The Undoing Episode 1 Recap: HBO's Dark Drama Kicks off With the Appearance of an Interloper

Olivia Ovenden
·4 min read
Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

From Esquire

Murder is all around us. Or so says HBO's latest dark marital thriller, The Undoing, which offers an East Coast version of the very successful Big Little Lies.

Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel You Should Have Known, the show follows successful New York City therapist Grace (Nicole Kidman) who lives a picture-perfect life with her precocious son Henry (Noah Jupe) and life-saving paediatrician husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant). It's produced in classic David E Kelley style, in which bloody murder is never far from a tan rug in a $5m house.

Grace is a typically glacial Kidman character, and the scenes we witness inside her office underscore a sense she might be out of touch emotionally. "This is your third marriage", she tells a patient who is sounding off about her husband, to which the woman bites back, "So what, we're keeping score?"

During a smug phone call between Grace and Jonathan, in which he reluctantly agrees to attend a fundraiser for their son's school, he proclaims, "I'll do it for you, because you're hot". (Side note: why are so many of the men in these shows seemingly so begrudging of the trappings of the glam life?)

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

So now we have a happily married couple living in New York and a real reason to believe something else is afoot, and naturally this is the moment where the interloper set to bring this nice world crashing down appears. Just like in Big Little Lies, said trespasser is again a mysterious brunette with a dark past who comes from the other side of the tracks. They truly are a hazard in these wealthy enclaves.

Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) is the mother of a scholarship student at Henry's pretentious school, who upsets the fundraiser board – busy mulling over the four Hamptons trips they've been offered for the auction – by openly breastfeeding her daughter at the table. Gasp! Later, the gossip mill describes her as doing it "passive aggressively". Then, in a move that does actually seem somewhat affronting, she accosts Grace in the gym and stands in front of her naked, her waist at Grace's eye-level, while she sits awkwardly.

Their interaction has an almost hallucinatory quality to it, but we don't have much time to dwell on it because it's off to the charity event, where no good things ever happen in drama series. Fittingly, things kicks off with a glass of water being auctioned off for $1,000 (what japes!) but not before we have a frosty interaction with Grace's father, Franklin (Donald Sutherland), who is clearly unimpressed by Jonathan and not inclined to hide it.

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

The interloper has shown up at the event and seeing her upset, Grace goes after her, finding her in the bathroom crying. Elena says her she feels "overwhelmed and lost", both understandable emotions at an event where people are bidding on tap water. Grace tries to offer her a ride home but she leaves, with an exit too suspicious to escape our notice.

After being called into the hospital, Jonathan returns to bed late, crying over what we presume to be a lost patient. Then, finally, we get the opening episode cliffhanger – a murder! – as Elena's son discovers her in her art studio, where she's been brutally killed.

Detectives Joe Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) and Paul O’Rourke (Michael Devine) immediately begin sniffing out the case and asking questions at school, particularly of Grace and her relationship with Elena, something they seem strangely interested in. The episode ends with a further pulling of the rug, as Grace is unable to get hold of Jonathan, with the hotel he was supposedly staying in for a conference having no record of him being there. Suddenly, the problem she's been saying is nothing to do with her has very much arrived at her door. It doesn't seem to be leaving soon.

Some thoughts...

  • The second act of Hugh Grant's career, which has seen him turn from playing charming, bumbling Brits into a cast of sleazy, untrustworthy villains, is amusingly mirrored in our first impression of him and the one that is slowly coming into focus.

  • Henry's assertion that, "blenders don't have volume control", and his father's response of, "that's a pathetic excuse, turn it down anyway", is exactly the sort of parenting we want to see.

  • We're here for Grace's bitchy circle of school mothers snidely calling Elena "Our Lactator-in-Chief". It kind of has a ring to it, no?

  • There really are a lot of Hyatt hotels in Cleveland, and stumbling upon a different guest called Jonathan Fraser, on the second hotel she tries, seems somewhat unlikely.

'The Undoing' is on HBO and Sky Atlantic now


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