The Undoing-1×05: ‘Trial by Fury’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by David E. Kelley
Directed by Susanne Bier
Original Air Date: November 22nd, 2020

Not that anyone ever needed any confirmation of it, but ‘Trial by Fury’, The Undoing’s penultimate episode, is perhaps proof that there is nobody on American television that can write courtroom scenes like David E. Kelley.

While the events of The Undoing have seen Kelley slide in a more a subversive and cynical edge to the image of lawyers fighting to ensure the release and exoneration of their clients (not to mention navigating the internet and social media feeds of the jury in a manner that is frightening and funny at the same time), the heart of the fifth hour of Kelley’s latest HBO adaptation is the theatrical battle lines of two sides of a courtroom putting on a show with legitimate stakes.

From his days writing for LA Law, to the surreal antics of Ally McBeal, the serious leanings of The Practice and eventually to Boston Legal which combined both those approaches, while Kelley has become more synonymous with HBO serials such as this and Big Little Lies, he still has a magic touch that can draw you in with a well delivered and performed courtroom confrontation.

The last few episodes have hinted at Haley’s magic touch that would suggest that she is really the only one that can ensure a quick turnaround and release for Jonathan, and Noma Dumezweni has very quickly become a major standout in the second half of The Undoing’s increasingly fraught and suspenseful narrative. The muck that she promised a few episodes ago comes to the fore and once again we’re in the receiving end of Kelley apparently having a blast at writing a courtroom scene that plays with the many tropes and cliches that he helped perfect over the 90s and 2000s but with a more darker and less romanticized eye.

There has always been something inherently theatrical about courtroom dramas, a stage with an audience within it that will determine the final outcome of the story. The past four weeks of the series has been a powerhouse for Kidman and Grant, all pained expressions and bitter repressions coming to the fore, but ‘Trial by Fury’ gives the supporting cast, most specifically Dumezweni and The Killing’s Sofie Grabol on the prosecutor’s side of the aisle, a chance to go to town with reems of exposition and probing questions and intense reactions delivered with stylish aplomb.

The lack of revelation about the identity of the killer means that the audience is still on the fence as to how to feel about everything going on here. Sure enough, the cliffhanger of the previous episode, where Jonathan looked as if he was about to reveal the killer on live television, was something of a red herring and he never did, but the fact that we’re still none the wiser means that watching Haley tearing to shreds the testimony of Elena’s husband Fernando (powerful work from Ismael Cruz Cordova), call into question the status of his mental health and having to raise the possibility of him being the killer makes this a substantially nastier beast than when we watched Kelley write this type of stuff for Calista Flockhart or Dylan McDermott.

Away from the courtroom, everything else is building up superbly to the climax which is now only one episode away. Since we are in the penultimate chapter of the story (unless HBO decides to do a Big Little Lies and try and find a way to stretch it beyond the ending of the book on which it’s based on), revelations pile upon revelation, eventually building up to another of the show’s trademark cliffhangers that this time it cannot explain away via a line of dialogue with which to explain everything.

One got the sense that there was more to Jonathan’s dog story than was explained by Grace in the premiere episode and the twist that in fact Jonathan was talking about his younger sister and that he has a previously unmentioned dark event in his past opens up a whole new can of worms about his state of mind. The appearance of Rosemary Harris (the original Aunt May) as Jonathan’s mother via a video chat conversation with Grace to deliver the truth bomb that Jonathan is something of a sociopath who never accepted responsibility or even acknowledged what had happened leaves the audience pondering the character once again and all those proclamations that he was actually in love with Elena.

Then the hammer shows up. It’s somewhat predictable that when the trail emphasises that the murder weapon has yet to appear that someone in this privileged world is going to discover it at the worst possible time and sure enough, Grace finds it in Henry’s violin case.

You can tell where the scene is going as soon as it begins, but it still packs a mighty punch and sure enough with only one hour left, it guarantees that you’ll want to see how it all ends.

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