Investing in TV shows, for me at least, always go by recommendation. For The Queen’s Gambit, it was Stephen King, and who am I to reject his claims that it is good TV? HBO’s The Undoing I had heard some rumblings about, and I didn’t really think anything of it, until a friend strongly suggested I watch it. So I googled the cast and the premise, and decided that watching the series was an easy choice to make. Here’s why you should make the same decision:
1. Great Performances
The cast is a stacked one, but they aren’t big names just slumming it in TV, all of them deliver head-turning performances, in very different ways. Nicole Kidman is the protagonist Grace Fraser, a psychiatrist extremely apt in reading people and situations, yet she was unable to tell that her own husband had pulled the wool over her eyes. Kidman, as always, is riveting to watch on any screen. Her character is the emotional centre of the series, the kind of person leaking with empathy yet so stoic and repressed at times.
Hugh Grant plays against type here. In his other roles, even when he was a philanderer, he was a charming and loveable one – think of his character Daniel from Bridget Jones’ Diary. There’s nothing to love here, only a sense of pretense governing all his actions. Donald Sutherland is always great, and here, he takes a supporting role, one that would be easily forgotten in lesser hands. Only Sutherland, as his character, can say he is a “traditional cocksucker” and make that sound like a threat.
2. The Mystery
The core of the series is the mystery – who murdered Elena Alves? Is it Grant’s Jonathan, someone else? The show keeps you guessing from episode to episode, and I didn’t truly have a proper sense of who did it, not until I reached the end.
There are clues, but there are also red herrings, which makes for a riveting watch. It’s no fun if they give away all the clues at the beginning, is it?
3. Commentary On Social Class
From the very beginning, the series plays on the haves and the have-nots. The Frasers belong to elite New York society, their son goes to a school called Reardon, where the tuition is alarmingly high and despite that, still have the audacity to conduct more fundraising, even resorting to auctioning off a symbolic glass of tap water to these rich parents.
As the media covers the case, they discuss the idea that only a rich white man who could make that sort of bail, who could afford the best defense attorney, and in return, he probably gets to go scot-free, whether he did it or not. Someone else might not be so lucky.
It was also mentioned that Elena liked to sit outside the school and stare at it for long periods of time, which gives us an idea of what she covets. Why would a married woman, with a faithful and devoted husband, start up an affair? Maybe if this affair allows her son to get into Reardon, and gives her access to the circles Grace runs in. Or maybe it’s love, and this was a way for her to even the playing field. My one qualm is that because the series is constructed around Grace’s perspective, we never get much insight into Elena, which is a shame since there is loads to unpack.
4. An Unflinching Look At Infidelity
Infidelity is widely discussed in this film, the notion of why one cheats, and what one hopes to gain from it. Some cheat to gain an upper hand in the relationship, to affect the power dynamic just a little, because they feel they are suffocating under the presence of the other person. Others do so because they can, and they repent only to go right back to doing it again. It becomes interesting, since Grace often reassures her clients that marriages can survive infidelity, but it’s not so easy to see the way forward when the shoe is on the other foot.
She doesn’t trust her husband anymore, however, years of feelings are difficult to put aside. Kidman does an excellent job reflecting Grace’s anger, her uncertainty, her loneliness as the murder trial wages on. She breathes such nuance into a character that could have very easily been just a spurned wife. It also looks at the repercussions cheating has on one’s family, how it shatters into pieces something that was once whole and shiny.
5. It’s A Mini-Series
Much like Chernobyl, or The Night Of – both HBO shows by the way – this is a mini-series of six episodes. So, unlike a recommendation of, let’s say The Crown, this isn’t as big of an investment. The series has a one-and-done concept (there is no way they can stretch this out like Big Little Lies, trust me), so if you don’t really like it, it would just be six hours in a week or in a day (depending on how much of a binge streak you are on).
Also, it’s been reported that the finale of The Undoing was the most-watched episode for HBO ever since the last episode of Big Little Lies, so if thousands of people are interested in this show, there is a high chance you would be as well. While it isn’t on the level of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, it is competent TV that you should watch just for Nicole Kidman alone.
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