THE UNDOING Miniseries: A Gripping But Soapy Domestic Nightmare

David E. Kelley‘s new miniseries The Undoing is, on the surface, a gripping psychological thriller. It puts a murder mystery at the center of its story, and throughout six episodes (five are available for review), it investigates who’s telling the truth, who’s not, and who actually does the gruesome killing. But the core of the story is much bigger and more complex than the whodunnit elements, as it also deals with topics such as privilege, class, and denial; though unlike the original source it’s based on — Jean Hanff Korelitz‘s 2014 novel “You Should Have Known” — Kelley‘s writing leans more on melodrama instead of character study, resulting in a lesser but soapier version of its spiritual cousin, Big Little Lies.

The Unraveling of the Perfect Wife

Directed entirely by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager, Bird Box), The Undoing focuses on Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), a successful therapist and a loving wife to a charismatic child oncologist named Jonathan (Hugh Grant). When we first meet her, Grace looks like a woman who’s had it all: a perfect life, a beautiful home in Upstate New York, a talented son named Henry (Noah Jupe), who’s currently attending one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and a group of friends who are as equally glamorous as her.

THE UNDOING Miniseries: A Gripping But Soapy Domestic Nightmare
source: HBO

But of course, that’s just what it looks like at first. Grace’s life and marriage aren’t as ideal as what she always assumes, though she’s only realizing it after a young woman named Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) is killed on the night of a fundraising party at Henry’s school — an event which both Grace and Elena helped to put together along with the other parents including Grace’s best friend, a lawyer named Sylvia (Lily Rabe). What turns Grace’s life upside down, even more, is the possible involvement of Jonathan, who’s revealed at the end of episode one to have some past connection with Elena when he was taking care of her son at his hospital.

Throughout the first two episodes, The Undoing observes Grace as she slowly spirals down and struggles to accept the fact that her husband isn’t as saintly as he always presents himself to be. And it’s at this moment where the show is at its most intriguing, offering an excellent examination into Grace’s inner thought to show us how messy the human mind can be; how, when it comes to our loved ones, we tend to justify their flaws and “unknow” their mistakes for the sake of our own safety even though the signs are all there.

As Grace, Kidman once again proves why she’s one of the greatest working actors today. Much like her turn as Celeste in Big Little Lies, as a woman trapped in a “perfect” marriage that is nothing but a facade, Kidman is able to show every layer of Grace’s emotions and every detail of her thought process. We feel her anger, confusion, and anxiety. We understand when she, once again, makes bad choices for Jonathan. We empathize with her every step of the way even though Kelley‘s writing, which at times leads Grace to do illogical stuff for the sake of the plot, is not always as compelling as Kidman‘s performance.

THE UNDOING Miniseries: A Gripping But Soapy Domestic Nightmare
source: HBO

Grant is also phenomenal as Jonathan. He knows how to show his character’s manipulative side believably while still giving him shades of complex emotions. It really is the perfect role for Grant, one which reminds you of his iconic Emmy-nominated performance in A Very English Scandal two years ago — so perfect, in fact, it makes you understand why Grace falls for this man over and over again even after he keeps betraying her trust. Donald Sutherland as Grace’s uber-wealthy father, Rabe as the snarky Sylvia, and Noma Dumezweni as Jonathan and Grace’s lawyer are also remarkable despite only having a few standout moments.

Handsomely Made, But Could’ve Been Deeper

Though it’s Grace and Jonathan’s domestic nightmare that Kelley largely explores, The Undoing also dances around more interesting subjects throughout the season. One that is most apparent is class. Through the stark distinction between Grace and Elena, both of whom come from different class statuses, as well as all the events their two families are currently involved in, the show tries to uncover how money and social status can affect the way the public views them. Even right from the very first episode, it’s obvious that Kelley, once again, wants to mock the upper-class snobbery, and how they will do literally everything to maintain their place in society.

While this topic of class is, of course, a juicy territory to inspect, The Undoing, unfortunately, fails to say something new as it’s too busy building plot twist after plot twist rather than making compelling arguments about the topic it wants to address in the first place. There’s no doubt that the show would’ve been twice as good if, instead of focusing on its over-the-top melodrama, it dug deeper into how crooked the justice system is; how it’s built to favor people like Grace, who is white and has money, instead of the one like Elena, who comes from the lower, working class.

THE UNDOING Miniseries: A Gripping But Soapy Domestic Nightmare
source: HBO

Still, despite some narrative flaws, The Undoing has enough to keep you hooked every episode. Bier‘s direction is crisp and inventive. She knows how to effectively put us into Grace’s shoes. The looks get distorted and blurry over times as if we’re experiencing things directly the way our heroine is experiencing them. The gorgeous scenery of Upstate New York, along with all the attractive people populating this story, is always highlighted in Bier‘s talented hands. Where Kelley‘s writing is full of shortcomings, the direction, cinematography, costume, and production design manage to make the show entertaining and easy on the eyes.

Final Thought

The Undoing wants to talk about class, privilege, and the way we tend to blindly justify the mistakes of our loved ones, all the while creating a gripping and handsomely crafted mystery. In the process, however, it struggles to say something compelling as it’s more interested in amplifying the melodrama instead of delving deep into its more interesting subjects. But in the end, the show is beautiful to look at, and its over-the-top twist and mystery will no doubt always keep you on your toes. And perhaps, that’s enough.

What do you think of the first episode? Let us know in the comments below!

The Undoing premieres the 25th October at 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.

Watch The Undoing

Powered by JustWatch


Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Similar Posts