The Undoing 1.1-1.4

by Paul Levinson 15 days ago in tv review

A Winning Paucity of Plausible Suspects

The Undoing 1.1-1.4

David Kelley's The Undoing mini-series debuted with a star-studded cast on HBO late last month. I mean, with Nicole Kidman as Grace Fraser a psychologist and Hugh Grant as her husband Jonathan Fraser an oncologist on the posh side of New York City, and a murder and a missing person, we can just stop there and how can you go wrong, right? You can't. The first episode was sleek and blockbuster powerful, an East Coast analog in many ways of Kelley's California Big Little Lies, which was pretty hot, suspenseful stuff, too, over two seasons.

The Undoing started off with a nice long build-up of rich mothers (whose kids are in an elite private school) plus one (who's among them on a scholarship) meeting on some auction committee. Before the hour's over, Elena (the young mother with a scholarship for her son) has a conversation in the nude with Grace in a locker room (that is, Elena has not even a towel around her), Elena on the night of the auction kisses Grace on the lips, and Elena is found brutally murdered the next morning. And, when Grace tries to let her husband know about the murder -- he left in the morning to (supposedly) to attend a meeting in Cleveland -- she finds that he's gone missing. About as good a set-up as you're likely to find on any screen.

So here's where we stood at the end of the first episode:

1. Is there a connection between Elena's murder and Jonathan's disappearance? How could there not be?

2. Did Jonathan murder Elena? He's the most likely suspect, his motive being jealousy, or maybe he was sleeping with Elena and she or he wanted to end that. He did say something to Grace about Elena, and his being missing doesn't help, but that's all still circumstantial at this point, as they say.

3. Any other suspects? The husband -- Elena's -- is always a possibility, but he seems like a nice guy. I suppose there's a very outside chance that Grace did it, but she didn't really have the time, and she seemed genuinely shocked to find out about the murder. So, make that chance very slight and outside. (My wife suggested Grace's father Franklin. We don't know much at all about him, but he's played by Donald Sutherland, which suggests some kind of significant role.)

4. How about someone not at all in the first episode? I'd say no -- Kelley's too good to pull rabbits like that out of a hat.


There was a lot to digest in episodes 1.2 and 1.3: Jonathan is alive. He's Elena's baby's father. Grace is coming around to at least being open to the possibility that Jonathan didn't kill Elena. And ... she was in the area of Elena's murder the night she was so savagely killed.

But for Grace to be the murderer, she has to be a psycho par excellence -- if that phrase can be used in conjunction with a psycho. If memory serves, there's been at least one other drama -- a movie, I think -- in which the killer was not the patient the shrink was treating, but the shrink her or himself. So we now have two suspects: Jonathan and Grace.

I'll go out on an obvious limb and say I think the killer is neither. Fernando the victim's husband has the obvious motive, but police say the camera in the area has no record of his being near the scene of the crime. Is that conclusive? Probably not -- I mean, he could have gotten into the room of the crime some other way, been waiting in an apartment above where Elena was killed, right? So, no, his not being in the video footage is not conclusive. But, and, yet, I don't think he's the killer, either.

So who then? We're running out of suspects. Franklyn, Grace's father, could have done it, I guess. But does he have the physical strength? I don't know. Who's left? I can't think of anyone.

All of which makes for one good detective story. Sharply acted, with great New York flavor, including that prison room for visits, which looks like it was shot in the cafeteria of my junior high school in the Bronx, or is that just me?


And as of episode 1.4 on HBO this past Sunday night, we still have really no better idea of who killed Elena.

I mean, the end, and this is not much of a spoiler, points a little more to Grace, assuming that's who Jonathan meant went he told Connie Chung that he had lost someone he loved. There's maybe a chance that he meant losing Grace, but if not, if that meant he deeply loved Elena, and he lost her, when Grace killed her ... well, that still doesn't mean that she did. Didn't the police cam show her walking away from the murder scene, before Elena was killed?

So that still leaves us with a paucity of plausible suspects. I still think there's an outside chance that Donald Sutherland's character Franklin -- Grace's father -- did it. He has a pent up fury inside him, and Sutherland played him powerfully in episode 1.4, in more than one scene. I think my favorite was his conversation with Jonathan. In addition to Franklin's words, he looked like he was close to spitting in his errant son-in-law's face. A close second was Franklin confessing to Grace how unfaithful he had been to his wife her mother. And a third scene, Franklin and that "putz" Connaver, head of Reardon, was a fine piece of work, too.

As it's been all along, The Undoing is teeming with great acting. Hugh Grant put in some excellent scenes in the most recent episode, too. And all of this is still wrapped tight as a drum as to who did the deed. Anyone else? It's almost certainly not Henry, and not Sylvia, either. Though she's likely the other woman Jonathan was having an affair with, so that increases her chances, at least a little.

When you can't find a suspect, one sometimes fruitful move is to go back to the first one -- in this case, Jonathan -- but the combination of the character and actor still has me pretty much convinced it's not him, either.

See you back here with a review of the next episode, soon.

tv review
Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson
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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; his LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; his nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan have been translated into 15 languages.

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