Written by David E. Kelley
Directed by Susanne Bier
Original Air Date: November 1st, 2020
There is an almost a hypnotic emotional horror vibe to the second episode of The Undoing. With Hugh Grant’s character Jonathan missing for the majority of this hour, eventually showing up for the final scene which naturally ends with a cliffhanger that guarantees that you will be back for the next episode, ‘This Missing’ is an hour of television that is very much carried by Nicole Kidman and that rather fetching green coat that she wears for much of this episode’s duration.
As the episode continues, it becomes clear that Jonathan is not going to be a typical Hugh Grant character, not that we were really expecting The Undoing to be anything remotely similar to the likes of Four Weddings or Notting Hill. The charming demeanour that we experienced last week has seemingly been hiding a potential breed of monster that feels very relevant in the #MeToo era, but as he’s missing for most of this hour, the episode is brilliantly given over to Kidman’s performance as Grace, the well photographed Sex and the City-style New York of the first episode giving itself over to something more darker and foreboding.
The upper class dwellings of the Fraser’s apartment building, the private school that their son attends and the circle of equally financially well off friends gives way to police accusations of murder, a sexual harassment allegation and dirty looks from those around her, not to mention an air of suspicion that amounts to guilt by association.
It becomes a pressure cooker of emotional horror that Kidman carries magnificently, her thoughts echoing over the soundtrack, the camera closing in on tight close ups of her face that almost feel claustrophobic to the extreme, while the parties and social gatherings amongst her friends are replaced by the recurring presence of the police, represented by Detective Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez).
The manner in which director Susanne Bier conveys not only Grace’s inner voice, but also the imagery percolating inside in her mind of the sex and violence that her husband has been hiding from her gets into the headspace of Grace in a superlative manner. If the first episode was a little slow in places but managed to build itself up to a great final stretch that ensured you’d return for this one, this second episode gets the pacing even better with its propulsive ability to combine character drama with intense thriller in excellent fashion.
Of course, it still has a feel reminiscent of Big Little Lies, but the inverse of so much of that show is what helps The Undoing flow. Small community with a large cast of characters is the format of Kelley’s other HBO adaptation, where here it’s a big city with a smaller core cast. Yes, Grace has her own circle of friends, but instead of rallying around her, they’re cutting her off and looking at her with disdain leaving her to more or less fend for herself with only one friend offering help, lawyer Sylvia (Lily Rabe).
The final ten minutes of the episode sees the character in a seaside setting that almost has the viewer expecting Reese Witherspoon or Shailene Woodley to come running into frame with its picturesque and well photographed waves crashing against the rocks and stones. Instead it doubles down on a sense of isolation and weary suspense, with the eventual reveal of Jonathan and a telephone call to the police taking the audience into the end credits.
It brings an excellent hour of television to an end that will no doubt invite much debate and discussion as we wait for the next episode.
The Undoing airs Sunday nights on HBO in the U.S and Monday nights on Sky Atlantic in the U.K.