In A Nutshell
The Undoing (2020), the HBO original mini-series, wants to be taken seriously as a thriller/murder mystery but comes across as more of an under achieving slacker whodunit made for the likes of “meddling kids” who travel around hob-knobbing with celebrities in a van called a Mystery Machine with a barely coherent talking dog. This drama offers plenty of predictable red herrings but raises even more red flags concerning the questionable bedside manner of Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant). Grant stars as an unfaithful husband and a deceptively charming pediatric oncologist accused of brutally murdering his lustful mistress, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis). But much of the drama it seems is focused on convincing Jonathan’s clinical therapist wife, Dr. Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) of his obvious guilt. It took nearly all six episodes for Grace to be fully convinced (despite overwhelmingly damning evidence) that her husband was capable of bludgeoning (beyond recognition) his lover–a married mother of two and artist–to death with her own sculpting hammer. In a sudden turn of events, Grace insists on taking the stand in the guise of defending Jonathan’s character but, instead, ends up assisting the prosecution in convicting him during cross examination. A plot twist that both surprises and shocks, said no one paying even the slightest attention when the title of the novel, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz that the series is based on is listed in the opening credits acting as a subtle spoiler for each episode.
Nicole Kidman unquestionably possesses a wide emotional range evident in a more popular David E Kelley HBO drama, Big Little Lies, but very little of it was on display in The Undoing. I was more distracted by the scene stealing Botox causing unnatural bulges in places on Kidman’s face during close-ups that looked more like an apparent food allergy, unable to escape the harsh resolution capabilities of high-def television.
And unfortunately for Matilda De Angelis, her role as Elena Alves–the younger, hotter other woman–is a well worn trope foreshadowing her expendability as the cliché fleshpot. Besides showing that she was not shy about breastfeeding in the company of other women during a committee meeting, or exposing herself (unwaxed genitalia and all) while casually conversing with a visibly uncomfortable Grace (Kidman) inside a gym locker room, we are given very little information about Elena (De Angelis). Other scenes include Elena and Jonathan (Grant) in the throes of passion (read: yuck) in a series of cringe flashbacks which make up the bulk of her onscreen presence but doesn’t give us any insight into what kind of wife, mother, or artist she may have been. De Angelis’ character was never fully fleshed out though her flesh was peddled for no other reason it seems than to provide ammunition to assassinate her character later on during the trial.
In a highly improbable and surreal scene, Jonathan (Grant) visits Elena’s husband, Fernando Alves (Ismael Cruz Córdova) in a bizarre moment of what can loosely be described as “bonding” where Fernando confesses that he is understandably having trouble loving the child that Jonathan has fathered with his wife, Elena (De Angelis), whom Jonathan is also accused of murdering. And I don’t know of any likely scenario or alternate universe where this scene would have even the slightest possibility of taking place without Jonathan ending up being carried out on a stretcher with various life threatening injuries.
Keeping It Real
I think The Undoing is nothing more than peak whiteness. It’s not necessarily concerned with the guilt or innocence of Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Grant) as it is in demonstrating how easily disposable the life of a woman of color is. Elena (De Angelis) paid the ultimate price for not staying in her place of lower class insignificance with her family in Spanish Harlem. Because it is only when Elena demands to be treated as an equal with Grace (Kidman) that Jonathan’s murderous rage is triggered. Of course, he had every expectation of getting away with it being white, male, privileged, and having access to wealth. And the absurd, extremely unsatisfying ending gave me no assurance that Elena would actually receive justice which is a reality that us non-white Americans continue to live with.