The Undoing

and The Moral Ambiguity of Privilege

By Rosie Fletcher

HBO’s six part series The Undoing is a murder mystery but it also reflects “the oblivion of the world of privilege.”

Grace and Jonathan Fraser (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant) are a beautiful, wealthy couple living in the Upper East Side of New York with their son Henry (Noah Jupe)...

...until the murder of captivating young mother Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) shakes up their world.

Jonathan is the prime suspect for the murder - he was having an affair with Elena and fled after finding her body. But did he do it? And will a jury find him guilty?

Director Susanne Bier told Den of Geek she was interested to explore “the way different groups in society are treated completely differently” within the justice system.

Immediately after Elena’s death the rich mothers in Grace’s friendship group decide Elena’s husband Fernando must be the killer because he gave them a “bad feeling.” 

After he is arrested Jonathan is granted bail, despite already disappearing for days immediately after the killing.

Grace’s father Franklin (Donald Sutherland) pays this though it’s clear he dislikes his son in law - Jonathan can spend the pre-trial period in the comfort of home.

When the school tries to exclude Henry during the trial, Franklin forces them to reverse that decision. “He takes his entitlement for granted,” says Bier.

Franklin engages the best lawyer money can buy for Jonathan, in Hayley Fitzgerald (Noma Dumezweni).

Hayley’s tactics involve securing a news interview for Jonathan where he implies Fernando is the killer and later putting Elena’s 12-year-old son Miguel on the stand.

Meanwhile Henry inherits his father’s casually dishonesty - he finds the murder weapon, hides it, cleans it and lies about it, believing his father to be guilty. He suffers no consequences.

Jonathan is a psychopath, who attempts to accuse Grace and then later his own son of a murder he committed. All evidence points to him yet it’s possible he’ll escape prosecution.

Jonathan’s case is only truly undone by Grace who convinces Hayley to put her on the stand, suggesting testimony from the devoted (rich, beautiful, white) wife who stands by her man will appeal to the jury.

Feeding information about Jonathan’s prior psychopathic behaviour via her lawyer best friend Sylvia (Lily Rabe) to the prosecution, Grace manipulates the trial so this evidence is admissible.

It’s Grace and not the justice system, which leads to Jonathan’s conviction. She has the privilege of being able to actively decide whether her husband should be prosecuted for murder.

That the guilty man is prosecuted is the right outcome, but it’s not a happy ending. Wealth and privilege wins the day either way.