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

The Undoing unveils some dramatic last-minute evidence that can't save an uneven episode

Image for article titled The Undoing unveils some dramatic last-minute evidence that can't save an uneven episode
Photo: Niko Tavernise/HBO

The struggle with any thriller like The Undoing is that a constant stream of revelations about the characters have to occur to upset what the viewer thinks they know about them, while still being within the realm of possibility for what’s been established about those characters. There’s a perfect type of revelation that is both so implausible that it doesn’t occur to you, and yet once you learn it, you think, of course!

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And then, of course, there’s revealing that the murder suspect fabricated a story about letting a family dog die only to reveal that actually it was his younger sister. The show has certainly laid groundwork to suggest that Jonathan has some capacity for manipulative, unfeeling behavior. It’s just that this is such an unbelievable fiction for him to have successfully maintained for this many years only to reveal it now. Why craft a version of this story for his wife, to hide behind the reason he doesn’t want a dog that he’s provided for his kid? And why reveal the truth now? He may be estranged from his family, but Grace has clearly met them—they were at the wedding! How could she possibly have never known this about him? And when he reveals it, why does she react with sympathy? I’ve never been married, but this frankly seems like an absolutely WILD thing to keep from your spouse. They have known each other for well over a decade, at minimum.

It’s perhaps the most noticeable of a series of twists and turns in this episode that could give you whiplash. Even the beginning of the episode is disorienting—from Henry watching media footage at school, we’re swept into the middle of another walk between Grace and Jonathan. There’s no real entry point to what they’re doing out there. And then Jonathan decides to ask Grace about her actions the night of Elena’s murder. The question of why these two currently-notorious public figures would go on strolls in the park together right now has still not been answered, but more to the point, Jonathan knows his defense rests in part on people seeing his loving wife joining his side. And yet he’s antagonizing her! There’s also a lot of bewildering behaviors from his hotshot lawyer, who decides to cast suspicion on Fernando on the witness stand by asking probing questions about whether or not he’s getting psychiatric help in the aftermath of his wife’s violent murder. She also claims to know who on the jury has been cheated on based on their Google and Amazon searches, which just seems complicated to figure out. Did those two women on the jury Google “husband cheated now what” then post the results on their public Instagram accounts? What is a “pro-defense news feed”?

The show also has an unfortunate habit of showing us snippets of scenes with the suggestion that they’re meaningful without ever quite making clear why they are meaningful. Jonathan flips through a slide presentation of cheerful pictures of Elena, but we never learn what the point of the slideshow was. Franklin plays the piano very portentously…and at a time of day when his distraught daughter has gone to bed. On the way to the courthouse, we catch moments of the media circus outside, where we’re shown a reporter talking about how a plea deal never materialized. But we know already that Jonathan doesn’t want to accept a plea deal, because we’ve seen him say so. There’s no reason to show us a reporter making note of this, unless it’s supposed to tell us something about the media reaction to this case, but so far the media reaction seems to be that there is one. It’s very easy to say that the media would be obsessed with this case, but it’s been less explicable what the show wants to show with these clips of people talking. Why these moments, these perspectives?

Image for article titled The Undoing unveils some dramatic last-minute evidence that can't save an uneven episode
Photo: Niko Tavernise/HBO

The show does earn some of its gasps of shock, though. The notion that Henry has been concealing the murder weapon works both plot-wise (they’ve mentioned several times that no one can find it) and character-wise—it’s been clear all along that he’s very anxious about what’s happening with his dad. It’s a good twist! It moves the story along based on a big reveal that is both unknowable and right in line with what we do know. And it gives the show a lot to chew on right in time for the finale. It introduces an actual viable new suspect, and emphasizes the dilemma Grace has faced all along. Will money and familial loyalty matter more than justice for Elena?

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Stray observations

  • This is also the longest we’ve spent in court yet, and I wrote down roughly 300 questions about why things were proceeding the way that they were. Sometimes I can’t tell if the show doesn’t care about the legal stuff and therefore doesn’t bother? You get the gist of what’s happening without the usual procedural steps such as, say, the judge clarifying that one lawyer has completed questioning the witness and another can start.
  • Why in the world does Franklin say “Murderer or not, Jonathan must be kept as far away from your son as possible”? This actually seems like a fairly important distinction to consider when deciding whether to estrange a child from his father. If the worst Jonathan can be accused of is infidelity, why would he stop seeing his kid?
  • Sorry in advance for being a bit of a media nerd about this, but I don’t think New York magazine puts a doctor on the cover of its annual Best Doctors issue, or at least it hasn’t since at least 2016. And FiveThirtyEight is a polling aggregator. You’d need enough data about cases exactly like this one to predict a statistical outcome and how could you get that? Hoping Vulture weighs in on the important issue of the fake New York magazine cover you see for two seconds in the background of the scene where Jonathan is poking around his son’s room.
  • Okay, this is my one actual guess about what’s going to come: Grace told Sylvia about the dead sister on purpose. She knows Sylvia thinks Jonathan is guilty, and that she’s friends with the prosecutor, and she was freaked out enough by the suggestion that Jonathan is a total sociopath that she thinks he’s guilty now.
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