Written by David E. Kelley
Directed by Susanne Bier
Original Air Date: 29th November, 2020
There’s a palpable sense of revelation going into the final episode of The Undoing. Given that the final episode is entitled ‘The Bloody Truth’, it’s virtually guaranteed that after weeks of misdirects, red herrings and characters acting in ways that has had its large audience guessing as to who killed Elena Alves, Susanne Bier and David E. Kelley are about to sit us down and reveal all.
The eventual reveal that Jonathan had in fact been the killer is perhaps not a real surprise, but the journey there has been very entertaining, the series delivering the type of classy suspense thriller that were dime a dozen in the 90s but which has now found a home on television where actors such as Kidman and Grant who maybe don’t want to swan around in superhero costumes all the time (although Kidman, of course, appeared in Aquaman) can find meaty roles to dig into with scripts from someone like Kelley and direction from a great director like Bier.
The Undoing’s finale doesn’t stray too far from its formula of privileged characters in nice rooms talking about the plot and then going to court to talk it out some more, but it does so in an increasingly entertaining manner, and it’s only in the last ten minutes that it maybe throws too much into the pot by opting to go for a Jerry Bruckheimer-like conclusion involving a kidnapping, a police chase, a near miss with a truck and some helicopters.
It’s a very entertaining sequence for sure, and like so much HBO output one gets the sense that no expense has been spared. The moment when Grace and her father Franklin (Donald Sutherland) board a helicopter with the New York skyline in the background, one half expects the Roy clan from Succession to be flying by in the other direction.
As has been the case over the second half of The Undoing’s six episode run, the finale puts most of its focus on the courtroom and like last week’s instalment, the episode finds so much to engross and ensnare the audience with the theatricality of Jonathan’s trial. The media scream their questions outside the courtroom, all the while news programming that characters watch on their phones and tablets try and guess what will happen next as if they’re watching a HBO show like the audience on the other side of the fourth wall. Each side of the judicial bench make their arguments, and Kelley continues to double down on a more cynical depiction of a system he wrote about in a more swashbuckling, idealized and romantic manner twenty years ago.
As entertaining as it has been, the final episode briefly shows the series up to be an even more colder beast than originally thought. The discovery of the murder weapon last week throws up an ethical dilemma for the characters as they debate what to do with it. The options are whether or not to bring it to the police or conceal and destroy. The latter is the suggestion of Haley, while the possibility of Henry being the killer is quickly tossed aside as it turns out he merely tried to help his dad cover up the crime, but we get a more clearer sense of Jonathan’s darker nature as he tries to convince Grace that maybe their son is in fact the true killer.
The potential sociopathic nature of Grace’s husband is there right from the opening moments, and the audience has been left wondering throughout if we can really trust him because he’s played by Grant, or if the casting of Grant is the best casting choice here because it’s genuinely now going to subvert the ‘nice guy’ nature of so many of those characters he has played throughout his career.
The image of Grant has always been fuelled by those moments, many of which were scripted by Richard Curtis, where he quotes David Cassidy to Andie McDowell in Four Weddings, or being charmingly flustered in the presence of Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, or perhaps the iconic sequence in Love, Actually when he dances around 10 Downing Street to Girls Aloud. It’s a far cry from watching him violently bash Matilda de Angelis’ head against a wall and then with the hammer that’s taking us to the end of the story.
In the end, that’s the eventual destination of The Undoing. It goes without saying that Kidman has been brilliant throughout, it’s the type of role she can play in her sleep and she once again holds the audience in the palm of her hands, but perhaps the revelation here is Grant. After several weeks of having the audience questioning his potential guilt or innocence, the shackles come off here for a somewhat more unhinged performance that makes the final act of the episode more entertaining than it might have been.
Helicopters, a fleet of police cars, a near miss with a truck and a suicide attempt on a bridge all feature heavily, and it’s brilliantly staged by Bier, but it also has the feeling of feeling like something that’s been tacked on from something different, a go for broke action-thriller conclusion after several weeks of intense character confrontations that has had us questioning everything, where performance and dialogue where key.
What holds it together is Grant and Noah Jupe who convey the desperation of the situation pretty well, not to mention Grant going into full psycho mode, singing songs, and running the gamut from someone who appears to be in denial, to someone who is frighteningly angry, all the while Bier edits in flashbacks to the murder that are genuinely stomach churning.
It’s here that we get the sense of why Grant’s casting is just as pivotal here as Kidman’s. There is nobody that can do intense character dramas as well as Kidman; from Big Little Lies to a filmography that’s littered with performances such as Virginia Woolf in The Hours to a similarly distressed spouse in Eyes Wide Shut, she knows how to hold the audience with material like this and engage perfectly.
The two pivotal moments of the episode are Grace under oath when the characters and the audience realise, in a truly brilliant moment, that she has allowed herself to be put on the stand not to defend her husband but to put herself under cross examination and reveal everything about him, while the reveal of the murder itself wipes away so many memories of Grant as a bumbling romantic lead and replaces it with one of a violent, deceptive nature.
In the end, as entertaining as Kelley’s writing has been and the classy touch Bier has brought to proceedings, it’s the performances of Kidman and Grant which have been the glue that have helped The Undoing work as brilliantly as it has done.
Season two? It’s hard to see how they can do more with it, but then again Kelley found a way to keep the story going for Big Little Lies, and given how well this has done not only for HBO, but also internationally for Sky TV, it wouldn’t be a surprise if somehow everyone involved found more story to tell.