[Warning: The recap below contains spoilers for The Undoing Season 1, Episode 4, “See No Evil.“]
After last week’s cliffhanger, I had high hopes of The Undoing taking an unexpected turn. Putting Grace (Nicole Kidman) at the scene of the crime opened up some exciting possibilities in terms of her relationship with Elena (Matilda De Angelis) and potentially her state of mind. What a massive disappointment to see the cliffhanger wrapped up within the first couple of minutes of this week’s episode (Grace’s late-night walk defense is substantiated). It was nothing more than a red herring, a cheap tease to make sure viewers tuned in this week for more of the same plodding narrative.
The Undoing is only a limited six-episode series, but even that is starting to feel too long. The show is already stretching material that could have been told more effectively in a two-hour movie. It often feels like the story is repeating itself. Take, for example, this week’s scene where Grace meets with Jonathan’s (Hugh Grant) former attorney, Robert Adelman (Douglas Hodge). It’s almost a cut-and-paste of last week’s scene, right down to the location and the dialogue: “I still think your husband’s a dick,” Robert says, “just not one who’d commit murder.” At one point, I had to check to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put on last week’s episode. It was completely unnecessary and felt like a stalling tactic — a familiar feeling across the whole episode.
In terms of moving things forward, Jonathan is released from prison after Grace convinces her father, Franklin (Donald Sutherland), to cough up the $2 million bail. Franklin is only doing it for Grace’s sake, as he doesn’t care for Jonathan and even tells him that he thinks he’s guilty. It turns out Franklin has never liked or trusted Jonathan — because Jonathan reminds Franklin of himself and his own shameful past.
Franklin tells Grace that basing her ideal marriage on that of her parents’ is foolish — he was unfaithful to her mother countless times. Grace doesn’t want to believe it; her memories are of her father showering her mother with flowers and gifts. “The gifts were penance,” he says, before confessing his fears of Grace accepting Jonathan back as her mother did him.
It’s clear by now that The Undoing is more about the breakdown of a marriage than it is a murder-mystery. And if that isn’t obvious enough, Grace and Jonathan’s argument where they both mention the show title (“You managed to undo it, didn’t you?”) hammers the point home with an enormous thud.
There’s nothing wrong with a “marriage-trouble” story; I just don’t find it particularly entertaining, especially when it’s not doing anything outside the box. In fact, if they were going to do a relationship story, I’d have preferred a Kidman and Grant romantic comedy. At least the show could have had some tongue-in-cheek fun with that and played with the formula a little more.
As for the murder mystery, things progress very slowly. Jonathan is still the main suspect and continues to make things worse for himself. He doesn’t ingratiate himself well with his new lawyer, Hayley (Noma Dumezweni), who chastises him for getting into prison fights and forces him to confess to any other extramarital affairs, to which he admits at least one other. Grace is still in the crosshairs, too, though she’s mostly suspected of withholding information. The police discover a portrait that Elena painted of Grace, so well-detailed that they think Grace must have posed for it. Again, this is quickly brushed over as Grace denies it and then asks Jonathan about it, suggesting there isn’t anything much deeper.
There is a potential third suspect, though, and that’s Franklin. It’s at the very least implied that Franklin could have killed Elena in an attempt to frame Jonathan and get him away from Grace. Not only do we see Franklin’s immense distaste for Jonathan, but his visit with the Reardon school principal reveals a menacing figure. Franklin firmly suggests the school reconsider its decision to have Henry (Noah Jupe) home-schooled, essentially threatening them.
“I will f*** over anyone that hurts me or a loved one,” he states. “You speak of ugliness? You have not yet met ugliness.” Oh, and he outright tells Jonathan that he’ll track him down and kill him should he run away again, which also paints him as somewhat suspicious.
Franklin turning out to be the killer would be a ludicrous turn of events, but honestly, The Undoing is a ludicrous show at times. Just look at the scene where Jonathan visits Fernando (Ismael Cruz Cordova) to plead his innocence — and then stays to feed his baby daughter. The police aren’t tracking this suspected killer, who already tried to run once before? Nobody’s watching Fernando’s apartment? Jonathan just waltzes in like he owns the place, a move that angers Hayley, who is flabbergasted by her client’s boldness.
“You actually thought you could change his mind?” Hayley says with a laugh. The crazy thing is Jonathan did believe that, and Hayley realizes that his charm has worked for him in the past.
In a risky decision, Hayley puts Jonathan’s charm to the test when she has him appear on TV to present his side of the story. He does the sad husband routine, even saying that he loved Elena and is grieving for her. The interviewer questions why he ran, as “innocent people don’t flee.” Jonathan gives some spiel about how he didn’t feel innocent due to the infidelity and felt that in some way, he caused Elena’s death, not physically, but that his affair led to someone murdering her, perhaps in a jealous rage.
When he’s asked if he has any idea who might have killed Elena, Jonathan looks into the camera and says, “I do, yes,” as our potential suspects (Grace, Franklin, Fernando) watch on. But which one of them is Jonathan looking at?! A bit of a hokey ending, I must say.
As I’ve said before, the performances and the cinematography of The Undoing are fantastic, and it’s those things that keep the show ticking. But with two episodes left, we’re in need of a major revelation to inject some excitement into the proceedings. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I trust this show to deliver.
The Undoing, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO
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