It’s Always the Husband in ‘The Undoing’ Episode 2 (RECAP)
[Warning: The recap below contains spoilers forThe Undoing Season 1, Episode 2, “The Missing.“]
Two episodes into The Undoing and this new HBO drama is still struggling to find its identity. The reunion of Nicole Kidman and showrunner David E. Kelley was always going to draw comparisons with their previous collaboration, Big Little Lies. Still, the show does very little to confound those expectations; changing location from the sun-drenched beach houses of Monterey, California, to uptown New York City is not enough to overcome the obvious similarities. Once again, this a story of snobby private-school moms, fancy fundraisers, therapy sessions, and idealistic husbands with dark secrets.
Don’t get me wrong, The Undoing looks fantastic, and the acting, as one would expect, is to-notch. Kidman, in particular, is in peak form this episode as her picture-perfect life begins to unravel around her. But it’s hard not to think we’ve seen this all before done better. Big Little Lies itself had the same issues in its sophomore season: stellar performances all around but an inability to match the quality of its incredible first season. With The Undoing, everything ends up feeling a bit unnecessary and hollow, especially the scenes outside the school with the gossiping moms. A TV show doesn’t always have to have something new to say, but if it doesn’t, you’d better make sure the central narrative is gripping. And while this episode certainly tries to ramp up the mystery elements, I’m not quite sure it’s there yet.
Let’s get into that mystery. “It’s always the f***ing husband,” Sylvia (Lily Rabe) says as the Reardon School moms discuss Elena’s (Matilda De Angelis) murder. The question is, whose husband? Well, continuing the Big Little Lies similarities, it’s, of course, Nicole Kidman’s husband. Or at least that’s how it appears right now. Jonathan (Hugh Grant) quickly becomes the focus of the police investigation as sordid secrets come to light. Grace (Kidman) doesn’t want to believe any of it initially, though she has her own suspicions as Jonathan remains missing and radio-silent. Henry (Noah Jupe) tries to comfort his mother and appeal to her logical side. Maybe Dad is just in a meeting and doesn’t have internet access? Or he’s on a plane traveling home?
Unfortunately, Henry’s wishful thinking is just that—wishful. There is definitely more going on than a busy work conference or a lack of Wi-Fi. Grace learns this after she pays a visit to the hospital where Jonathan works. One of her husband’s colleagues gives her the cold shoulder, telling her he is under “strict terms” not to talk about Jonathan. What is it he can’t talk about? Well, that becomes clear when Grace is taken to the police station for further questioning. Detective Joe Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) reveals that the hospital terminated Jonathan’s employment three months earlier after a series of disciplinary actions. “Inappropriate contact with a family member of a patient,” Mendoza states. The patient? Young Miguel Alvez (Edan Alexander). His mother? The now-deceased Elena Alvez.
Kidman is excellent here as Grace processes the information with a panicked muttering under her breath and eyes darting around the room. Grace’s first instinct is to defend her husband, playing off this “inappropriate contact” as the friendly bedside manner of a caring doctor. But it’s obvious she’s trying to convince herself even more than the detectives. Grace knows something is off, and so does everyone else apparently, as the news media descend on Reardon School hoping for a juicy scoop. The glares and side-eyes from fellow parents only exacerbate Grace’s panic. One of the teachers even advises Grace not to pick up Henry from school anymore—obviously one wouldn’t want the attention negatively impacting this elite institution.
Sylvia suggests that Grace not fight this and immediately contact the police should she hear from Jonathan. That’s because Sylvia is privy to Jonathan’s dirty deeds. She reveals to Grace that Jonathan hired her as his lawyer a few months back for the hospital hearing, though she couldn’t say anything due to client privilege. While there was certainly enough evidence to fire Jonathan, according to Sylvia, she says he claimed Elena was a “crazy woman” who had manufactured all these lies. However, a week after hiring Sylvia, Jonathan called to tell her the charges had been dropped. And while Grace tries to digest all that, she’s then told by police that they’re performing a paternity test to see if Jonathan is the father of Elena’s baby girl. It’s a lot!
On the advice of her father (Donald Sutherland) advice, Grace gets out of town; she and Henry take up residence in the family beach house until all the drama dies down. If this show didn’t already remind you of Big Little Lies, then Grace sitting on the beach and pensively looking out at the ocean surely did. It’s here where Grace finally explodes, having spent the past few days bottling her emotions and trying to remain composed. She screams out as she smashes up the bedroom. There’s a sweet little moment when Henry enters the room to comfort his mom. But this beach getaway doesn’t end up being the respite the Frasers were hoping for, as it turns out Jonathan has been hiding out there too.
With his hand over her mouth, Jonathan pleads for Grace not to scream while also emphatically stating that he didn’t kill Elena. While he admits to the affair and losing his job, he refuses to cop to the murder. Jonathan paints Elena as a crazed lover who became obsessed with him and his life—she even made him pull strings to get her son into Reardon. He says he tried to end things, but when Elena started harassing Grace, that’s when he got scared. We learn that Elena was upset at the fundraiser because Jonathan had just confronted her. “We argued, we fought…we had sex,” he explains. Afterward, he apparently left, collected his thoughts at a bar, and decided to confront her again. That’s when he found her dead.
Grace isn’t so quick to buy what Jonathan is selling. “You came home, you crawled into our bed, and I held you, my heart broke for you, and we made love, Jonathan—we made love,” she snaps. “I thought you’d lost a patient. How can I ever believe you?” And so, while Jonathan embraces Henry, Grace does what Sylvia told her to do. She calls the police. “My name is Grace Fraser. My husband has just broken in, he’s a fugitive, he’s wanted for murder. His name is Jonathan Fraser…and I’m f***ing terrified,” she cries into the phone.
As I said earlier, the way this transpires is perfectly fine, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen done, and with more flair. There is no unique hook to really grab us. That said, this is only the second episode, so there is still potential for the story to veer off in some interesting directions. I haven’t read the novel the series is based on, but I assume Jonathan being the killer is too obvious an answer. So I expect some twists and turns along the way, and, I hope, something surprising that sets it apart from other shows of its ilk.
The Undoing, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO