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

The Undoing builds the case against its leading man

Illustration for article titled iThe Undoing/i builds the case against its leading man
Photo: David Giesbrecht/HBO
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

The second episode of The Undoing is called, “The Missing,” and with good reason: Hugh Grant’s Jonathan is both the man of the hour and offscreen for almost the entire episode. And with each passing minute, his guilt seems to become more apparent.

Advertisement

As an exercise in tension building, the episode is hit or miss. While some of the revelations are legitimately surprising—Jonathan having secretly lost his job months earlier was not a development I saw coming—the method by which they’re delivered is often distracting. Edgar Ramirez’s Detective Mendoza is so oddly heavy-handed in his treatment of Grace that his scenes with her are occasionally disorienting, and not just because of her bewilderment about what’s happening. His entire interrogation of her is built around an apparent assumption that she knows everything that’s been going on with her husband, even though it’s plainly obvious that she doesn’t. The moment where he asks her if she knows why her husband was fired is especially confusing—if she knew he was fired in the first place, wouldn’t she know why? And if she didn’t know he was fired, why frame the question as though she does? It’s a clunky line of dialogue, and even if you can accept that it’s all in service of an effort to put her off balance enough to reveal something, his complete 180 when he encounters her later at the search of the home makes even less sense.

Advertisement

There’s also just a lot of hand-waving over what’s happening in the investigation. The doctor Jonathan worked with couldn’t tell Grace what had happened because of the “strict terms,” but the detectives reveal the details of his termination quite quickly. Even if Elena doesn’t have rights anymore, isn’t the agreement between Jonathan and the hospital where he worked? The detectives also seem to be spending all the time they’re not interrogating Grace loitering at a children’s private school, which also seems bizarre. Elena wasn’t murdered there—if the police aren’t collecting evidence, wouldn’t the school kick them out? It’s like the show wants the school to be relevant to what happened, even though nothing about what’s been revealed so far suggests a crime in any way connected to the school beyond the fact that Elena’s son attends. And no one actually officially informs Grace that her husband is a suspect, nor is there any kind of suggestion that there’s a warrant out for his arrest. When the police tell her menacingly that now would be the right time to talk to them, are they suggesting she could be arrested for aiding and abetting? What is the actual threat?

Part of the issue is that the story is unfolding from Grace’s perspective throughout the episode, so when she doesn’t know something, we don’t know it, either. But there are points where this feels like disorientation for disorientation’s sake. Why not tell her, and us, that Jonathan is officially a suspect, and explain how the police zeroed in on him? They seem to target Grace from the beginning of their investigation, but it’s never clear why. Did Elena’s husband tell them his wife had had an affair with Jonathan?

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled iThe Undoing/i builds the case against its leading man
Photo: David Giesbrecht/HBO

The parts that do work, however, are casting Nicole Kidman. Even if she occasionally has to work harder than she needs to in order to sell some policework, her isolation feels real and profound. Amongst the dark jackets and blonde hair of the other moms, her red hair and emerald green jacket set her off, and she’s often filmed throughout the episode either alone, or alone in the frame. Only one of the moms seems to actually care about her enough to tell her what she’s heard, and Sylvia goes above and beyond by telling her things that might help her understand what’s going on. But beyond Sylvia, Grace has a notable lack of confidants. She talks to her father, but she doesn’t rush to him to tell him what’s going on, and she’s careful to be honest but not reveal too much about her own suspicions to Henry.

Advertisement

And then Jonathan returns, with a defense that sounds like the excuse of every man who’s been caught in an affair ever. Elena was irrational, obsessive. She had taken an interest in Grace. He’s acted poorly, but he didn’t kill anyone. There are signs he might not be completely lying about this—Elena behaves pretty erratically in the premiere, after all. But if he didn’t hurt her, who’s the new suspect?


Stray observations

  • Given that Annaleigh Ashford is a Name, I assume we’ll see more of her anxious mom, but the face she made when the other mom cut her out of the crew to spill her gossip was very funny. Good face work in a limited scene.
  • I have roughly one million more questions about the various police tactics used here, but wouldn’t Jonathan have to consent to the paternity test?
  • The brief shot where you can see Jonathan in the house while Grace and Henry were eating was so creepy! You really don’t know what he’s going to do.
  • Was Jonathan’s colleague lying about Grace’s assistant not calling him, or does Grace have a terrible assistant?
  • For the purposes of dramatic tension, I have to assume Jonathan will have a somewhat convincing alibi to make Grace reconsider whether she believes him or not, but what was the initial purpose of the fake Cleveland trip? It doesn’t seem like he would have urgently needed to pretend to be out of town until after he was already supposed to be on the trip.
Advertisement

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter