In the musical Dear Evan Hansen, the title character, a depressed, anxious, socially awkward teenage boy named Evan, spends much of the show living a lie. Evan convinces the family of a classmate who took his own life that Evan and the other boy, Connor, were friends, even though they barely knew each other when Connor was alive.
Many viewers seem to think that Evan is selfish and manipulative, and that he purposefully lies to Connor’s family, the Murphys, and others in order to take advantage of everyone else and use them for his own purposes. I completely disagree with that interpretation. I think that the show makes it clear to us that Evan is not the user in the show – the users are the people who push him into going with the falsehood that the Murphys assumed to be true. Evan’s fellow students Jared and Alana, and Conner’s parents Larry and Cynthia, whether intentionally or unintentionally, guilted, pressured, and scared Evan into continuing the lie.
At a certain point, Evan did fall into perpetuating the lie himself, and become a more confident participant, but he never initiated any of it. And – most importantly – when going along with the lie will help the Murphys find comfort, Evan does. When it will only harm them further, he tells them the truth. That’s how we really know what his true motivations were, even regardless of how active a participant he was in the lie: he lies to help the Murphys; then he tells the truth to help the Murphys.
Before we go any further, let’s establish some facts about the show, and some of my opinions that have bearing on the conclusions I’ll be drawing here.
- Alana is a flat-out narcissist (Post going deeper into my thoughts on her coming soon), while Jared is an everyday bully. Neither value the truth, only furthering their own interests. The difference between them is that Alana is ambitious about it and takes control of situations while Jared just takes whatever opportunity is in front of him in the moment.
- Larry and Cynthia are grieving parents who don’t want to believe that the note that they think is all they have left of their son is really some stranger’s creation, and don’t let Evan tell them otherwise. They dismiss him as being in shock. Evan does tell the truth in the beginning. They don’t want to hear it.
- Zoe, on the other hand, is very doubtful of the lies Evan tells and, rather than insisting to him that the truth is false, she points out all the flaws in his accounts, like she’s searching for falsehoods in it. Or has an analytical mind that sees straight to the truth, which is my belief.
- Evan has a natural tendency to try to make people feel better. He does this both because he’s a genuinely good person and because he’s so uncomfortable with social situations that he tries to keep everyone around him from getting upset and putting more pressure on him than he already feels.
To make sure we understand who we’re talking about with Evan, since I think people tend to forget exactly what position he’s in, here’s a summary of where he’s at at the start of the show:
- His mother is basically never home. She doesn’t talk to him except to try to “fix” him, as he says. She gets mad at him for not being fine and never asks him what he really needs. What he needs is more of her, which she’s too busy to see. (Here are my in-depth thoughts on Evan and Heidi’s relationship.)
- His father abandoned him when he was seven years old, leaving to raise his new kids, seeming to never contact Evan again (or if he does, it’s nothing but a quick check-in that means nothing). Evan was a small impressionable child at this time, and he felt that one of the people who was supposed to be in his corner, no matter what, didn’t care. It hit him so hard that he worried that his mother would leave him too, and he’d be all alone.
- He has no friends. The one person who he considers sort of his friend (Jared) tells him straight up at the start of the show that they’re not friends.
- He has incredibly intense social anxiety. He seems incapable of responding to someone quickly and without stuttering or at a normal volume, or looking down and fidgeting. Looking someone in the eye, asking something of them, or having a basic small talk conversation seems to be too much for him.
- He tried to kill himself a few weeks before the start of the show. That right there says quite a bit about where he is emotionally. He’s in about the same place as Connor was. The only difference is that Evan’s attempt wasn’t successful.
Now that the stage is set, let’s move on to the analysis of act one. This is frighteningly long (I’m so sorry), so I figured I’d split this analysis into two parts, act one and act two. The act two analysis, which will build on this, will hopefully be coming soon!
