‘The Undoing’ Summary & Analysis – Answers A Question With A Question


Captivating Mystery Thrillers plays mind games with its audience. They slowly and gradually give away information or clues. However, these clues are not always to help the audience but mislead by creating confusion  It is like a narrative opinion is created, like the plank of the see-saw, and any information either weighs down one side or the other before the audience can come to the conclusion. The Undoing by David E. Kelley plays all those mind tricks that influence your opinion with clues and insights, not to assist you but deceive.

Based on the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Undoing is a limited series that consists of six episodes of one hour each. The last episode aired on 29th November on HBO. There are some very interesting things about the show that I really want to discuss, but before that let’s just get a gist of the story.

‘The Undoing’ Summary

The narrative follows a successful American family, The Frasers. Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) is a known psychotherapist while her husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) works as an oncologist. They have a young son named Henry who completes this happy family.

Things get pretty uncanny when Grace meets a mysterious young woman named Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) while helping some of the parents at Henry’s school to raise funds for the students. Elena is a parent too, just like Grace, and hence they both can’t really avoid the interaction but Grace finds something enigmatic about her.

When in the end, Elena is found dead in her art workshop, Grace freaks out but the real horror strikes her when she finds out that her husband Jonathan is missing too with no whereabouts. She soon learns a connection between Jonathan and Elena that leads to a world of lies and deceit that Grace was unaware of.

The story then further explores the murder mystery of Elena Alves and her link-up with Jonathan.

Narrative Structure

The utility of a commodity diminishes when a consumer uses each bit of it, in one go. He gets a lot on the plate to the sponge, and thus, much of it wasted. Similarly, in a narrative, the filmmakers/ writers try to hide information rather than spoon food it. They give complexed clues, riddles to its viewers rather than clean, fast consuming information. These deceitful clues keep the viewers at work and their mind titillated, thus, creating chaos around. And humans love chaos. They want to pursue peace, but there is no pursuit without conflict. The chaos is their conflict that they cherish. It’s like you can enjoy good food if you aren’t hungry. It’s psychological.

The Undoing uses each of these elements mentioned above, where they swing the onus of the murder from one character to another, just to trick the audience. Each episode puts forth a bulk of information that forces the viewers to comprehend their predictions regarding the murder. It is also a sign of masterful writing, as this information is often related to the flaws of the character or their past, and thus in a screen time of an hour, in each episode, the audience learns about the character’s desires and ambitions, while deciding whether those flaws are concrete enough to consider them as the murderer. The Undoing is filled with dropping information and each well-researched scene and gripping pace makes sure that you don’t miss those clues. This information comes back in the trial to remind the audience, in case they miss an important clue.

Answering a Question with a Question

An easier way to answer a question is to simply give away what the informer is asking, or you can be the sadist devil. The Undoing incorporates that sarcastic and intelligent tone where the confusions of the characters or the audience aren’t answered in a straightforward, easy-peasy way, but in riddles. Thus, the viewers can’t really jump to conclusions and are often left in confusion. It invites the audience to make an extra effort to understand the narrative of the characters, thus, engaging them further.

Insightful Dialogues

As said above, the information provided in The Undoing, through various characters, is well layered. It has a lot of subtexts. Though sometimes, the text isn’t as brilliant as the subtext but in this series, the text itself is well-researched and insightful. The dialogues spoken in a few courtroom scenes create twists-and-turns which can only be achieved if the writer himself had researched thoroughly. The words spoken by the characters are less because they are still in dilemma and shock due to the murder, but still, a piece of information they give out is well written that sometimes, can influence the whole judgment. In one of the scenes, Jonathan speaks, “I might be the easy answer, but I am not the right answer” showing his ability to defend himself in the smartest of ways.

Another memorable and striking scene is when Haley Fitzgerald (Noma Dumezweni), the lawyer who handles Jonathan’s case, tells the couple the do’s and don’t inside a courtroom, the things that influence jurors’ opinion. These insights include holding hands, expression, showing emotions and choice of words. Thus, in a way, Haley teaches them to play tricks on the jurors, which is the theme of the film itself.


Nicole Kidman has done an excellent job as Grace Fraser. She is subtle with her expressions and her sudden outbursts are to the point, without any exaggerations what so ever. She controls her emotions which makes her skin more mysterious, helping her in blending with the theme. Hugh Grant, on the other hand, is charming but not effective. His expressions, sometimes, look fake or made up or maybe he has done that on purpose to supplement the narrative, but great acting is still hiding emotions rather than putting a show of it.

2020 saw two mystery miniseries, both based on books, that revolves around a murder. Though their theme is different, yet the treatment and the narrative are somewhat similar. Defending Jacob (miniseries) created by Mark Bomback is thrilling and captivating like The Undoing. The only difference being, Defending Jacob did have a better end, while The Undoing’s climax might fail to impress you. However, it doesn’t mean that it fails to reach the standard bar of a well-made and well-written drama. It’s just that the end could have been different or better, as I felt, and not so rushed. The book You Should Have Known, would have approached it more gradually and organically.

Also Read – Defending Jacob (2020) – Ending Explained.

The Undoing is a perfect deceitful thriller that keeps you hooked.  Each episode was released once a week, which I personally felt killed some momentum. If you really wish to grasp the essence of it, please try to binge it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Undoing is streaming on HBO.

For more Quality Content, Do visit Digital Mafia Talkies.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

Must Read

DMT Guide

More Like This