The Undoing finale: That ending broken down and other questions answered
HBO miniseries The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as a rich Manhattan couple in big legal trouble, is over. After six episodes that had the internet spinning endless theories about who murdered Elena Alves and why, we finally learned the killer’s identity in Sunday’s final episode, The Bloody Truth. But that doesn’t mean every question raised by the thriller has been answered beyond a reasonable doubt.
Let’s put on our flowy Stevie Nicks-style coats, stroll through (an oddly empty) Central Park and dive in, shall we?
Warning: Major, major spoilers ahead. Like really, really big ones, including the biggest one of the whole series.
Who killed Elena Alves?
Viewers had all kinds of ideas, but in the end, the answer was right under our noses. The murderer was Grace’s husband, Jonathan Fraser, the pediatric oncologist on trial for murdering his lover. She was the mother of his former patient Miguel — and of his own infant daughter.
The revelation that he killed Alves following an argument unfolded in flashbacks, and turned out to be as obvious as it was shocking. It also cemented the show as a psychological thriller more than the twist-filled whodunnit many viewers have come to expect from mysteries.
“I love that collectively, as an audience, we are all so used to processing wild-ass twists and turns,” one viewer tweeted. “All The Undoing had to do to fool us was shoot straight.”
And, of course, drop a constant stream of red herrings suggesting the murderer could be Grace or Grace’s dad Franklin (Donald Sutherland) or son (Noah Jupe) or friend Sylvia (Lily Rabe). (There were just so many shots of her that seemed to say, “Look at me! I’m a clue!” I fell for it, lesson learned.)
“In designing the episodes, we were inviting people to play with their biases and their curiosity and their version of the truth,” Executive Producer David E. Kelley told TVLine. “There were scenes with Sylvia that were deliberately cryptic, but it was never part of the master plan to have her be part of the crime.”
The Undoing is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known. And from that title alone, it’s now easy to look back and think we should have. So why didn’t we? And…
Why was Grace so blind to the truth?
Deep, deep, oh-so-deep denial. Despite being a Harvard-educated clinical psychologist who considered herself adept at reading people, it was simply too shattering for her to fully absorb the mounting signs her beloved husband was a sociopath (including the most glaring one, the revelation that he displayed zero grief when his little sister died tragically all those years ago). So to protect herself, her marriage, her son and her basic assumptions about people and pretty much the entire world, Grace keeps herself in a state of denial — until she simply can’t any longer.
The strength of the show is that it makes viewers just as reluctant to face the truth about Jonathan as Grace is — and we’re not even married to the guy.
No one wants to believe that someone who, by all accounts, has devoted his life to healing could so recklessly and brutally take a life. And as Grace suggests to more than one patient, the mind can go to great lengths to deny information that conflicts with truths we don’t want to see, especially when those truths involve loved ones.
Plus, let’s face it. Hugh Grant’s masterfully manipulative Jonathan also turns up the awww-shucks charm in that special Hugh Grant-ey, head-cocked, romantic-lead kind of way. The charming British accent probably didn’t hurt either. Up until the last 10 or 15 minutes of the finale, it was still easy to believe Jonathan had been falsely accused — until he set off with Henry on the creepiest father-son road trip ever, getting more crazed with every swerve of the family SUV.
What finally wakes Grace up?
Watch closely in the final episode as Jonathan suggests son Henry might have killed Elena in an attempt to keep his fractured family together, and you can see a subtle shift happening in Grace. She may not know her husband the way she thought she did, but she certainly knows her son. And she’s absolutely sure he’s a good kid. He may have it in him to leave his violin on the floor out of its case (bad idea), but he certainly doesn’t have it in him to beat a woman to death.
It’s shortly after that pivotal moment Grace calls her friend Sylvia, a lawyer, and says she needs to talk. We aren’t privy to what they discuss during their early-morning stroll. But presumably Sylvia is advising Grace how to take the stand with savvy and implicate her cheating narcissist of a husband, who at that point in the trial seems likely to be acquitted.
What does the ‘The Undoing’ refer to?
There are various ways to interpret the show’s title, since lives, marriages and long-held narratives all come undone. Notably, undoing is also a psychological term for a “defense mechanism in which a person tries to cancel out or remove an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought or action by engaging in contrary behavior.” It appears Grace’s initial inclination to believe in her husband’s innocence is her defense against the horrifying reality she knows deep down.
“Do you not tell patients,” the prosecutor asks Grace during cross-examination, “that sometimes they so want to believe in their partners that they choose to un-know things? Un-see things? That sometimes the truth of who and what they married gets distorted by the desperation of what they want to be married to?”
Check and check.
Will there be a season 2?
HBO clearly angled The Undoing as a limited series, so a second season seems unlikely. However, both Kelley and director Susanne Bier have made comments that leave the door open at least a tiny sliver. “Of course you wonder what comes after this is over. We did joke about it on set,” Bier told OprahMag.com. Asked about the possibility of another season, she said, “I won’t rule it out. But it’s not in the concrete works.”
Kelley, while stressing a second season has never been the intent, did tease what it could tackle.
“Susanne Bier and I both loved the part of the book where Grace was rebuilding herself after her world fell apart. But for the purposes of this run, it was more about the thriller aspect,” he told The New York Times. “Who knows? If we did the extended life of Grace Fraser beyond this season of The Undoing, maybe we’d get into that reconstruction part.”
P.S. What’s with Franklin’s eyebrows?
A wealthy, influential man like Franklin needs wealthy, influential eyebrows, apparently. It was hard to miss the pointy cantilever-like brows, which social media quickly turned into a character of their own.
“I can’t believe Donald Sutherland’s eyebrows don’t get a separate cast credit in The Undoing,” one Twitter user wrote.
Wrote one another, “Are we SURE the killer wasn’t Donald Sutherland’s eyebrows?!”