It’s hard not to be disappointed by “The Bloody Truth” trying to build a dramatic climax out of the most obvious conclusion, especially when so much effort was put into convincing us that a more interesting outcome was possible.
This recap of The Undoing season 1, episode 6, “The Bloody Truth”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The Undoing made no secret of the fact Jonathan Fraser killed his mistress, Elena Alves. From the very beginning, it told us – out loud, no less – that it’s always the husband, and yep, it turned out to be the husband. Well, a husband, at least, since Jonathon wasn’t technically married to Elena, but he nonetheless stoved her head in with a sculpting hammer for depressingly predictable reasons.
I raise this because even throughout most of its runtime, “The Bloody Truth” feigned in the direction of an unexpected twist that veered away from the source material (Jonathan did it in the book, too.) For a while, it seemed fairly likely, especially since so many artistic liberties had been taken with that material already. It could have been Henry! It could have been Franklin – or at least someone hired by Franklin since Donald Sutherland is 346 years old. It could, really, have been anyone. But it wasn’t. It was the husband.
The problem that The Undoing’s finale had, it turns out, is that the season had spent so much time and energy suggesting that Jonathan might not be guilty that it didn’t really know how to make the revelation that he was feel climactic. All those red herrings and wrong turns and dodgy developments were all exposed as exactly what they were all along – gimmicks. And in light of that, it’s difficult not to feel a bit deflated and disappointed by what ultimately transpired.
The first major development of “The Bloody Truth” was really one revealed at the end of last week’s episode, which is that Henry has been holding onto his dad’s murder weapon – which he put in the dishwasher not once but twice – for several months. He did this knowing that it proved his father’s guilt, and it throws his entire defense into chaos, with Haley, in particular, attempting to perform some rather absurd mental gymnastics to reframe the events now that it’s impossible for Jonathan to deny his involvement in them. Naturally, he tries to anyway, taking the opportunity to try and frame Henry for the crime, which is what finally pushes Grace to realize how dangerously passive she has been in all this and stand up for both herself and her son by ensuring that Jonathan pays for his crimes.
How she elects to do that is pretty perfect for Kidman’s portrayal of Grace, since it mostly amounts to sitting on the stand and feigning innocence and surprise every time the prosecution brings up information that she leaked to them, including stuff about Jonathan choking her, the death of his little sister, the confession of his mother that he’s clearly a sociopath, and Grace’s candid suggestion to Sylvia that he’s a narcissist, devoid of empathy. It’s obvious to both Jonathan and Haley what Grace has done, and Haley’s increasingly frantic wails of “Objection!” as her exceedingly well-thought-out and performed defense falls apart were a real pleasure to witness. The tables had turned on the strength of a single testimony, and everybody knew it – perhaps Jonathan most of all.
So, he did what any self-respecting depraved madman would do and kidnapped Henry, whisking him across state lines with the police in hot pursuit while he psychotically babbled about his legacy (earlier, on the stand, Grace had said that “grandiosity” is the biggest symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, so kudos to “The Bloody Truth” for paying that line off here.) You can tell that all of this exists just for a dramatic finale when I firmly believe a lower-key one would have worked better. Jonathan seemingly had no real plan for this venture beyond pretending he was going to commit suicide – he was far too self-obsessed to go out like that – and padding out the extra ten minutes of the final episode’s runtime. It was all just a bit disappointing.
What’s more, is that the relative mundanity of the ending makes a lot of The Undoing retroactively fall apart. Haley calls Jonathan out for not disposing of the hammer, but it was preposterous that he wouldn’t. And why was all that effort expended in highlighting that Elena was creepily obsessed with Grace when it didn’t actually amount to anything whatsoever?
Adapting material is obviously limiting. But The Undoing made enough weird decisions in its adaptation that swapping out the original ending for something more outlandish wouldn’t have necessarily seemed out of place – as a matter of fact, it might have made the whole thing work better as a melodramatic evisceration of the upper class rather than a reminder of how mundanely, dangerously self-involved rich white men are. As though we really needed to be reminded of that.
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