When Connor’s parents confront Evan in the principal’s office and tell him that Connor has killed himself, Evan is shocked and seems to be on the edge of a panic attack, if not already having one in that moment. He lets out a breathy, “He what?” He’s been worrying about what Connor would do with his “Dear Evan Hansen” letter for days. Then he’s called to the principal’s office (nerve wracking for any kid, never mind one with anxiety), and is faced with two strangers who don’t realize that what they’ve read are really Evan’s deepest, most shameful feelings. It’s a very difficult situation for Evan, much more so than it would be for the average, mentally healthy and secure person.
Even so, he tries to tell Connor’s parents that this isn’t a note from Connor, repeatedly telling them that “Connor didn’t write this.” But they don’t believe him, and as tensions rise in the room, with Cynthia getting more upset and Larry sternly trying to calm her down, Evan can’t manage to get any further words out. Evan attempts to continue telling the Murphys the truth, Cynthia gets more upset, and Larry dismisses his comments as shock. By the third time Evan tells them that Connor didn’t write the note, Cynthia is standing in front of Evan and insisting to him that Connor did write it. Evan is starting to hyperventilate. He’s now faced with two desperately grieving parents, one who is crying and the other who is very commanding and serious, who both think he was their dead son’s only friend. Between Evan’s own issues and the Murphys’ intense grief and need for the letter to have been written by Connor, anyone would have been rendered speechless.
Larry and Cynthia both start yelling, and Evan gets more and more panicked, folding in on himself and leaning away from them, asking them if he can leave. And then Cynthia screams, “This is all we have!” Evan watches as she breaks down and Larry tries unsuccessfully to calm her. In that moment, Evan doesn’t seem overcome with anxiety. Still anxious, of course, but now he’s focused on Cynthia, not panic. If he were focused on himself, he would have taken advantage of this moment where neither parent was paying attention to him and left, probably with a quick “I’m sorry, I have to go.” But instead, he watches this woman who has just lost her child, who is clinging to the letter that Evan wrote like it’s her lifeline, and he probably empathizes with her. He knows what it’s like to lose the most important people to you, to feel like there’s no reason to go on, like there’s no way to go on. Later in the show, Heidi will sing of the day Evan’s father left, “The day it was suddenly real.” The reality of such a close family member choosing to leave turned Heidi into the person she is today, barely staying afloat. Looking at Cynthia now, he’s seeing that truck drive away with his father again, and he can’t be the driver. And so he gives her the letter, telling her to please just take it.
There has been no kindness or warmth towards him from either Larry or Cynthia at this point. They haven’t offered him anything. He’s been preoccupied with the shock and stress of the situation; he certainly hasn’t had time to devise any sort of plan. He seems to react to Cynthia’s cries on instinct, giving her the letter as soon as he hears the words that imply she can’t go on without it. Even after Cynthia has the letter and has calmed down a little, Evan still doesn’t make his escape. He stands watching her, still in an even more self-protective position than usual, but still focused on her, until she sees Connor’s name written on his cast. And of course he can’t find a way to tell them the truth now – he’s just given in to their insistence that Connor wrote the letter and Cynthia’s desperation for it. Admitting that he wrote the letter himself would be humiliating, and he’s in a highly stressful situation in the first place. If you have social anxiety, you know that your brain scrambles and you’re essentially paralyzed in these situations. Evan affirms this when he tells Jared in the scene immediately after, “I couldn’t say anything, I just…I couldn’t say anything.”
When Jared asks Evan what he’s going to tell the Murphys when he goes to their house for dinner that night, Evan says, “I mean, the truth,” as if no other option has occurred to him.
Jared (who seems unconcerned with Connor’s death, his only reaction being “HOLY SH*T! HOLY F*CK*NG SH*T!” He doesn’t take a moment to be upset by the news, as Evan seems to when the Murphys first tell him) mocks him for this, too. He says: “Really. The truth. You’re gonna go to the Murphys house and tell them that the only thing they have left of their son is some weird sex letter that you wrote to yourself. […] You know, you could go to jail for this, if you get caught.” In this, he sarcastically insults Evan’s plan, guilts him for it, manages to get in another dig about how stupid he thinks the letter is, and aggravates Evan’s anxiety.
