If Big Little Lies was a roller-coaster ride of drama, twists, and turns, then The Undoing is an entire theme park. The new HBO series comes from the same brains behind BLL (David E. Kelley wrote the scripts for both series, and Nicole Kidman returns in a starring role and as an executive producer). But while Big Little Lies was a slow burn that built to an explosive finale, The Undoing is shocking from the jump. And it doesn't let up.
The story takes place on New York City's hyper-rich Upper East Side and centers on a therapist, Grace (Kidman), and her doctor husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant). Grace is on a board of mothers who plan events for her son Henry's private school, and they've just welcomed new member Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), who doesn't come from money and has a son on scholarship. Elena is younger than the other moms and not ashamed of her sexuality or body. She wears low-cut tops and dresses and breastfeeds her newborn baby in the middle of a meeting, to the surprise and—dare I say—disgust of her fellow mothers.
But, spoiler warning, Elena goes missing at the end of the first episode and we eventually learn she was murdered. A whodunit of sorts follows, with prime suspect number one being…Jonathan, who vanishes without a trace.
Intrigued? So was I, and that's just episode one. I don't want to give away what happens beyond this, but I guarantee you it's a bumpy, unpredictable ride—dark, escapist thrill content of the highest degree.
Much of that is a testament to Susanne Bier, who directed all six episodes. Her recent work includes Netflix's Bird Box and AMC's The Night Manager, for which she won two Emmys—so, needless to say, building suspense is in her DNA.
“The thing about suspense is it's very much in the details of things,” Bier tells Glamour. “It's very much about atmosphere and creating a world of unease with the audience. In The Undoing, you aren't particularly sure who you can trust at any given time. Keeping that is very much about details. The way someone opens a door. Are they looking at each other? Are they not looking at each other?”
You see this on display the most between Grace and Jonathan. At one point, Grace is madly in love with Jonathan; the next, she's suspicious of his every move. The same goes for Jonathan, the perceived antagonist (and murderer!) of the show's first half. At times, you feel downright sorry for him despite his deplorable behavior. It's a lot like Gone Girl, when you couldn't tell if Ben Affleck was a cold-blooded killer or a victim himself.
“Hugh Grant's character is this amazing, charming, lovable, sexy, and fun man,” Bier says. “And yet at the same time you have that feeling there's a dark undercurrent. There's a sadness to him. I think that duality creates a really enigmatic character. You aren't quite sure: Is it this guy or is it the other guy who's the real Jonathan?”
On top of this gripping crime tale is another narrative about America's legal process, specifically as it pertains to the rich and privileged. We've seen several high-profile celebrities commit crimes, stand trial, and get off, even though the world was certain they did it. Haley Fitzgerald (Noma Dumezweni), the lawyer who represents Jonathan in the trial for Elena's murder, brings up an important point before the proceedings begin: She can win his case, sure, but she can't undo any emotional or relationship damage a crime has caused. She can't turn back the clock. There isn't enough money in the world that can do that.
“She's saying, ‘I can win the case, but that might not change your reality.’ I find that incredibly interesting,” Bier says. “Is it just a question of winning? Or is it a question about right or wrong?”
After watching the first five episodes, I'm inclined to think the latter. While The Undoing is a nail-biting murder mystery at face value, it's more importantly a commentary on who our system protects—and who it will leave behind.
“I really hope people have a fun, entertaining, and engaging experience,” Bier says. “And then there are larger topics to talk about. How well do we actually know anyone? For a lawyer, does it matter if someone is guilty or not? There are a lot of interesting psychological, moral undercurrents that are worth thinking about—on top of the fun of it.”
The Undoing premieres premieres Sunday, October 25, at 9 p.m. E.T. on HBO.
Originally Appeared on Glamour