I should have known, I suppose, that one does not cast Hugh Grant for only the premiere episode of a series. It was only a matter of time until Jonathan Fraser stepped back into his wife Grace’s life, disgraced and desperate. But really? This quickly?!
Remember how I mentioned that The Undoing is based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz? Well, we’re totally off-book, baby! (I won’t say much else about this until the very end of this recap; if you would love to indulge in SPOILER talk, please scroll all the way down!) Kelley officially leaves Big Little Lies territory and veers us into The Night Of and Law & Order with this episode, which churns through plot at a ridiculous pace. With Jonathan’s return into the narrative, the show seems to shift focus here away from an exploration of what Grace feels as a woman who was cheated on and lied to, and more toward a consideration of her husband’s guilt or innocence. We never step foot in a courtroom in You Should Have Known (okay, I guess I lied about that spoiler thing), but with Grace calling 911 on her husband, I think we can assume that’s where The Undoing is going.
Does that leave little interiority for Grace? I think so, and I admit that I worry about this as a methodology for the show moving forward. Nicole Kidman is an excellent actress, of course, but how many more close-up shots of her panicky eyes do we need to understand that she’s under a lot of stress? We don’t get a lot of reactions here from the character; we just see her caught in a tangle of increasingly sordid revelations. Grace is confused and then shocked and then angry and then terrified! She is a whirlwind of emotions! Meanwhile, her son, Henry, is nonplussed and then defensive and then relieved and then worried again! He seems to believe his father’s innocence! Does Grace, though? Do we? I think we can all agree with Grace’s father, Franklin Reinhardt (please, I beg you, let Donald Sutherland deliver one vaguely ominous line in that voice every episode), when he warns his daughter, “You think you can handle everything on your own, alone. This is bigger than you.” But how much bigger could Jonathan’s deceptions really get?
“The Missing” starts off immediately where “The Undoing” left off, with Grace calling hotels in Cleveland to try and track down her husband, who is supposedly at a pediatric oncology conference. She doesn’t know his reservation information, or what flight he took, or when he’s supposed to be home. She doesn’t know why he left his cell phone behind. And something about the way Henry says Jonathan said good-bye to him before leaving for the conference piques her interest — was this some gesture of finality? Kidman does very impressively nuanced work in this scene, flickering between anxiety and suspicion before finally deflating into acceptance that she doesn’t know, and can’t know, what her husband was thinking. There is only so much Grace can control here, and it’s clear too that she is holding herself back from really telling Henry all that she’s worrying about. But notice what Henry says about his father in his attempts to console his mother: “He is terrible at checking in.” “You guys fight about it all the time.” “He did say he might come back earlier.” Jonathan seems like the kind of husband who forgets, who transgresses, who makes a mistake and then begs forgiveness later. It’s such an ingrained pattern that his own son is trying to use this history of, frankly, fishy behavior to comfort the woman who is the primary recipient of this oddness. What has Jonathan normalized in this family?
(Aside: I apologize, I’m not trying to attack a child, but … Henry is sort of a jerk to his mom this episode, right? He scares her three separate times! He just sort of hovers around her during that beach-house freakout! He shrugs her off when she walks him to school! I wonder if the show is laying the groundwork for Henry fully siding with his father against Grace, if Grace doesn’t believe Jonathan’s claim that he didn’t murder Elena?)
Anyway! Grace really falls down the rabbit hole after that conversation with Henry; each new reveal of information about Jonathan opens up additional questions. When the man who cheated on his husband tells Grace during their therapy session that he felt “oppressed” by his “good values,” and instead wanted “to be dangerous,” that seems to spark something in her — to peer behind her husband’s veneer of Hippocratic selflessness. What she finds isn’t great: Jonathan hasn’t worked at Prince-Norbury Memorial Hospital in three months. His colleagues can’t talk about the details of his termination, but Detective Mendoza can: Three earlier disciplinary actions (I loved how Grace silently repeats “Three?”) led to his firing after improper contact with a patient’s parent. And that parent? Elena Alves, of course, whose son, Miguel, was cured by Jonathan, and whose daughter might be fathered by him, too.
