Who killed Elena Alves on “The Undoing” (and the many differences between the series and the book)?


For the past few weeks, Monday has been synonymous with “The Undoing,” a miniseries that made its mark this year and aired on HBO Portugal. The sixth and final episode has already revealed the great mystery of who killed Elena Alves (Matilda de Angelis). Most importantly, it revealed a little more about the intent of the miniseries, which made some very different choices than the book it was inspired in.

David E. Kelley, creator of “The Undoing”, is a television veteran with 11 Emmys on his résumé and hits like “Causa Justa”, “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal”. The cast had big names. The performance of Suzanne Bier (“À Cegas”) deserves praise. But one of the great things about “The Undoing” is the way it knew how to create its own space, move away and create a secret that wasn’t in the reference novel.

In the story, Nicole Kidman plays Grace Sachs, a couples therapist who has everything she has ever dreamed of in luxurious New York: a successful career, her son attends a prestigious private school, while her husband, a pediatric oncologist, is played by Hugh Grant, it’s all dedication and perfection, punctuated with a touch of humor and an elegant British accent. But there is a woman who comes into your life: Elena Alves.

Elena is an artist, she is far from rich, but her son gets a scholarship to the same private school. In one of these parents’ associations, she appears as a clear outsider: Everyone is older, richer and more pedantic – and everyone blames her if she breastfeeds her little daughter in front of her, although she is certainly more envious of Elena’s beauty. Grace, polite, attentive, is the exception of the group. At first we will sense a certain strangeness, plans that are very close to Elena when she approaches Grace and almost invades her room. But the two only meet a few times.

Suddenly something brutal happens: Elena is forcibly murdered. Beaten until she can no longer be recognized, she is found by her son on the floor of his studio. The shocking death shakes the entire very rich, very closed system in New York, and we quickly realize that appearances can be deceptive.

If you’re reading this article (and following the spoilers), chances are you’ve already discovered that Jonathan, the husband and prime suspect from the start, is the killer. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible that he was your prime suspect from the start. Even so, at some point he will be suspicious, be it of his father-in-law (played by Donald Sutherland), Elena’s husband (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and maybe even Grace and Jonathan’s son Henry (Noah Jupe).

“The Undoing” went out of its way to open various suspicions during the episodes, to such reasonable doubt that Jonathan could get it across. When we see Hugh Grant testify in court, we even believe his Jonathan, we don’t want to believe that there is something from Jekyll / Hyde. But have. And it was there from the start.

In an interview with “Marie Claire” after the screening of the season finale, it was clear to the director: “Elena’s murderer would always be Jonathan. The whole reason for the series, however, was one thing: We believe what we want to believe. “

Grace believed as much as she could until she found the murder weapon her son was hiding. Then she was the one who took the final lunge when she managed to testify in court where she could get caught up in the lie she picked up herself to solve it. It was she who undoubtedly recognized Jonathan as a murderer. It was a very different path than the book.

What was different about the book?

One of the distinctions between the series and the book “You Should Have Known” (2014) by Jean Hanff Korelitz begins with Jonathan’s British accent and origin. This element is of little importance to the plot (the story of her sister’s death is the same as the book), but it may have contributed to the series breaking records in the UK with Game of Thrones in 2011.

More relevant is the fact that the book isn’t about solving puzzles: we know early on that it’s Jonathan’s fault. In fact, he passes on the book almost entirely while on the run until he is arrested and deported to the United States and the woman finally confesses everything in a letter.

In the book, Grace writes a self-help handbook intended only for those who live with a sociopath and do not know it. The series is more subtle in this approach. It gives us clues in words that the therapist passes on to her clients (the idea of ​​believing in our illusions and not what reality tells us). It’s strange, but Grace defies her own logic until she realizes the son is ready to do anything to defend his father. As if she only realized how wrong she was when she saw her son let Jonathan manipulate him.

Some of the suspicions that have been raised have earned curious online theories. There were those who were suspicious of virtually every other character in this family, Grace’s husband, and even those who thought that certain characters would not exist and would just be Grace’s dream. Nothing like that.

If we just looked at the tracks with logic, we would know everything from the start. This is the mental trap that is well set in “The Undoing” and that is only reversed at the end, when Jonathan accelerates in the car with his son beside him. The moment a truck drives by on the screen is the end of illusions for Henry himself. Jonathan is finally alone, although he ends up with a smile and a moment when he seems to believe he can convince his wife and son (they luckily turn around and follow him and eventually leave him behind).

In an interview with HBO himself, Hugh Grant even suggested that maybe the most terrible thing wasn’t the idea that Jonathan was a good man, capable of doing something so terrible. It’s the opposite: the possibility that he was always a sociopath, but that he could play his role as a good father and husband as much as possible. The truth is that he kills Elena so brutally, exactly when his two worlds threaten to touch. There are other differences from the book, however.

Elena, for example, isn’t even Elena. Her name is Malaga and she has even been criticized for feeding some stereotypes about Latin American women in the US. The series gave him another dimension, more sensual, filmed as if he were floating there. What is certain is that, in the words of Suzanne Bier, Elena would always be “a mystery” that we only know from the little that other characters show us.

The whole book is told from Grace’s point of view. Although she is the main character in the series, we have the opportunity to see more characters take the lead. Several characters failed to reach the screen between the book and the series. Interestingly, this is not the case with defense attorney Haley (Noma Dumezweni), who was left out of the book.

Jean Hanff Korelitz, in his work, chose to stab the victim, an equally violent option, and that the hammer blows Elena fell victim to do not change significantly. Apparently not, one of the main options was the series creators’ first decision: to change the name.

Suzanne Bier explains that the book was only “a conceptual framework”. The first two episodes have a lot in common, but a lot has changed since then. And luckily. “You Should of Known”, which in free translation is something like “you should have noticed”, would refer to Jonathan at an early age. For its part, “The Undoing” examines doubts. By making Jonathan believe for a moment that Jonathan might be innocent, we became one of many people who will have fooled Jonathan with his charm for a long time. Until one day.

Have you finished The Undoing and not sure which series to watch next? Click the gallery and discover 15 series premiering or returning to screen this month of December.