in intensity after Emily’s body is found at the bottom of the lake. After the funeral, Sean, who is in mourning after his wife’s death, finds Stephanie’s presence to be of deep comfort and relief to him. On the other hand, Stephanie, who has been lonely for a long time since being widowed, finds his longing and need for her in his times of trouble reassuring. Their mutual yearning for one another comes to fruition as they end up having sex. Sean asks Stephanie to move into his house with him as he feels she has completed him, even admitting that he loves her.

Everything seems rosy in the garden, but not for long. Cracks start appearing when Stephanie learns about Sean taking out a life insurance policy on Emily that he didn’t tell her about. Later, upon a visit to the college where Sean takes classes, further shade is thrown onto their bond when she sees a flirtatious greeting by a female teaching assistant as she steps into Sean’s office. The biggest fissure, however, occurs when Emily makes her listen to a recording of Sean admitting that his relationship with Stephanie has been purely sexual. With the nature of their relationship fully out in the open, there seems to be no way back for the two.

At the end of the film, Stephanie and Sean join forces to bring an end to Emily’s conniving plot. Initially, it is not sufficiently clear whether this is simply a union of convenience or if they reconciled their differences completely. However, the scroll at the end of the film suggests that after Emily’s incarceration, Stephanie is dating somebody else, and Sean is living as a single man, along with his son. Even though the two may have been remaining in touch, it’s unlikely that they will rekindle their brief romance in the future.

Read more: A Simple Favor: Is the Movie Based on a True Story?