It might be reasonable to say that Jared thinking Evan could go to jail is evidence for Jared having anxiety himself if not for Jared’s quick, cheerful willingness to participate in the lie when he offers to write fake emails between Evan and Connor. Because of this fact and his affinity for bullying, I’m pretty sure he was intentionally aggravating Evan’s anxiety for fun.
Jared then mocks Evan even further, reminding Evan of a speech in which he had a “melt down,” emphasizing how stupid he looked. Evan is clearly not on board with Jared’s plan at this point, saying “What do you expect me to do, just keep lying?!” He doesn’t think this is a viable option, hence why it didn’t even occur to him until Jared suggested it.
Evan laments how sad Connor’s parents were. “They were so sad, his parents. His mom was just…I’ve never seen anyone so sad before.” Jared, of course, takes this opportunity to guilt and belittle Evan into going with his plan: “Well, then, good thing you’re about to tell her the truth about your sex letter. I’m sure that will cheer her right up.”
In short, Jared uses lots of different manipulation tactics on Evan in this scene, while Evan is insecure and almost never knows what the right thing to do is. Jared uses techniques like guilt, belittlement, and fear. Notice that Jared doesn’t target Evan’s insecurities about himself, but rather focuses on Evan’s compassion for the Murphys. He starts out trying to appeal to Evan’s insecurities (the speech, for instance), but Evan doesn’t respond to this nearly as strongly as he does to Jared’s appeals to his sympathy for the Murphys (“they were so sad, his parents”). Evan’s main concern in this conversation is the Murphys, not his own wellbeing (although that is certainly in his mind too).
And all the while, we have Alana standing center stage next to Jared, tweeting about how sad she is that Connor is gone. She goes on about how she’s pretty sure they had a class or two together; she can’t even remember that much about him. Despite this, she invites people to retweet her claims that they were “acquaintances” (close acquaintances, as she’ll later tell us) and message her to talk. While Evan sits off in a corner of the stage, planning to tell the Murphys the truth and feeling sad for them, Jared talks about how little the truth means (“Literally nothing I tell my parents is true and they have no idea”) and Alana stretches the truth to make herself sound more important than she is (making a series of emotional tweets about Connor’s death despite barely knowing him). Alana’s constant talking in the background is reminiscent of the constant images of social media on the back wall of the stage – empty chatter, feigning feeling for Connor and his family where there is little true connection.
While Evan is in the thick of Connor’s family and their very real grief, trying to help heal their wounds as well as his own, Alana offers only easy, token support to strangers and acquaintances. Unlike Evan, no one mistook Alana for Connor’s friend or made her so terrified and unable to think that she couldn’t find the words to deny it. No grieving parents caught her off guard and started screaming about how something she’d created was the only thing they had left of their child.
Starting with her tweet to her classmates about Connor in this scene, she stole the spotlight, directed the focus of grief about Connor’s death toward herself and away from his family, and chose to paint herself as much more of an authority on Connor than she was. But Alana operates online and at school, separately from Connor’s family, and doesn’t face the emotional repercussions of her false claims, only the social benefits.
When Evan is with the Murphys later at dinner, he clearly intends to follow Jared’s advice to “nod and confirm” from earlier. He starts out just nodding along, but quickly feels awkward and nervously says “Connor loved skiing.” Given Evan’s total lack of malicious intent up to this point, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t using this to build upon the lie. He was trying to be positive and got stage fright with everyone in the room looking at him but him not saying anything. He first takes the initiative and speaks without prompting when Cynthia is again falling into hysterics from Zoe insisting that there were no good things about Connor.
Reminiscent of the scene in the principal’s office, Cynthia once again refuses to accept the truth, insisting on the opposite, because she can’t bear the darkness of reality. Evan sees her struggle, and helps her keep herself in her imagined reality. After this, Evan realizes that he’s said too much and tells them “Never mind, it doesn’t matter,” when Cynthia asks what he remembers about Connor. He tries to stop the process, but she won’t let him.
