Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Undoing offers up answers but not enough resolution in a car chase-filled finale

Illustration for article titled The Undoing offers up answers but not enough resolution in a car chase-filled finale
Photo: David Giesbrecht/HBO

Sometimes, it turns out that the incredibly obvious explanation for what happened is the actual explanation of what happened, apparently. The man who had the affair and was seen near the scene of the crime and then tried to run away from said crime is the one who did the crime.

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By the end of The Undoing’s final episode, Jonathan has become such a cartoonish villain that any satisfaction that might have been provided by the pivot to the original suspect is gone. There’s a way to have executed the big reveal that he actually killed Elena that would not have involved making Hugh Grant angrily mutter about fried clams while a series of helicopters chased him. But that was never the way of The Undoing, a show that was a murder mystery, or a story about a woman coming to grips about who her husband really was, or a story about the way wealth and power insulate people from the consequences of their actions. Any of those might have been fine focuses for the show, but the scattershot approach to all of them meant that it was virtually impossible to pinpoint which of them was the actual point of the show.

But for all that the very end got extremely dramatic, a lot of the rest of the finale is a bit slow. The show seemed to have used up all of its twists by the time it got to the big finish, leaving the apparent reveals to land with a thud. So, yep, Grace had Sylvia help her set up the dramatic testimony about Jonathan’s past, a double cross that would have been significantly more compelling if there was any kind of meaningful interaction between her and Jonathan to make the moment sizzle. Or if we had any indication that Sylvia was anything other than Grace’s good friend who’s looking out for her. And yeah, obviously Henry had the hammer because he wanted to protect his dad, an effort that results in what is in retrospect a truly gross scene in which Jonathan tries to suggest that Henry did it, but which isn’t really used to push the narrative that Grace was ready to flip on him. And that doesn’t even get into how bizarre it was for an allegedly smart guy who was on the run from his actions to put the murder weapon in a paper bag on his own property.

And the court scenes, which one might expect from a David E. Kelley show to really jump off the screen, never really rose above a lot of sneering back and forth. The prosecutor isn’t actually that good at her job, and frankly neither is Haley, despite the fact that we’re supposed to think they’re both sharks. Why did the prosecutor keep showing an entire courtroom a profoundly grisly picture of a dead woman without warning anyone? Why did Miguel admit he’d told his teacher that he was afraid of his parents fighting if there was no effort to follow up the lead with that teacher? Why did Mendoza stand around the courtroom glowering significantly on the final day if not to actually do anything? It was like we were being offered a buffet of information that never even rose to the level of a red herring.

Illustration for article titled The Undoing offers up answers but not enough resolution in a car chase-filled finale
Photo: Niko Tavernise/HBO

All of this could have pulled together into a fascinating study of how one woman could have been so fooled by her own husband, and how much her own elite surroundings contributed to her inability to believe the worst of him. But it just never became that show. Instead, the couple of lower-income characters remained completely two-dimensional, and there was never any particular indictment of the milieu in which Jonathan lived. If anything, wealth and power as contributing factors are dropped completely after the revelation from Jonathan’s mother that he’s always lacked a conscience. It may have been a slam dunk for the prosecutor to use in her case, but it also absolves the show of having to provide any commentary on its high society characters, who spent the first episode or two being nasty to Elena and then Grace before disappearing altogether.

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The most frustrating aspect of all may have been how unsatisfactory the eventual flip from Grace was. If this is, ultimately, the story of a woman getting the veil lifted on what a monster her husband is, and then making a conscious choice to do what she can to get him locked up in prison for the rest of his life, there’s almost no narrative moment that lands this pivot. The show has to jump so quickly to the suspenseful chase that we never get to sit with Grace’s actions. It’s an oddly abrupt ending for a show that otherwise spent so much time with her.

Ultimately, The Undoing ends up an impressively pedigreed muddle with a lot more ideas than skill to say something meaningful about them. It had its fun points, but could never quite pull the pieces together into something whole.

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Stray observations

  • That has to be the most threatening conversation about clams I’ve ever seen.
  • OK, I resisted bringing this up earlier, but what was going on with everyone’s accents? All three lawyers plus Nicole Kidman seemed to be struggling to sound American.
  • I would actually like a spinoff that is just Haley rolling her eyes about how much she regretted taking this whole case on.
  • Why did we hear a pundit say a “doctor” had given some kind of primetime interview that made Jonathan look bad? What in the world did the doctor say? It’s not like there was newly relevant medical information about him.
  • Also, I’m no HIPAA expert, but could Haley and Jonathan really reveal health details about Miguel, a minor child, in a courtroom packed with members of the media?

  • I find it slightly hard to believe that Henry could run a sledgehammer through the dishwasher twice without anyone noticing. Did he do it in the middle of the night?
  • At least we’ll always have the stylish coats.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.