The Undoing HBO

The only spoiler in this post concerns contemporary capitalism. As you well know, this economic system has been something of a mystery for over 400 years. In fact, the detective novel is one of its original productions. The culprit at the center of the first detective novel, Wilkie Collins’s sensational The Moonstone? Imperialism. The novel is about the theft of a state-sanctioned theft. Something similar can be said about the HBO murder mystery, The Undoing, which Susanne Bier directed.


The series stars Hugh Grant (an oncologist and husband of Grace Fraser) and Nicole Kidman (a psychiatrist and wife of Jonathan Fraser). Jonathan and Grace have a son, Henry Fraser (Noah Jupe). Grace Fraser’s father, Franklin Reinhardt (Donald Sutherland), has the money that supports the Frasers’s Upper East Side styling. (According to Untapped New York, the “5-floor brick townhouse” in which the Frasers live “is located at 8 East 63rd Street between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, less than a block from Central Park” and is valued at $30 million.)

As there is a theft within a theft in The Moonstone, there is a murder within a murder in The Undoing, which is not the right title for this work, but I will not get into that. Nor will I examine the the show’s analysis-worthy casting (I will do that in a future post).

My direction at present is toward something that is not unlike what the art critic and historian Hal Foster called Design and Crime. This is the “political economy of design.” And political economy, what we now call economics, is not just the study of the distribution of wealth in a society but also the ways it is expressed. In The Undoing, we have the murder, the family, and the way those whose share of the wealth is obscenely large is expressed in the 21st century: the thin towers of Manhattan.

My memory tells me that there is not one episode in the six-part series that does not contain a shot with the skinny skyscrapers puncturing the Manhattan sky in the background. And the key scene in The Undoing‘s finale, the moment when murder becomes clear in the mind of a character, the skinny skyscrapers are right there. The brutal crime and the buildings are one and the same. The hammer-bashed face of the victim (a working-class Latina) and the architecture of “billionaire row” become, one on top of the other, transparent things. Marxists love detective fiction.

Business Insider:

A bevy of super-tall, glossy skyscrapers are rising along New York City’s Billionaires’ Row, an area south of Central Park that’s home to some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

There’s Central Park Tower, which recently became the tallest residential building in the world. Then there’s 220 Central Park South, which broke real-estate records last year when the billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin paid $238 million for a spread of condos. Both towers are expected to be finished in 2020.

Now nearing completion is 111 West 57th Street, which has the distinction of being the world’s most slender skyscraper. The 1,428-foot tower is 24 times as tall as it is wide and has only one residence on each floor.

Also, the Business Insider:

New York City’s 57th Street [is the most expensive street in the world], with 41 sales above $25 million in the past five years. 57th Street is part of the Manhattan mini-neighborhood called Billionaires’ Row, which is home to some of the city’s priciest real estate and has seen record-breaking sales in recent years.

Who killed the Latina character in The Undoing? Who smashed to a pulp the face of the wife of the hard-working man and the mother of the working-class boy? There is a direct answer, but it is by no means enough. To reveal the murderer is the same as revealing the moonstone’s thief in the Moonstone to be just one of the family members staying at the country mansion. The detective, Sergeant Cuff, whose brilliance is a bit dimmed in BBC One’s 2016 adaptation of the novel (though its casting of Leo Wringer as Gabriel Betteredge is inspired), can only solve one small and, from a historical perspective, a pretty insignificant part of the puzzle. Sergeant Cuff, the detective who loves roses, needs to go beyond the manor and takes us all the way to India, to that fateful moment when an officer of the British army took the precious stone by force from the Jewel of the Empire.


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