For Forever seems to be the first time that Evan starts to find solace in this story as well. He becomes lost in the story as he tells it, almost forgetting that he’s speaking to someone else.
Then we have our next Jared-Evan conversation, in which Jared berates Evan for extrapolating on what the Murphys said rather than following his advice to “nod and confirm”. (What did Jared expect, though? Did he think they would only ask Evan yes-or-no questions or make statements at him? It’s almost like he wanted things to go wrong. He does enjoy causing people distress.)
Evan tells Jared, “I tried to [just nod and confirm] but I got nervous and then I started talking and I just…” Jared: “You couldn’t stop.” “Well they didn’t want me to stop.” This is an accurate account on Evan’s part: After his sudden outburst, telling Cynthia that he “remember[s] a lot of good things about Connor,” he tried to tell them he didn’t have anything more to say, but they pushed him to say more. And when he did say more, they were warmed by it. They start reminiscing on adventures they had at the orchard when Connor and Zoe were little and the family was still stable and intact.
Jared continues with his usual belittlement of Evan (“Honestly, could you be any worse at this?”), then he offers to help Evan write fake emails to share with the Murphys. Note that Evan doesn’t ask Jared to help. He doesn’t say anything about Jared being involved. Jared involves himself, and in exchange for his involvement he demands that Evan pay him. Yes, Jared demands that Evan pay him to create fake emails posing as a victim of suicide. First he pushed Evan to keep from telling the truth, and now that he’s gotten Evan into this messy situation, rather than offering to help out of the kindness of his heart (blagh), or realizing that this is going too far and suggesting Evan come clean, he chooses to help further the situation and exploit not only Connor’s memory and family, but Evan, too.
When Evan shows the Murphys the first round of fake emails, he assures Cynthia that there are more, assuming they’ll want to see more of what’s left of their son. When Cynthia sadly says, “It’s difficult to read these, it doesn’t sound like Connor,” Evan regretfully tells her, “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have – ” and starts to reach towards the email print-outs in Cynthia’s hands. As usual, he’s still trying to protect Cynthia and do what’s best for her and her family. When she remarks that Connor sounds happier in these emails than she remembers him being, Evan assures her that they “laughed all the time.” She’s eager to see the rest of the emails, continuing with the pressure to further the story that she and Larry pushed onto him.
When it comes to Zoe, Evan follows the same pattern that he has been: trying to smooth things over both for the sake of his anxiety and for the sake of others. When Zoe finds Evan in Connor’s room and asks what he’s doing in there, he doesn’t have some plan to tell her how much he misses Connor. He doesn’t automatically come up with that plan on the spot. He seems to have been wondering about who this boy he claims to have known really was. He was reading one of Connor’s books when Zoe walked in. When Zoe laments that her parents can’t stand each other and fight all the time, Evan tries to make her feel better by saying that everyone’s parents fight.
Then she lets herself be more vulnerable with him and asks why Connor wrote about her in his note (well, supposedly Connor’s note): “‘Because there’s Zoe, all my hope is pinned on Zoe, who I don’t even know and who doesn’t know me.’ Why would he write that, what does that even mean?” Evan has seen up close, multiple times, how much Zoe hated Connor. Now Evan is showing Zoe a different side of Connor, and it’s making her rethink their relationship. She’s starting to think that maybe there was more to her brother than she’d thought. And she wants there to be more to him than she thought. In the scene when Evan is first at their house and telling them about the orchard, Cynthia happily reminds Zoe of when she and Connor were children and they played together: “Do you remember that, Zoe?” For the first time, Zoe doesn’t sound hateful or resentful of her brother. Instead, she sounds wistful when she answers “Yeah, I do.”
She wouldn’t have asked Evan what Connor meant about her in his note if she didn’t care at all. She sounds almost a little heartbroken. So Evan tells her that Connor wished he had been closer with her. She’s happy to hear it, as Evan probably expected.
