The Undoing Felt Undone

Reviews, TV

The Undoing is a natural follow-up to David E. Kelley’s other hit HBO suspense series, Big Little Lies. Like the former, The Undoing boasts an impressive cast including a repeat from Nicole Kidman, who is also an executive producer on the newer series. The limited series has ambitions to be something fresh and innovative in storytelling, but I found it to be too mired in mystery tropes that leave the big reveal a little flat.

Spoilers ahead.

He just looks guilty, doesn’t he?

Much of the post-series recap dialogue on Twitter after the sixth and final episode revolved around how we were all guessing at who it could be over the six weeks of runtime only for it to be the obvious choice, Hugh Grant’s Jonathan Fraser. A bold choice, to be sure, and I would imagine it is the same as the book on which the series is based, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I’m not sure whether the major story beats from the book made it to screen, but this isn’t a review of the book anyway, so we press on.

Before we get to the negative, let’s start with a compliment: the cast is phenomenal. In fact, both of Donald Sutherland’s eyebrows should individually be nominated for Emmys (I’m leaning toward the left eyebrow being the favorite). Hugh Grant might have given his best performance in recent memory, if maybe not as bold of a stretch as his character in this year’s The Gentlemen. Nicole Kidman delivers again, but when does she not? My only complaint regarding Kidman is more of a plea to let her be Australian in something, y’all. The accent always peeks out just a bit. Last, but certainly not least, Noma Dumezweni’s portrayal of criminal defense attorney Haley Fitzgerald was top notch.

Now for the less good. The entire series felt like a better written and acted single episode of Law & Order: SVU (maybe a two-parter, maybe…). By the end of the first episode, it feels pretty clear that Jonathan did it, which would be fine, except it’s part one of a six-part mystery show; so in order to pad out the rest of the series, they need to throw as many red herrings in to throw us off the most obvious scent, or as Fitzgerald would say, “muck it up.” 

This would be fine if our point of view was Kidman’s Grace Fraser, the clinical psychologist who couldn’t see the sociopathy of her husband (she should have known, get it?). Instead, our point of view is the semi-omniscient narrator as we bounce around to different characters in various times and places throughout the show. This replaces Grace’s relatable position with an unreliable source who is intentionally not showing us information just to trick us. That’s not a twist; it’s just a lie.

In order for the twist to be pulled off, the mystery in question needed to be what Grace believed happened, not who was the real killer. Unfortunately, the show presented a whodunnit but they tipped their hand at the beginning then bluffed for four episodes until revealing, you were right, you had in fact seen their cards.

Additionally, I found the over-pathologizing of Grant’s character’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be a little problematic, but more on that another time perhaps.

I believe in compliment sandwiches, so to end my review I will say that the show was certainly captivating, no matter the taste it left in my mouth, or lack thereof.

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