the biggest red herring of this show is the opening theme’s montage.
A head’s up: This mini-dissertation is full of spoilers because I’m digging through every detail about this show in order to figure out how the hell the opening credit scene relates to the story arc of the six-episode mini-series on HBO. If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t read this. But feel free to watch the opening credits because they have absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the show.
The Undoing is a great Who-Dun-It mystery show that fills viewers with questions such as: Who killed Elena? Who knew what when?? Is Grace Fraser going to hook up with Detective Mendoza (because she could use an upgrade, let’s be honest)? The biggest question for me all along has been: WHAT IS UP WITH THESE OPENING CREDITS??
When I started the first episode, I had no clue what the show was about. Based upon the old-timey filter on the scenes, I assumed that Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman had a little girl who was the light of their life and, tragically, they lost her. Turns out that, no, they only have one child — Henry — and he is very much alive.
During the second episode, I thought, “Ok, maybe this little girl is the cancer patient that Hugh Grant lost and cried about.” But NO. Turns out that Hugh is a fucking liar who doesn’t even help kids anymore because he was a creep and lost his job.
Before each episode, I watched every intro; I never fast-forwarded. As the show’s plot began to pick up, I scoured the opening scenes for clues that might lead me to come to a stronger conclusion about who the killer was. That endeavor was fruitless because, again, THE CREDITS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SHOW.
However, it’s not fair for me, a writer who makes, on average, $0.02 USD a month from my Medium posts to criticize professional writers who have created a slew of fantastic shows and films. David E. Kelley and Susanne Bier must have some rationale for including these images before the episode. So here are my best guesses:
- It’s Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman’s character)
Many of the episodes feature close ups of grown-up Grace’s eyes, usually darting around frantically as she processes shocking information. The close-up shots on the red-headed girl could insinuate that Grace once led a carefree, happy life where random people didn’t accuse her husband of being a sociopath or a murderer or an adulterer. Additionally, she sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me” as a montage of images roll; it could make sense that she is singing to accompany images of her childhood. However, she rarely mentions her childhood, so devoting the first 90 seconds of every episode watching her bounce and tromp around doesn’t make a lot of sense.
2. The little girl is Katie, Jonathan’s (Hugh Grant) dead sister
In a bizarre lunch-time confession, Jonathan admits to Grace that when he was 14, he was tasked with watching his four-year-old sister but as he was making himself a snack, she ran out of the house and into a busy street, resulting in her being killed by an oncoming vehicle.
Perhaps the scenes show the secret that has been “undoing” Jonathan for the past few decades. Additionally, the little girl is jumping on a bed in a bedroom with what I, an ignorant American, assume all British wallpaper looks like:
Is it possible to assume that this is the house where this terrible incident took place? It’s likely that I’ll actually never know the answer to this question, so I’m not even sure why I’m asking it.
3. The whole first scene is just for aesthetic
Scratchy, old-timey footage. A pale girl with fiery red hair. She’s dressed in white, to showcase her innocence. White daisies, popping bubbles. It’s intriguing imagery, and, coupled with the haunting vocals of Nicole Kidman, it makes for an interesting visual. I mean, I’ve been obsessed with it, so maybe that’s all it’s about. Artsy people putting together artsy stuff for the hell of it, much like Shia LaBeouf filming himself as he marathon-watched every film he’s ever been in. That’s art.
4. Meaningful Symbolism
Ok, now I’m grasping at straws, but here we go: could the popping bubbles be Grace and Henry’s illusion of Jonathan vanishing into thin air? And perhaps the song itself is linked to Jonathan’s need for people to view him in a certain light? He wants people to “dream a little dream” of him, and believe in the charming facade he projects to the people closest to him. However, when Grace and Henry “wake up,” they discover that Jonathan is a maniacal killer who apparently doesn’t experience suffering or grief.
Stuff I Just Don’t Understand At All:
Again, we have a close-up on the eye, but one eye cut off by a layered image of blood on… someone’s arm? A tree trunk? What is happening in this imagery? And how is it connected to the plot of The Undoing? Did the little girl kill someone? Did the media company hired to make these credits read a different script and then Kelley and Bier were like, “we’re on a time crunch and this looks cool, so let’s just roll with it”? Did they write an entirely self-contained, nonverbal story in the credits that only the most astute viewers can solve?
Who IS this kid?? Every scene focuses on the little red-haired girl and then it pivots to this very different-looking child with absolutely no explanation!
Maybe I’m overthinking this or missing something completely obvious. And, honestly, please, if any readers have insights or answers, share them with me. It’s been four days since the series finale, and the bulk of my weekdays have been spent ruminating on this confusing 90-second opening which truly has left me UNDONE.