Updated at 9:46 p.m. ET on December 2, 2020.
This article contains spoilers through the series finale of The Undoing.
The Sunday finale of The Undoing was the most-watched episode of any HBO show since the last episode of Big Little Lies. The Undoing is a whodunit about the murder of a woman found, by her fourth-grade son, with her décolletage displayed and her face in pieces. Sex sells, according to the old advertising adage. Clearly violence does too. And the intermingling of sex and violence is a winning formula for HBO.
Art depicting intimate violence has found an audience since ancient times. Take the third-century-B.C. sculpture of a Gaul killing his wife, or the two miniseries released in 2016 about O. J. Simpson’s role in the murder of his ex-wife.* Despite the A-listers who star in it, The Undoing is no more than a costly, glossy, schlocky melodrama. But perhaps because of its cast, and the enviable lifestyle reproduced on camera, the show is attracting a lot of attention.
Although Nicole Kidman, playing Grace Fraser, is the lead actor of The Undoing (and the producers do gratuitously show her showering in episode one and with her husband’s hands around her throat in episodes two and three), she is not the sex object. That role was awarded to the Italian actor Matilda De Angelis, whose portrayal of the Latina vixen-victim Elena Alves humanizes the chalk outline of a character. Elena, a young mother of two and a sculptor, first meets Grace at a planning meeting for an auction to raise money for the swanky school both their sons attend. As we quickly learn, Elena is having an affair with Grace’s husband, a pediatric oncologist named Jonathan. The series tells the story of the aftermath of that affair.