The Undoing series premiere recap: It's always the f---ing husband
Big Little Lies star Nicole Kidman returns to HBO for some more lies.
Welcome to the closest thing we might ever get to season 3 of Big Little Lies!
After exploring the murder-filled drama of wealthy people in Monterey, Calif., Nicole Kidman and David E. Kelley have reunited to explore the murder-filled drama of wealthy people in New York City. Substitute Alexander Skarsgård's philandering, abusive husband for Hugh Grant's possibly philandering, murdering husband and it's not hard to imagine Grace Fraser as Celeste Wright's doppelgänger. Even the opening credits give off major BLL vibes. But can The Undoing replicate the juicy success of the previous HBO series' first season? Let's find out.
Directed by Emmy-winner Susanne Bier (The Night Manager), who helms all six episodes, the series premiere begins with a young boy going to look for his mother at her art studio, only to walk in and discover something that leaves him with a look of complete horror. Before revealing what he's seen, the action cuts to two days earlier, a narrative device that has become annoyingly overused in television and film. But this is where we meet the Fraser family, comprised of blunt therapist Grace (Kidman, using all of the tricks she learned from her own therapist in BLL), charming oncologist Jonathan (Grant), and dog-wanting son Henry (Noah Jupe). The children's roles in these series can often be problematic (yes, I'm looking at you Dana from Homeland), but The Undoing at least has the benefit of an overqualified actor in Jupe, whose résumé already includes A Quiet Place, Ford v Ferrari, and Honey Boy.
Grace is a do-it-all kind of mom, juggling her practice with helping plan a fundraiser for Henry's Reardon School. In addition to the usual moms like Sally (West Wing's Janel Moloney) and Sylvia (American Horror Story's Lily Rabe), outsider and "scholarship mom" Elena (Matilda De Angelis) has joined. While her son Miguel is a student, she's brought along her baby, whom she decides to breastfeed in front of everyone. The other women all look very uncomfortable, but Grace defends Elena in a call later from Sylvia. She has a similar stance when relaying the story to Jonathan, suggesting maybe they should move out of the New York City bubble, which Grace feels can often be judgmental and isolating. Jonathan doesn't like her being lonely, hence why he joins her in the shower. You can't say that their sex life isn't thriving. Elsewhere, a quick cut to Elena in bed with her husband Fernando gives an impression of an unhappy marriage.
Speaking of Elena, she coincidentally (?) happens to go to the same gym as Grace. In the locker room, Elena, feeling very casual in the nude, approaches Grace to say thanks for making her feel welcome. It's unclear if either of them had just been in the steam room but there appears to be some sweltering chemistry between them.
Both women are present that evening for Reardon's "these people have way too much money" fundraiser. Why do I say that? Because they're legit auctioning off a glass of water for $1,000. The rich, they're just like us! Following a brief encounter with Grace's big donor dad (played by Donald Sutherland), Grace and Jonathan are surrounded by the mean moms. They notice Elena, a.k.a. the "lactater-in-chief," is fixated on Grace. Jonathan seems surprised when his wife points out "the nudist," who is currently surrounded by a group of attentive men. Grace and Elena run into each other in the restroom, where Elena seems overtaken with emotions, confessing that she feels overwhelmed and lost. After Grace offers her professional services for free, she follows Elena to the elevator. When Grace grabs her arm, Elena kisses Grace on the lips to thank her.
Elena leaves the party, but Grace returns, only for Jonathan to soon thereafter say he got paged to the hospital. Later, Grace lays in bed, picturing Jonathan providing incredible care and bedside manner for an adorable young child with cancer. His return home wakes her up. He's very emotional, implying that things took a bad turn for his patient. Crying cuddling quickly turns into sex. That was both very sweet and very sad. Meanwhile, some tears are about to be had at the Alves residence as we return to the opening scene and little Miguel. Again, his tragic discovery is not shown.
Back at the Fraser household, Jonathan is out of town at a medical conference, while Henry confesses that he doesn't believe his dad is allergic to dogs, which has been the explanation for why they can't get one. Grace admits that he's right and Jonathan was traumatized when his family's dog was hit by a car on his watch. His parents blamed him and he's never gotten over it. At work, Grace possibly faces a bit of foreshadowing as she tries to help a couple with infidelity issues. She posits that the cheater wanted to be caught, a theory that is so spot on that it hits a nerve. The session is interrupted by a text from Reardon. Sylvia immediately follows up by calling to tell Grace that Miguel found Elena murdered. They don't yet know what happened but they're looking at Fernando since evidently they were having problems.
"It's always the f---ing husband," declares Sylvia.
As the police interview the moms and kids at Reardon, Grace unsuccessfully tries to reach Jonathan to update him. She's then spooked when Detectives Mendoza and O'Rourke show up at her apartment to question her. It should be noted that Det. Mendoza is played by Édgar Ramirez, who was Emmy-nominated for his portrayal of Gianni Versace in season 2 of American Crime Story. From the start, this doesn't seem like just an ordinary, friendly chat. "Do you suspect the husband of this?" asks Mendoza, before asking if they can speak to her own husband. Jonathan, who Grace insists didn't see anything, seems to be a topic of great interest to them. While Mendoza wonders if they are upsetting Grace, Henry shows up and appears to be the one most concerned about their presence. Once the detectives leave, Henry has a bunch of questions about Elena, whose body we finally see in a bloody mess at her studio.
Grace continues to get Jonathan's voicemail, until she sends him a text and hears a vibration, leading to her finding his phone buried in their nightstand. She's rightfully concerned and starts calling all of the Hyatt hotels in Cleveland. Eventually, she tracks down Jonathan Fraser, except a woman answers. Luckily (or maybe not luckily) for her, that turns out to be a different Jonathan Fraser. She's momentarily relieved, before transitioning to not knowing what to think. And she doesn't need to be a detective for what happened to Elena to cross her mind in this moment. Because, as Sylvia said, "It's always the f---ing husband."