I’ve been obsessed. I’ve watched and rewatched episodes of The Undoing so many times, I’ve lost count. I’ve been bewitched by its talented, smartly cast team of actors. I’ve been gripped by its riveting teleplay and its twisty direction. I’ve been captivated by its clever use of music, sound and the seasonal streets, greenscape and skyline of Manhattan to set the mood and presage upcoming narrative.
There should be no surprise that The Undoing’s transition from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel, You Should Have Known, to a six-part limited HBO series, had all the earmarks of success coming out of the gate. Created and written by Emmy® Award-winner David E. Kelley; starring and Executive Produced by Nicole Kidman; and directed in its entirety by Emmy®, Golden Globe and Academy Award®-winning director Susanne Bier, The Undoing has more than a little in common with such recent outstanding HBO limited series as Big Little Lies (Kidman, Kelley, Bier) and Sharp Objects. All three series explore the lives of privileged couples and their families whose dysfunction, once hidden from public view, is outed by particularly gruesome murders.
The Undoing introduces us to a handsome, seemingly happily married professional couple–Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant). The couple’s micro-managed lives revolve around their precocious 12-year-old son, Henry (Noah Jupe); their commitments to their patients (he’s a pediatric oncologist; she’s a clinical psychologist); and the responsibilities demanded of all wealthy patrons of Henry’s exclusive private school.
Another key member of this picture perfect family is Grace’s dad, retired financier Franklin Reinhardt (Donald Sutherland). Franklin lives in an art and music-filled Manhattan apartment on “millionaire-row” with a maid and driver at his beck and call. Despite his air of patrician detachment, Franklin dotes on his daughter and grandson and will do anything…anything… to ensure their happiness.
But all is not well in paradise, as is evidenced quickly in the first episode, when a shocking incident upends everything the Fraser marriage and family seems to represent and hold dear. The ramifications of a life built on lies immediately takes a toll on Grace, who has dedicated two decades of her life to healing her patients’ marriages and families. When she is forced to turn her attention inward and face chilling truths about her own husband and marriage, the Fraser family’s house of cards comes tumbling down and the collateral damage is swift and deadly.
This is Award-worthy stuff, most especially the brilliant performances by Hugh Grant (still a charming master of the bon mot, but frayed around the edges and dangerously, emotionally shredded); Donald Sutherland (he has never looked or acted so imposing and powerful; his flowing white mane of hair, formidable eyebrows and patrician profile belong on Mt. Rushmore); and Nicole Kidman and young Noah Jupe (their bond, as mother and son, is the engine that powers this drama from the outset). The small supporting cast is equally outstanding, most especially Noma Dumezweni as defense attorney Haley Fitzgerald and Ismael Cruz Córdova as Fernando Alves.
As with games of chess (a pastime shared by Grace and her dad), every move plotted by David E. Kelley’s teleplay and orchestrated by Susanne Bier’s direction begets a series of unexpected counter moves that are impossible to ignore. All of these elements and mighty talents fanned my fascination with The Undoing from the outset, and sparked my resolve to identify the psychopath in sheep’s clothing who drove the Fraser family’s privileged, seemingly idyllic life to the brink of hell.
The full season (Episodes 1-6) of The Undoing is available on HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max. The series debuted on HBO on Sunday, October 25, 2020. The final episode premiered tonight, Sunday, November 29, 2020, with many repeat screenings on HBO throughout the weeks ahead.–Judith Trojan