In If I Could Tell Her, it’s clear that Evan’s crush on Zoe isn’t surface-level. He doesn’t just think she’s pretty or envy her money. She isn’t just a symbol to him (although the reasons he loves her are related to what she symbolizes as a character, as I’ll discuss in a future post). He notices the smallest things about her, thinks deeply about how moving she is as a person (“there’s nothing like your smile, sort of subtle and perfect and real” “he wondered how you learned to dance like all the rest of the world isn’t there”). He isn’t using her here. He isn’t trying to earn her affection through making her feel all warm and fuzzy from the compliments that are supposedly from her brother. He’s thought about this before – a lot. He’s speaking from the heart. He does love her.
When Evan kisses Zoe, it’s not because he was planning it all along. It certainly hadn’t crossed his mind to make any move on her before the start of the song, at the very least – he was actively moving away from her and looking away from her. At the end of the song, he gets caught up in the moment, saying aloud, to her, all of the feelings he’s had about her for (probably) years. When Zoe pulls away from the kiss, Evan’s face is like he’s been woken up from a dream.
The next scene is Evan talking with Jared over video chat, telling him what happened with Zoe. So we have Evan, mortified, stressing about what he’s going to do, and Jared telling him once again how stupid he is and what a bad person he is (“Hey asshole, aren’t you gonna say something?”). Then Jared signs off and Alana calls him on video chat to tell him that he can’t just let Connor disappear. “I can guarantee you if you don’t do something, then no one will remember him. Is that what you want?” *peace out* (And she rolls her eyes at him as she peaces out. “God, why won’t you just obey me?”) Again, people are appealing to Evan’s care for others to exploit him, specifically Alana this time. As I’ll discuss in another post, Alana isn’t concerned with Connor’s memory for any sort of selfless reason. It’s all because worming her way into it makes her more popular and gives her more to put on her college application (though I don’t think she’s very aware of this – narcissists rarely realize what they’re doing). But she knows that Evan genuinely cares about Connor (and the Murphys, if their existence has crossed her mind at that moment), so she appeals to that, guilting him into doing something further in honor of Connor’s memory.
Then Connor, a figment of Evan’s imagination (is this a hallucination or a musical-style representation of Evan’s thoughts? I find that a fascinating question), appears and encourages him to do something. I think that this is where the first hint of selfishness starts to taint Evan’s actions. But only a hint.
Connor’s words are clearly representing Evan’s thoughts. Connor tells him that Zoe, Cynthia and Larry need Evan, Evan is the only person who can keep Connor from disappearing, and if Connor disappears, what does that say about Evan?
This shows us clearly that, for the first time, Evan is thinking of himself. It’s finally permeated his consciousness that this could be good for him. Of course, in the midst of this realization, he’s still thinking of Connor’s memory and the Murphys. They never leave his mind. Connor points out to him that he and Evan are alike – “Nobody cares about people like us.” “People like us?” “Connor Murphy, the kid who threw a printer at Mrs. G in the second grade, or Evan Hansen, the kid who stood outside of jazz band concert trying to talk to Zoe Murphy, but his hands were too sweaty. You know, people like that.”
This is a huge moment for Evan. It’s the first time in the show that he’s related to anyone – literally anyone. Always before we heard him say how different he is, how weird he is, how no one would like him if he opened up to them. And then he realizes that Connor is like him – misunderstood, different, isolated. And it’s this realization that pushes Evan forward to create the Connor Project. It’s Evan’s empathy again. He thinks about how devastated he would be if he disappeared and no one noticed (“I mean, would anyone even notice if I just disappeared tomorrow?”) and realizes that that’s how Connor would feel, too. Connor was just as alone as Evan, and Evan doesn’t want to let his companion of sorts be lost, alone, and unnoticed any longer. Through empathy for Connor, Evan steps up and works to make sure other people know they’re valued, seen, heard. Sure, it’s also for himself, but his own feelings never made him rally this way. It’s Connor’s memory that motivates him.
