Emily Nelson (Movie) Character in “A Simple Favor”

This post includes a character analysis of Emily Nelson, the main antagonist of “A Simple Favor”.

Directed by Paul Feig, the 2018 mystery comedy stars Blake Lively as Emily Nelson. Today’s post is solely based on the 2018 film adaptation, not the novel. Beware of spoilers.

What Happens In “A Simple Favor”

In “A Simple Favor”, Emily Nelson fakes her own death to claim life insurance money. When her plan goes awry, she tries to pin her scheme on her husband. As payback for sleeping with her best friend (Stephanie Smothers), Emily tries to accuse Sean of fraud and domestic violence.

During her disappearance, Emily reunited with her twin sister Faith. The latter wanted to extort from her sister a large sum of money to finance her destructive lifestyle. Faith is a heavy drug user and an alcoholic. Unwilling to have her sister destroy the life that she has built so far, Emily lures Faith to a lake, only to purposely drown her afterwards. Then, Emily used Faith’s dead body to simulate her own death.

In the midst of Emily’s plans to incriminate Sean, Stephanie changes her mind. The latter starts working with Sean to gather evidence against Emily’s plans. In the end, they manage to record Emily confessing to her crimes. When the police arrive, they arrest Emily. During Stephanie’s vlogs, she reveals that Emily is doing pretty well in prison.

Note: For those who are interested, here is an article containing a discussion about what happened at the end of “A Simple Favor”.

Emily Nelson Character Analysis in “A Simple Favor”

“A Simple Favor” presents Emily Nelson as a mysterious woman with a secretive past. She is currently married to Sean Townsend, a college professor who once wrote a famous novel. Together, they have a son named Nicky.

In terms of personality, Emily Nelson is charming, intelligent and confident. Underneath her gorgeous appearance lies a less pretty side. Despite her charms, Emily has a very dark side to her: she is a master manipulator and a pathological liar. Whenever, Emily meets someone new, she creates an entire new persona and identity, which makes it difficult for the people around her to truly know who she really is.

Background Story

Emily Nelson’s real name is Hope Mclanden. She has an identical sister named Faith Mclanden. When they were teenagers, they set their house on fire to kill their abusive father. After committing murder and arson, the twins parted ways. They never reunited again until Faith resurfaced to ask for money.


There are four key figures in Emily’s life: her husband (Sean), her son (Nicky), her sister (Faith) and her new best friend (Stephanie Smothers).

Sean Townsend

On the outside, Emily and Sean seem to be the perfect couple: happy and in love. However, reality is a much different story. The couple is going through some financial difficulties, which have been putting a strain on their marriage.

Nicky Townsend

Although Emily doesn’t care much about others around her, there is one person that she genuinely loves, and that would be her son Nicky. Even when she left him under Stephanie’s care, she thought it through.

Emily knew that Stephanie wouldn’t harm her son, that’s why she went away for such a long period of time without saying a word about her whereabouts. She knew her son would be safe with Stephanie.

Faith McLanden

In “A Simple Favor”, Faith dies at the hands of Emily, but that doesn’t mean the latter despises her sister. Of all the people in Emily’s life, Faith was probably the one who let her down the most.

Emily and Faith shared a close bond. When they parted ways, they agreed to meet up again once things calmed down. However, Faith didn’t keep her end of the bargain and never showed up. Not only that, but when Faith finally reached out to Emily, it was to blackmail her.

The reason why Faith failed to meet Emily was actually very unfortunate: she started to hang out with the “wrong people”. The ones that introduced her to the world of drugs and addiction.

Stephanie Smothers

Emily’s relationship with Stephanie is complex. They start well, but then their friendship goes sour after Emily finds out that Sean has been sleeping with Stephanie after her “supposed death”.

At first, the two mothers bond over a couple of Martinis and exchange compromising revelations. When Stephanie was vulnerable in front of Emily, the latter tried to comfort her. However, their friendship reaches a turning point when Stephanie learns more about Emily’s past.

After doing some research about Emily, Stephanie realized that her friend has some skeletons in her closet. First, her real name is not even Emily Nelson, but Hope McLanden. Second, it turns out Emily has assumed different identities over the years, which makes her kind of a con artist.

As expected, Emily did not enjoy finding out that her “friend” was snooping on her past and sleeping with her husband. Therefore, she finds petty ways to taunt her. Then, the two finally meet to confront each other. The two ladies feel that Sean has wronged them somehow and decide to conspire against him. But Stephanie changes her mind, which leads to Emily’s downfall.

Is Emily Nelson the villain in “A Simple Favor”?

Emily Nelson is many things: a con artist, a master manipulator, a liar, a murderer… But is she the bad guy in this story? In my opinion, she is not. Despite the terrible things she did in “A Simple Favor”, she did them to protect the person that matters to her the most: Nicky.

Let’s see, Emily murdered Faith for several reasons. Her twin sister was trying to extort her, Faith wanted Emily to pay a huge amount of money to keep her “mouth shut”. By the way, not the smartest move.

Let’s not forget, Faith was the one who had the brilliant idea to burn down their house. So why denounce your involvement in the patricide when you’re the culprit behind it? Well, I guess drugs really mess up your mind and your IQ too.

Ironically speaking, the insurance fraud would literally solve Emily and Sean’s financial problems. When Emily married Sean, he was a promising writer who wrote a best-selling novel, which I guess is how he made his early fortune.

Sean’s success didn’t last long, as he was never able to write something good again. Although the man has a respectable job as a college professor, his salary doesn’t pay for the lavish lifestyle that Emily was expecting of him.

Then, this is a controversial one, but Emily was in the right to taunt Stephanie. This is the same woman who called herself a friend when she slept with Emily’s husband. One could say that they thought Emily was dead, and that somehow excuses their actions. Still, they did it right after her funeral. No sense of loyalty at all.

Having said that, I don’t think Emily Nelson is the big villain in “A Simple Favor”. There are at least two people in this story who are as flawed or even worse than her. It’s true that her actions and methods to get what she wants are questionable, but most of the time, there was a legitimate reason for them.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned before, Emily Nelson is not the worst person in “A Simple Favor”. People like Stephanie and Sean also need to be called out.

One slept with her half-brother after a funeral, and then years later she repeated the same with her friend’s husband. The other sleeps with his late wife’s friend right after holding her funeral. Even though Sean thought his wife was dead at the time, couldn’t he just have waited?

Having said that, one of the most unsatisfying things about “A Simple Favor” was definitely its ending. In my opinion, our antagonist deserved better than going to prison. Honestly, I really wished she had escaped only to taunt Sean and Stephanie some more. Those two think they are on a higher moral ground, but they are really not.