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The Undoing Episode 5: “Trial By Fury”

Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO

Over the course of The Undoing, I have played with the show’s title, even though I’ve known it is based on a book with a different one (which, again, I have not read). First, I thought about how this was a show presenting us with the undoing of the life that Grace and the Frasers led on the Upper East Side. Then, as the show shifted from her perspective, I thought about it undoing the work it had done to present us with things from Grace’s point of view—something I was willing to think was clever even as I felt a worry that it risked undermining the show’s power. (An unreliable narrator is, in my opinion, more interesting when you never get anything like a God’s-eye view.) Finally, I have suggested that what The Undoing will really be about is the “undoing” of the crime itself, through Jonathan being acquitted at trial and the Frasers reconciling. But now, with Episode 5, I’m forced to think that what the show has most truly undone is its own veneer of plausibility.

I have said from the beginning that I was more interested in The Undoing’s smaller mysteries than anything else: Jonathan’s “trip to Cleveland”; why Elena was crying in the bathroom; what Jonathan was up to when he was missing; etc. And I have trusted that there would be at least some level of answer to these questions, but having finished its penultimate hour (“Trial By Fury”), I am left to think instead that The Undoing wants to wave its hands at all of these questions and instead shock us with some supposedly unforeseen truth that any number of people have been theorizing about without evidence on the internet for weeks.

Grace leans towards Jonathan in the courtroom
Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO

This would be the idea that young Henry is the murderer, which is strongly suggested by the final scene of Episode 5, wherein Grace finds the missing sculpting hammer in his violin case. I’m afraid that The Undoing is going to want me to believe that the police somehow never searched that violin case. Indeed, all of the other aspects of how the criminal justice system has been presented in the show have been implausible to the degree that this is basically what I expect. I might hold out some thin hope that the finale next week will answer this new small mystery, but it seems more likely that my initial trust that such questions would find plausible resolution was misplaced.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that Henry did it just because the hammer was in his violin case. We know that Jonathan came home from Elena’s murder scene, had sex with Grace, and said goodbye to Henry before leaving in the morning, so he had more than ample opportunity to hide the murder weapon in this place where the police certainly would have looked when they searched the apartment. Or, if we actually take that seriously, we might surmise that this is an entirely new sculpting hammer that Henry procured for himself so he could play with it as he considered whether his dad had used a similar one to commit murder. I could see him doing that.

But just as the details I laid out above don’t seem to have been enough to lead Grace—with her advanced degrees in psychology—to consider that Jonathan may be a sociopath until his mother basically says so and Lily uses the word, I suspect that we’ll be asked to believe that the cops just didn’t find the hammer and this question won’t even be examined. I hope I’m wrong.

Equally, it is true that Henry could have been the one who killed Elena in terms of the evidence provided by The Undoing. Maybe Jonathan knows it and this is what he was referring to at the end of Episode 4. Maybe, just like his father, Henry feels no remorse and has just been displaying a series of masks throughout this story. If so, should we have known? Or is this the game: to shock us with the truth without any prior indication of it?

I don’t think that Henry did it, and I do still think that Jonathan did. Episode 6 is called “The Bloody Truth” so I expect we will be provided with an answer, but honestly, the idea of Henry having done the crime feels cheap and that of Jonathan having done it feels terribly predictable. Does some third option remain that wouldn’t feel entirely out of left field?

Regardless, I no longer have sympathy for any of these characters. At the end of the day, everything points to one of the Frasers having murdered Elena, and everything points to them getting away with it. This would make The Undoing not so much a mystery drama as a portrait of the way in which class and wealth protect the guilty from punishment because we’d rather—like Grace—believe the lie than allow our illusions to fall apart.

But either way, I suppose next week we’ll see the bloody truth.

Caemeron Crain

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain studies philosophy and is a writer and head of the TV department at 25YL. He is a party to a Twin Peaks podcast that then did a few episodes on Surrealism before entering an indefinite hiatus. He also has a cat.

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  1. There was a well known classical piano sonata played in one scene of “Trial by Fury” Would like to be reminded of the name and its composer.

    • Oh sorry it would have been totally in character for me to look into that and I’m afraid I didn’t in this instance

  2. The Undoing uses the easier Stephen Keller arrangement, and NOT the one by Franz Liszt. It is probably Claudio Colombo’s rendition as this sounds more like an amateur playing.

    It seems that female pianists such as Katharina Treutler or Khatia Buniatishvili ( both on youtube ) play the Liszt arrangement in a way which I believe is more in line with the composer’s intention. Have a listen and see what you think.

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