And, lest we forget, Connor went out of his way to talk to Evan in the beginning of the show and offered to sign Evan’s cast, then said, “Now we can both pretend that we have friends.” This is obviously far from straight up telling Evan to tell everyone they’re friends after Connor kills himself, but there was a genuine connection between those two, and Connor did, in a way, give Evan his blessing to extrapolate on that connection to lift himself up a little. Connor wasn’t thinking that deeply when he said it, most likely, but in terms of literary symbolism, it certainly implies that Connor would have approved.
The line between Evan and Connor becomes blurred at this point – is Evan really thinking about Connor or is he thinking about himself? I think it’s a mix of both, with the true intention of going with the lie for the sake of Connor’s family underlying it, based on the rest of Evan’s actions throughout the show.
However, I do think that the scale is tipped in the favor of him doing it for Connor’s sake – he doesn’t care about being the face of the Connor Project. He goes to Jared and Alana, whom he knows have skills in publicity and marketing, presumably for their help in those areas so that he doesn’t have to do the peopling involved in the project. He happily accepts Alana’s assertion that she is now co-president (he may have been expecting this and hoping for it – even less peopling if he’s not solely in charge).
When Evan does put himself in the spotlight (heh heh) of the Connor Project, it’s because, you guessed it, someone pressured/guilted him into it – this time Cynthia. (Jared and Alana get a break for now.) Cynthia definitely doesn’t mean to guilt Evan into anything, and she doesn’t seem to understand how intense his social anxiety and need to please people is, so she strongly encourages him to give a speech even though that’s pretty much the worst thing imaginable to him. (Many people say they fear pubic speaking more than death. Evan is definitely one of those people.)
Cynthia’s devastation over Connor’s death is at least 25% of Evan’s entire motivation for keeping up with her original misconception. She assumes that he’ll be giving a speech, then tells him a sad story about how no one liked Connor and how sad that was for her. She gives Evan the tie that she bought, in vain, for Connor. And all the day before the assembly. As usual, Evan tries to get out of it, to avoid any recognition of any kind from anyone, but Cynthia insists that he do it. It’s kind of paradoxical: He wants recognition more than anything, but fears it more than anything. After the unintentional guilting and pressuring, he gives in.
Evan begins his speech reading his by now patented story of Evan and Connor in the Apple Orchard from 3×5 note cards. He’s nervous and awkward, as expected, but tries to bull through, because this is important to him and the people he cares about. Partway through the story, he drops the cards, then drops to the floor to pick them up. That triggers a moment of awakening for Evan. The details of the story aren’t important. They aren’t even technically true. What’s important is the message that he and Connor shared a connection that has saved him, and Connor’s family. Other people can reach out in some small way to find a connection that will save them as well. Connor and Evan’s connection is complicated, but in reality it did start with Connor reaching out to make Evan’s and his own life a little better, and has continued because Evan stumbled into helping Connor’s family deal with their grief.
The speech becomes the anthem You Will Be Found. At the end of act one, Zoe kisses Evan and, after several moments of consideration, Evan kisses back.
Let’s look at the context here. Larry has finally acknowledged Connor’s death and is grieving, on the way to recovery. Cynthia is thrilled by what Evan’s speech has done. Everyone around both Zoe and Evan are melting (in a heart-warm way, not a wicked witch way) because of the impact Evan has had. People from all across the country are writing articles, blog posts, social media posts, letters, making vlogs, probably snapchat, Facebook and twitter videos, talking about how moving Evan’s speech is and how much it helped them or someone they know. At this point, all either of them can see from the lie is good.
But Evan still knows it’s a lie. He still knows he’s essentially tricked a grieving family. And that’s why he’s very unsure about reciprocating Zoe’s advances.
When she kisses him, he initially pulls away and shakes his head no. She waits, confused, while he silently goes through the thought-and-feeling process. During You Will Be Found is the first time that Cynthia’s affections for Evan turn to motherly love, at least outwardly. During this song, she takes his face in her hands and looks at him lovingly, grateful for all he’s done for her and her family and the world. She walks with him around the stage. She watches him adoringly throughout the song.
