HBO's David E. Kelley limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant has been widely panned for its underwhelming finale. "We treated it like a game, but it’s a horror and the jokes on us," says Willa Paskin of the finale reveal. "If this is a little didactic, played more lightly it could be satisfyingly surprising. It uses our own fluency in storytelling conventions against us, so as not to see the suspect hiding in plain sight. But that’s on paper. In actuality, The Undoing wanted its gotcha more than it wanted to make sense. In trying so hard to be unspoilable, it spoiled itself. That no one guessed the killer’s identify in advance isn’t a credit to the show—it’s a sign that it wasn’t playing fair." Paskin adds: "The only thing that recommended the show, and turned it, at the last minute, into a conversation piece, was that it had become a proper guessing game. When TV shows, even ones far better than The Undoing, become guessing games, they are usually screwed. When there’s so much pressure on how it ends, it obviates the pleasure we take in getting there—and with The Undoing, there wasn’t that much pleasure in the journey to begin with. It was a bumpy flight that wound up in a dingy parking lot. HBO must be thrilled, though. We tweeted about all of it."
The biggest shocker was all the social media buzz The Undoing suddenly generated in the days before the finale: "Critics and writers were shocked by the season finale of The Undoing, created by David E. Kelley and directed by Susanne Bier," says Cassie da Costa. "Not by the way the show wrapped up—by its popularity. On social media, viewers eagerly live-tweeted the episode, seemingly for the first time. Twitter-famous lawyer @nycsouthpaw mused aloud, 'I wasn’t aware the undoing was even a thing until this very evening?' while New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum admitted, 'Feeling kind of left out on this whole Undoing situation, based on Twitter I’ve deduced that a fancy coat played by Hugh Grant killed a baby.' Had a large audience actually been following the show this closely all those weeks? Was this murder-mystery-cum-procedural—starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Fraser, a numb, naive, and dazzlingly rich clinical psychologist sporting hideous knit outerwear—a sleeper hit? Or was this mediocre 'prestige' drama just in the right place at the right time?"
The Undoing was an extended red herring disguised as a limited series: "What The Undoing was, ahem, doing all along was distracting us from the blatant truth," says Jen Chaney. "It turned us, the viewers, into the equivalent of Grace, the protagonist in the story who spent years batting away potential red flags about her spouse and refusing to see what was right in front of her. The whole series made us victims of confirmation bias — the tendency, as defined by Grace on the witness stand, to see things according to your own preconceived notions. We assumed that any series with this many twists would do something unexpected in the finale. But its version of the unexpected involved the most expected thing."
The Undoing fans only have themselves to blame: "If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it is surely that things never turn out as well as you’d hope," says Lucy Mangan. "Nevertheless we went straight ahead and invested our last remaining coins of hope and optimism in a shiny drama from HBO and Sky Atlantic....We got involved, is what I’m saying. We leaned right in and hungered for the delicious denouement. You could argue that when it came, it gave us precisely what we deserved: a lesson in the value of low expectations. At best, you could argue that the reveal was appropriately meta for our modern, sophisticated age. At worst you could throw a brick through the screen while roaring that an audience hasn’t been this damnably treated since it was all a dream for Bobby in Dallas. If you are not old enough to understand this reference, just be glad. Enjoy your youth."
The ending was weirdly satisfying: The Undoing managed to have a realistic ending in the midst of a series that was anything but, says Vivian Kane. "I know not everyone feels the same way I do about the show’s ending," says Kane. "Part of that (in addition to everyone having different tastes and being entitled to their own opinion, obviously) might be due to The Undoing’s attempts to convince us that we were watching major Prestige TV. Between the mega-star cast and the lifestyle porn background of extreme opulence and gorgeous coats, the show took on an air of importance that really only served to get in the way of its audience’s ability to enjoy it for what it was: a ludicrously constructed, pulpy murder pageant."
The Undoing director Susanne Bier on why she liked the finale: "It's super appealing because it's such a fundamental human condition," she says. "We define the world the way we define it, we see the world the way we want to see it, as opposed to what is really there. People are brilliant at recreating the truth according to their wishes. This is an example of that."
Bier on why Grant excelled in The Undoing: "Part of the reason why Hugh Grant wanted to do it and part of the reason we wanted him to do it is because he’s such a charming actor with a lot of depth underneath," she says. "We love Hugh Grant and we want to love him, as does Grace."