I love Ramirez’s practically bemused delivery of “You weren’t aware of this?” as he brings Grace up to speed on the depths of her husband’s crappiness, and director Susanne Bier uses uncomfortably intimate close-ups and askew camera angles to make their first official conversation in the police station a solid tête-à-tête. Once it’s clear that Jonathan is the prime suspect, things move even more quickly, both for Grace and the police. Her discovery of a bottle of perfume that matches Elena’s scent in Jonathan’s study. Her meeting with Sylvia, who breaks attorney-client privilege to share that Jonathan had hired her to represent him in the disciplinary hearing with the hospital, and then lied and said the investigation was dropped. The police search of the Frasers’ home and collection of his hairbrush for DNA testing. And then there’s the rapidity of Grace and Henry’s decamping to their manse beach house, and the nearly immediate reveal that Jonathan is there, too.
It’s a lot! It might be too much! But that final argument between Jonathan and Grace is a great example of what Grant and Kidman both do quite well. The former is a master of spin, of self-effacement, of performed apologies. He calls Elena obsessed, possessed, and crazy. He admits to the affair, but says he lied about it to protect Grace. He blames Elena for getting him fired — but he insists that he’s innocent of her murder. His stammering, frantic explanations are countered well by Kidman’s chilly rage, and by her firmness in response to his lies. She is pissed, and rightfully so: “I gave you my whole life” pretty well captures how thoroughly her world has been torn apart by her husband’s misdeeds, no? But the question here is: Jonathan is a philanderer, and a manipulator, and a gaslighter. Does that make someone a murderer? “Nothing about this entire day makes any sense to me,” Grace had said to Detective Ramirez, and it’s only the first in many to come.
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• Sylvia says it one more time, for the people in the back: “It’s always the fucking husband.” I hope she somehow says this each episode!
• When Grace thinks of the nightmarish attack that killed Elena, does she imagine the assailant using a hammer before we hear about that reveal on the news? Are Kelley and Bier telling us something here?
• So are Grace’s and Jonathan’s finances separate, and that’s why she didn’t realize Jonathan hadn’t brought home a paycheck in three months? Or are they so financially secure that their salaries don’t really matter in their everyday lives? MUST. BE. NICE.
• Unsurprisingly, the mothers of Reardon continue to be the worst, assuming that Elena’s husband was a janitor, theorizing that Elena’s murder was because of a “drug thing” and ordered by a “Colombian cartel,” and even using the term “fake news” for theories they don’t like. I said “Eat the rich” last week, and I’m sticking by that!
• Did anyone else notice that the portrait of Jonathan that is on Henry’s bedside table … is the same one that is in the Frasers’ beach house, but he’s just wearing a different-colored sweater in each? Prop department! We demand more creativity than this!
• Grace’s most covetable clothing items this week: that heavily embroidered robe, her mossy green velvet duster, and that monochromatic oxblood sweater and leather skirt. I want them all.
• That little double-dab Grace uses to wipe tears away from her face? Very Celeste Wright!
• SPOILER ALERT: As I mentioned last week, I wish the show had retained some of the class-differences elements of You Should Have Known, in particular the reveal that Grace realizes Jonathan is up to no good when she finds that he stole all her jewelry before going on the run. Grace tearing up the apartment in the book has far more payoff, too, when she finds a condom in one of his jackets and realizes his gym bag is missing. That perfume bottle just didn’t have the same impact.
• Donald Sutherland’s very droll delivery of “It’s not a trick question, Grace,” when asking about how Grace and Jonathan’s marriage has been might have been my favorite moment of this episode. Sutherland’s character in the book is a notable, respected, retired attorney. I’m not sure if his character has the same profession in the show, but if Jonathan does end up getting arrested and standing trial, perhaps Sutherland’s Franklin Reinhardt will have a greater part to play?