The Undoing’s Finale Was Absolutely Satisfying: Here’s Why

HBO's psychological thriller The Undoing finally came to a close on Sunday, Nov. 30 when viewers finally learned who killed Elena. But was the series finale a bit too predictable?

By Jonathan Borge Nov 30, 2020 6:30 PMTags
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After Thanksgiving dinner, we were understandably full—not of gravy-coated turkey or decadently flavorful pumpkin pie, but of guesses, guesses, and more guesses. Since the October premiere of HBO's six-episode limited series The Undoing, we've been meticulously mapping out all the plausibilities surrounding the big question at hand: Who killed Elena (Matilda De Angelis)? And leading into the series finale on Sunday, Nov. 29, we weren't quite sure who to call the lead suspect, which was the point.

Created by Big Little Lies writer David E. Kelley, the psychological thriller follows Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant's Grace and Jonathan Fraser, an ultra-rich couple living in Manhattan's Upper East Side whose life gets upended—or, er, undid—when Elena, Jonathan's mistress and a mother at their son Henry's (Noah Jupe) exclusive prep school, gets brutally murdered. 

From the very first episode, the show, which is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz's 2014 novel You Should Have Known, had us reasoning that to repeatedly beat someone's head with a hammer is too vile of a crime, an act that some of the more likeable characters surely couldn't have been responsible for.

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So who was it? The episode five cliffhanger, in which Grace comes across the hammer—the number one piece of evidence—inside her son's bedroom still didn't make anything that clear.

As fans on Twitter explored, key theories leading into finale night had us pointing to the detective (Edgar Ramirez), the other husband (Ismael Cruz Córdova), the grandpa (Donald Sutherland), and certainly Grace herself. The boy? Nah, too much of a stretch for him to be so nasty. Jonathan? Far too obvious.

Niko Tavernise/HBO

Throughout the show, the way in which Grace regularly glanced off into the distance with a That's So Raven-like stare made her appear psychologically tortured and therefore perfectly capable of committing murder. But our bet was on Sylvia Steinetz (Lily Rabe), Grace's best friend and the powerful lawyer who early on found herself smackdab in the middle of the Frasers' drama, only to then quietly (and suspiciously) step away for a few episodes.

Speaking with E! News in October, Rabe called Sylvia "the gatekeeper of everyone's secrets," which we took as a hint that further solidified our theory. Midway through the series, Jonathan made mention of another affair, creating a sticky loophole where Sylvia could have been his lover and worked to get rid of Elena in an effort to claim Jonathan as her own. That, or she and Grace—who together took a stroll through Central Park that we never learned the reason for—were somehow, for whatever reason, in cahoots. Sort of possible, right?

Welp, we were wrong in ever considering the women. 

Niko Tavernise/HBO

Unimaginative as it may have been, the person responsible for the heinous crime that got us here to begin with turned out to be none other than Jonathan. As Sylvia said in the very first episode, "It's always the f--king husband!" 

We finally got some answers during the finale as Noma Dumezweni's Hayley Fitzgerald did her very best to defend Jonathan, the definition of a narcissist and liar. In a series of flashbacks, he beats his mistress against a wall and then picks up the hammer to do what we'd really like to forget. (Did they really need to keep showing Elena's mangled, unidentifiable face?) 

His court case became an instant failure when Grace took the stand and failed to adequately defend her husband. To keep it short, the plaintiff's lawyer (Sofie Gråbøl) bumped into Sylvia in the bathroom (aha!) and gleaned more information about Jonathan that helped her paint a fuller picture of his egomaniac character traits. A little confusing, but it worked. 

Knowing his fate the following day, Jonathan then practically kidnapped his own son for what turned out to be a completely unexpected high-speed chase upstate. As Jonathan stood atop a bridge while threatening to kill himself, Grace disembarked from a helicopter (because she's that rich) and swooped in to save little Henry, her coat still perfectly intact. 

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So was this the epic surprise we anticipated? Not so much. In sum, writing in Jonathan as Elena's killer was the most obvious choice since he was the lead suspect to begin with. But the way in which the show kept twisting and turning our perception of every single character is absolutely worthy of praise, especially considering it was a man—an unfaithful one at that—that tricked us into believing he was innocent and incapable of killing someone. 

Grant previously told E! that Jonathan's charm and instant likability is exactly why he said yes to the role. Ultimately, Jonathan's entire demeanor was the big fat clue right beneath our nose. "That was the appeal of the character, really," Grant said. "The metaphor I always use for him was that he should seem like a lovely, well washed, well worn cotton shirt that's very comfortable. And then you suddenly start saying, hang on, is there a bit of viscose in this? Is this just too good to be true? Is something not quite real or right here?"

Turns out that well-worn cotton shirt was far dirtier than we realized. 

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