Your Moulin Rouge-adoring mind was not playing tricks on you: That was indeed Undoing star and exec producer Nicole Kidman singing a cover of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” in the HBO limited series’ opening title sequence (watch here).
The song choice is, of course, drenched in irony given the David E. Kelley-penned thriller’s dark premise and, you know, foreboding title. But for the first half of Sunday’s premiere, Kidman’s moneyed Manhattanite Grace Fraser was living something of a fantasy life, even if director Susanne Bier’s haunting vision of New York in winter foreshadowed the nightmare to come.
The opening flash-forward sequence — in which a mysterious young boy makes a horrific discovery at his artist-mother’s Manhattan studio — also serves as something of a stark heads-up that a bunch of bad stuff is about to go down. From there we jump back two days and are thrust into Grace’s utopian existence, which includes a morning full of elegant ablutions, cheeky banter with her pediatric oncologist-husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) and just the right amount of finger-wagging at her violin-playing, private-schooled son Henry (The Night Manager‘s Noah Jupe). And it all takes place inside an obscene Upper East Side townhouse that boasts a staircase bigger than most Manhattan apartments (mine included). It’s a nice life if you can get it!
We follow Grace to work — she’s a shrink with a rather aggressive bedside manner — before shadowing her at the day’s main event: an auction committee meeting with the local private-school moms. The tea-sipping ladies in attendance include The West Wing‘s Janel Moloney and American Horror Story‘s Lily Rabe (aka Grace’s BFF), and they’re all atwitter about a new member/party crasher by the name of Elena (played by Italian actress Matilda De Angelis). “She’s scholarship,” Moloney’s super white privileged Sally derogatorily whispers to Grace.
The women spend most of the luncheon shooting judgmental daggers at Elena. But not Grace. She is enveloping the fish out of water with welcoming energy. When Elena begins breast feeding her infant daughter Teresa right at the table in the middle of the meeting, everyone’s disapproving jaws drop except for Grace’s. “She was just feeding her child,” she later shrugs to Rabe’s Sylvia. (During the gathering we learn that Elena also has a fourth-grade son named Miguel who may or may not be the same boy we met in the earlier flash-forward.)
In a crazy and somewhat implausible coincidence, Grace and Elena belong to the same gym, a fact we learn the next day when the latter appears fully naked in front of the former in the locker room. With her lady parts hilariously and unsettlingly thrust directly in a slightly unnerved Grace’s eye line, Elena coos, “Thank you so much for making me feel so welcome… I felt like an intruder. You made me feel at home.”
Grace manages to keep her composure during the bizarre encounter, but she later confides to hubby Jonathan, “I’m all for women being comfortable with their bodies, but it was… weird.”
Oh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
On the occasion of the aforementioned hoity-toity, super-white private-school auction/fundraiser, Grace has another run-in with her new friend/stalker in the powder room, only this time Elena is in tears for reasons that remain unclear. “Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed,” she sobs to a sympathetic Grace. “And lost. Do you ever feel that?”
Grace ignores the question and instead tosses her a rather condescending life preserver in the form of a free therapy session. Elena politely glosses over the gesture, presumably because she has read the female Dr. Phil’s unfavorable Yelp reviews, before racing off to the nearest elevator. A concerned Grace follows her and offers her the use of her town car, but Elena passes on that offer, too (on account of her living in Harlem). Elena is moved by Grace’s concern for her. We know this because right before she steps off the elevator, she moves uncomfortably close to Grace and proceeds to kiss her on the lips. Grace is shaken and stirred and possibly-maybe a little aroused.
That takes us up to the present-day timeline, with Elena’s son Miguel expressing concern to his dad (and Elena’s husband) about his mother’s whereabouts after she failed to come home last night. It’s then that we see him enter her studio and discover her lifeless body.
“It was Elena — she was found dead,” a giddy-for-gossip Sylvia informs a genuinely saddened and stunned Grace via telephone. “Her son, the poor thing, discovered her.”
Sylvia speculates that Elena’s husband is the prime suspect in the murder, but it’s Grace’s doorstep two NYPD detectives are waiting on when Grace returns home later in the day. The lead cop, played by The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story‘s Edgar Ramirez, proceeds to aggressively grill Grace about her connection to a woman she only met roughly 48 hours prior. Grace respectfully and calmly answers all of his extremely leading questions, but it’s clear based on the excessive amount of peanut butter she is violently slathering on an innocent slice of multi-grain bread that she is rattled. It’s only when they ask to speak to Jonathan that Grace begins to visibly lose her cool. First off, he’s in Cleveland at a medical conference, she informs them. Secondly, he never even met the deceased, she insists.
Picking up on Grace’s wholly justified discomfort, Ramirez’s detective has the gall to ask, “Are we upsetting you, doctor?”
Grace’s nerves go from frayed to tattered when, while attempting to reach Jonathan by phone later that night to fill him in on the day’s events, she once again gets his voicemail. When she follows the call up with a text, she hears a phone vibrate, and is horrified to discover Jonathan’s cell in his nightstand. Dude went to Cleveland for a conference and forgot his phone?!
Even more worrisome: There are no Jonathan Frasers staying at any of the local hotels (at least none with a charming British accent).
In the episode’s final moments, with Grace’s frantic mind spinning out of control, we see a flash of Elena’s disfigured body. But did the vision originate in Grace’s brain or was it an editing-related red herring? And if it was the former, was Grace remembering the horrific crime scene or imagining it?
What did you think of Episode 1 of The Undoing? Grade the premiere below and then elaborate in the comments!