It’s at this point that suddenly, he’s been adopted, as his mother will later say. He has a motherly woman who looks at him with all the adoration and gratitude a person could ever want. Larry has probably begun to treat Evan like a son at this point as well, given that he’s finally let himself feel, and how fatherly he is with Evan in the beginning of the second act, plus Cynthia embracing Evan as their replacement son, and Zoe coming to love her brother in hindsight thanks to Evan.
Because of him and the lie he’s helped perpetuate, the Murphys, as a family, are put back together again, and it’s not just because he fills the hole that Connor left. It’s because he took them through this process of thinking about who Connor was, remembering him, bringing out the emotions that they were hiding from themselves. It (temporarily, at least) washed away the resentment they each had for each other.
Zoe, who began the show by telling Evan that her brother is a psychopath, tearfully tells Evan that he’s given her brother back – in a good way. He’s reminded her that Connor wasn’t simply a danger to her who made her life hell. He was once a kid who played with her and probably loved her and showed her some of the affection that he gave Evan at the start of the show.
She remembers that he wasn’t simply a bad person. Her mother was right – he was a complicated person. And had it not been for Evan, she wouldn’t have come to terms with who her brother was. She wouldn’t have remembered the good things and only focused on how awful her brother was.
Important as it is to remember that he wasn’t the saint most people are making him out to be, it was also a necessary step in Zoe’s emotional health to let her long-buried love for Connor come to the surface, to allow herself to grieve instead of just being angry. With everyone around her grieving as she does, this is probably the first time in the show that she doesn’t feel alone, too. This time, she’s grieving with everyone, instead of being the one person still acknowledging that Connor wasn’t perfect.
Evan knows all this. He may not have articulated it to himself, but he’s perceptive and empathetic, and he’s been acting according to how each of the Murphys responded throughout the show, especially Cynthia and Zoe. Zoe has just told him how grateful she is for what he’s done. He’s just been accepted by people across the country, and more importantly, by a family who values and loves him.
For the first time since his dad left, he has more than his mother, who he hardly ever sees, to be his emotional support system. It’s not long after he attempted suicide, broke his arm and had to get his boss to take him to the hospital because his mom wasn’t answering her phone. That’s the key to this part: Evan is a recent suicide survivor, which no one knows, so no one ever gave him the management or treatment necessary, whether in the form of professional treatment or someone who cares about him telling him that they don’t want him to die, that they would be devastated if he was gone. This is the closest thing he’s gotten to something like that, to someone telling him that his existence isn’t meaningless, isn’t a burden.
So he gives in to what both he and Zoe now want, and he lets himself have this feeling of acceptance and meaning, and gives her the comfort of someone to hold her when she’s finally fully feeling the effects of Connor’s death. At this point, to tell any of them the truth would be more cruel than continuing the lie, at least from Evan’s perspective. He and Zoe both desperately need someone. So he gives that to them both.
The grieving process is about accepting the loss and the things that now can never be changed. Evan helped all three Murphys remember the positive sides of Connor, both the parts that existed when he was very young, and the parts that still existed right up until the day he passed. He helped them understand some of Connor’s potential motivations that Connor himself couldn’t articulate. Evan helped the Murphys ultimately see, accept and remember Connor as the whole person he had been, rather than as only the troubled child that dominated their thoughts and family life, and find closure. That may have started with Evan’s lie, but it doesn’t make the results any less real.
By signing Evan’s cast, and keeping Evan’s letter, Connor chose Evan to be his friend, in a sense. Connor reached out to Evan, but his illness meant that in life their friendship was cut short. Evan continues their friendship, in a sense, by giving Connor back to his family after Connor’s death. Seeing what Evan’s words do for people across the country as well as Connor’s family gives Evan a new sense of accomplishment and acceptance, and for now, at the end of act one, the lie seems to have brought nothing but good.