I think Hugh Grant is a good, but limited, actor, and the more I see of him as Jonathan Fraser, I realize how fitting it is that he’s playing a character who is also a good, but limited, actor. I personally find Jonathan detestable because of what so many other people in his life seem to be ignoring — for the millionth time, let me mention the mysteriously disappeared $500,000, the use of a conference in Cleveland as a cover story, the whole lying-all-the-time thing — but more and more, I can understand how he conned so many people so for long. Most of the time, we want to believe in some kind of intrinsic goodness in people. Unless there is some kind of irrefutable, undeniable, absolutely certain evidence of wrongdoing, we want to believe people are innocent. We bend over backward to do so. We ignore our own instincts. We shrug off our intuition. And when people show us, again, who they really are, we only have ourselves to blame for not believing them the first time.
The book on which The Undoing is based, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known, does a wonderful, layered job at probing at this idea: that as much as we want people to change, they rarely ever do, and we can’t blame them for that. Instead, we should be considering why we accept the situations we do, and why we make certain assumptions, and why we create these false, outsize narratives in our imaginations about who we are. In You Should Have Known, Grace is a respected therapist whose brusque style turns off some people but has landed her a deal for a book that addresses all these topics, in particular the way that women act in relationships. It’s ironic, then, when the know-it-all therapist ends up entangled in a murder investigation because of her husband’s lies. I wish The Undoing had adapted any of that subplot, because I think as Grace’s career becomes increasingly irrelevant to the show’s narrative, we also lose the inner struggle that the book so well captured for this character.
Instead, we have an increasingly unreliable Grace, one whom I worry we can’t trust about anything. How did she go for a walk around Harlem on the night of Elena’s murder without remembering it at all? Why did she never once mention getting called all those times by a mysterious number that ended up being Elena’s number? (Also notice that she tells Detective Mendoza that she never picks up the phone if she doesn’t recognize the number, but she did pick up when looking for Jonathan, and it ended up being a telemarketer — so I’m not totally sure we can buy her staunch denial here, either.) And I don’t even know how to discuss that oil painting! Did she sit for Elena? Or was Elena really so obsessed with the Frasers that she, what, followed Grace and did the portrait from memory? I have no idea! I am not sure I really like how much Elena is being made into an outsized stalker, one who potentially was trailing Grace for months, when we never saw any inclination or mention of anything suspicious before now!
Is all this confusion why Franklin goes on the offensive so hard? Is this Franklin’s way of gaining some measure of control in protecting his daughter: using his wealth and his influence to maintain as much normalcy for Grace and Henry as he can? I suppose so. Monetarily, Franklin is already out $2.5 million — $2 million to get Jonathan out of jail and brought back home, plus that missing $500,000 that I WILL NEVER STOP TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY NO ONE IS ASKING ABOUT THIS — and we also see him putting up cachet, not just cash (I’m sorry, I’m sorry). He secures the services of Haley Fitzgerald, who clearly doesn’t seem to like either Grace or Jonathan (… I get it) but agrees to take the case as a favor for Franklin. He leans extremely hard on Reardon’s Principal Connaver to keep Henry in school; that “old-fashioned cocksucker” speech was pure President Snow. He is honest to Grace about the unhappiness of his marriage to her mother (another detail from You Should Have Known that has little impact here because it was fumblingly adapted) as a way to beseech her not to stay with Jonathan. And when he sees Jonathan in jail, it’s with the gaze of a predator sizing up his prey. I believe him when he says he would kill Jonathan, and I also appreciated how much of a toll his “I’m done here” seemed to take. Franklin has a lot more to say to this man he never wanted as his son in law, and we see his shock and disgust again when Grace is hospitalized after fainting in the park, and Jonathan whips out his “pleasant and pushy doctor” act to look after her. I actually wrote down “gross” in my notes at Jonathan’s aggressive “nice guy” antics during that scene, and I’m sure Franklin would agree.
Another thing with which I’m sure Franklin would agree: Jonathan being home isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for Henry, who has that very weird altercation with Miguel at school (there is no way Reardon would have even allowed either student to continue attending after the investigation started, right?) and who clearly wants his parents to get back together. It’s not good for Grace, who swears to Jonathan that she’ll play “the assigned role of the wife” and no more, and then collapses from a panic attack (or maybe … guilt?). It’s not good for Fernando or Miguel, who get ambushed by a mesmerizingly condescending Jonathan at home; we learn here that Jonathan has met his daughter before. When he offered to take the girl away? Readers, I screamed!
Haley is screaming (internally, obviously) too, right? Who the hell are these people? Grace, who really gets the brunt of Haley’s socioeconomic analysis (“They conceal ugly truths … and they think they can get away with it because they’re rich”), absolutely refuses to take the stand in her husband’s defense. That’s going to look bad in court. And maybe Jonathan could make up for Grace’s absence with his schmoozing, with his charisma, with his ability to amiably pour a cup of tea after discussing the details of a murder. I was amazed as Haley was by that, and I think those wild swings of mood are telling us something about Jonathan that we should file away. Other important reveals from Haley’s discussions with her new client: Jonathan has cheated before (of course) and his estrangement from his birth family seems, well, suspicious. Jonathan’s main deflection tactic seems to be insulting other people’s intelligence or social status, and when he uses both of those methods against the family he left behind? Yes, he’s hiding something. Jonathan is always hiding something. And that whole performance during the TV interview — the squinting eyes, the gulping breaths, the pained expression on his face — when he says of Elena’s murder, “I lost someone I loved”? Seems like he’s hiding something in that moment, too.
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• Can the Frasers please leave Miguel alone already? Between Henry’s bizarro attempt at a handshake at school and Jonathan trespassing into the Alves’s home to swear to Miguel that he didn’t murder his mother, I would be getting a restraining order against this entire damn family.
• I have a special fondness for men of a certain age eating alone, and Donald Sutherland eating soup by himself at the head of that expansive dining room set in his gorgeous, empty condo made me surprisingly emotional. I don’t know why! Aren’t we all having a hard time right now? Leave me alone!
• On the one hand, David E. Kelley leans too hard on the “judgmental Black woman puncturing a world of mostly white wealth” trope, but on the other hand, Noma Dumezweni is undeniably great as Haley. She has two standout line deliveries this episode: Her “Perhaps I could suggest that you killed her. Did you?” to Grace during their strategy meeting, and her bland description of Jonathan’s cheating as “the sad fuck.” She really seems to loathe the Frasers, and man, who doesn’t!
• Jonathan having the gall to call himself a victim, just “not in a conventional sense,” was so totally in self-absorbed character. I was impressed.
• How is Grace really going to complain that Franklin isn’t giving her “unconditional support” when the man is leaning on half of New York City and opening up his bank account to meet her needs? Come on, man!
• SPOILER STUFF: There were a few scenes throughout this episode in which Kelley sort of adapts elements from You Should Have Known, but they don’t have the same impact because the context is lacking, and I was particularly irritated by how half-baked the conversation is between Franklin and Grace about how she and Jonathan got together. We’ve had no backstory yet in the show about that, but Franklin says she fell so hard because she had told Jonathan “exactly what perfect for you meant,” and Jonathan “was just giving back what you wanted.” This conversation is too opaque in the show to matter, but in the book, we understand that when Jonathan and Grace met at college, she was already upset by her father’s second marriage, she felt disliked and pushed away by his second wife, she wanted someone open to the idea of creating an insular family just for them, and she found Jonathan’s desire to be a doctor noble and honorable. She changed after meeting Jonathan, molding her entire life around him, and we understand how wary that made Franklin in the book because You Should Have Known takes the time to develop that tension. No such luck in The Undoing.