As it reaches its penultimate episode, Nicole Kidman-Hugh Grant thriller The Undoing has already definitively answered several questions. Yes, Hugh Grant was born to portray an unctuous oncologist whose entire life is one big lie. Of course, Nicole Kidman could get away with playing a variation of her Big Little Lies character: the frosty woman-with-it-all seething with unhappiness just beneath the surface. And naturally, it’s tremendous fun watching wealthy high-achievers fly too close to the sun and come crashing downwards (ruining their huge fitted kitchens in the process).
One big mystery remains very much up in the air, though. Who killed Elena Alves? The adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 bestseller You Should Have Known has led viewers on a merry dance ever since the opening instalment concluded with the shocking reveal that Alves had been beaten to death after attending a fundraiser at swanky Reardon School.
The initial suspicion had fallen on her husband. But an alibi seemed to put him out of the picture. And so the police’s attention turned to Grant’s Jonathan Fraser, who was cheating on his wife Grace (Kidman) with Elena (Matilda De Angelis). However that was three episodes ago – and the story has grown considerably more complicated since, even as Jonathan has gone on trial for the killing. Ahead of next week’s finale – and presumably the big reveal – here is a countdown of the runners and riders.
Fraser lost his fancy-pants oncologist job over his affair with Elena, the mother of one of his patients. He told his wife, Grace, that Elena became obsessed with her lover – which is why she pressured him into helping her get her son into elite Reardon. He has also, however, confessed to his lawyer that he couldn’t have killed Elena because he was in love with her.
But can we believe anything Jonathan says? A late night call between his estranged mother and Grace revealed that he never displayed grief or remorse for causing the accidental death of his sister when she was four.
He also slept with Elena the night she was killed, having gone to her apartment from the school fundraiser. That explains his DNA at the crime scene – the discovery that made him the police’s top suspect. He claims to have discovered the body – and to have then gone home to Grace (with whom he then slept). So he is obviously selfish and uncaring to the point of sociopathy.
As far as the cops are concerned, it’s an open and shut case. It’s worth noting, too, that Jonathan is the killer in the original 2014 novel. However, The Undoing has departed significantly from the book, in which Jonathan never returns having done a runner when Elena’s body is discovered. And it would be anticlimactic and far too obvious to make Hugh Grant the culprit.
As an emotionally remote psychotherapist, Kidman seems to be drawing on her performance 20 years ago opposite Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut – in which she similarly played a woman married to a doctor with a murky inner life. In Eyes Wide Shut, Kidman also showed she could portray a character with dark impulses raging under the surface. Is it plausible that in The Undoing she is an unreliable narrator – a buzzy device in thrillers since Gone Girl and Girl on the Train – and that it was she who, in a jealous rage, killed her husband’s lover?
It is possible that the series has been hinting at this. In her psychotherapy sessions Grace has encouraged clients to peel away the layers and confront the true motives for their destructive behaviour. Are we being set up for the ultimate irony: that Grace herself has hidden the truth and that it was she who went to Elena’s apartment and coshed her to death?
At this point, she can’t be ruled out. It has been confirmed that, after that fateful fundraiser, Grace walked by Elena’s apartment. The CCTV footage has even been produced at Jonathan’s trial as part of his defence’s argument that the police, in their obsession with pinning the crime on Dr Fraser, have overlooked all other potential culprits, including his wife. One theory pinging around the internet is that Grace suffers some kind of dissociative disorder – again, a dramatic irony considering her profession – and that she killed Elena and buried the memory somewhere deep and dark and out of reach.
The jealous husband (Ismael Cruz Córdova) is another obvious suspect. Bad enough that he found out his wife was having an affair. But then there was the bombshell that Jonathan is the true father of their newborn baby. And yet through all this he’s the only one who seems genuinely distressed at Elena’s death. This came across strongly when he was put in the witness stand at Jonathan’s trial and reacted with fury to the suggestion that he was as likely as Jonathan to have killed Elena.
Jonathan has admitted that Elena wasn’t his first fling. A popular theory is that his other mistress was Grace’s mummy pal Sylvia (Lily Rabe). Jonathan and Sylvia have undoubtedly been emotionally intimate. When Jonathan’s relationship with Elena threatened his job, he confided in Sylvia (and sought her advice as a lawyer) whilst keeping the truth from his wife.
A potential bread-crumb trail has been laid too. During Elena’s first appearance at a parents’s meeting, it was Sylvia who remarked how stunning she looked and knew all about her habits at school (“she sits out there, I saw her months ago”).
The flaw in the theory, of course, is that Sylvia has never shown any signs of jealousy. And why would she be murderously envious of Elena yet friendly with Jonathan’s actual wife? Barring further twists, it doesn’t quite hold up.
Grace’s father (Donald Sutherland) has never made any secret of his dislike – nay, open hatred – for Jonathan. Plus he is incredibly wealthy and could easily afford to hire someone to bump off Elena. He certainly doesn’t come across as weighed down with human warmth, apart from where his daughter is concerned. Perhaps the plan was to kill Jonathan only for Elena to turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Plus, we know Grace’s mother is dead. What if Franklin did it and Grace witnessed the killing and then buried the memory? This would have primed her to be able to dispatch Elena and to then conceal her guilt from herself.
Nor can it be ruled out that Elena – who apparently had a thing for older men played by a-list actors – might have been carrying on with Franklin. That would be a further reason for him to hate Jonathan – and definitely something for the character to lash out over.
Grace and Jonathan’s son (Noah Jupe) is in denial about his father’s selfish and self-destructive tendencies. With the trial underway, he is still clinging to the chance that, assuming the verdict is not guilty, the family can go back to the way things were.
And what about the note – the contents still a secret – that Jonathan appeared to pass to his son in prison? There’s even a smoking gun – or more accurately a deadly hammer. The weapon used to kill Elena has turned up hidden in Henry’s violin case.
Henry, let’s not forget, spotted Jonathan and Elena canoodling at the school gates and was then tormented with guilt for keeping the truth from his mother. Where might that guilt have led? Or is he simply a boy who desperately wants to keep his father out of jail and his family together?
The Undoing is on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV at 9pm on Mondays