The Undoing Season 1 Ending Explained: Who Killed Elena Alves

Warning: SPOILERS for The Undoing season 1 finale.

The Undoing ending finally answered the central question of the entire season – who killed Elena Alves? The hit HBO show is a tale of power as well as the power of deceit. So naturally, there were plenty of twists and turns along the way to The Undoing season 1 finale’s reveal.

The show follows Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), who live a privileged life in Manhattan with their son, Henry (Noah Jupe). Their lives are completely upended when a mother at Henry’s school, named Elena (Matilda De Angelis), is found murdered. Jonathan is soon proven to be connected to Elena, throwing the Fraser family into a media frenzy. The majority of The Undoing follows the court case against Jonathan, revealing secrets that prompt Grace and Henry to think about if Jonathan is the man they thought he was.

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Although The Undoing attempted to throw some red herrings at its audience over the course of its six-episode run, the killer’s identity wasn’t much of a surprise. They were always the most suspicious character. But the journey to get there was an enthralling look at the dark hold that secrets have over people.

Who Killed Elena Alves?

the undoing jonathan

The Undoing revealed that Jonathan killed Elena. The odds were stacked in favor of Jonathan being the killer from the very beginning. Jonathan and Elena met when he was treating her son’s cancer. Jonathan got close with the mother and son, eventually striking up an affair with Elena. Before she was killed, Elena had occasionally run into Grace and always seemed to have a strange fascination with her. Even when The Undoing tried to convince its audience that Grace or Henry may have killed Elena, it was always clear that it was Jonathan.

The fact that Jonathan was a murderer may not have been a shock, but the way that he behaved during the case was. Once Jonathan is formally accused of the murder, Grace learns shocking information from his mother. When he was 14 years old, he was inadvertently responsible for his four-year-old sister’s death. But instead of living the rest of his life racked with grief and guilt, Jonathan never expressed any emotion about her death. Grace, a trained psychologist, eventually realizes that her husband may have narcissistic personality disorder – symptoms of which include a desire for admiration and a disregard for other people’s emotions.

Throughout the entirety of the case, Jonathan is appalled at the idea of someone believing he murdered Elena. He cries during a TV interview, throws both of his family members under the bus, and flat-out suggests that his own son may have committed the murder, knowing very well that wasn’t the truth. Grace may have suggested he has narcissistic personality disorder, but that’s never proven. He is just unlikeable. Grace may just be desperately grasping at anything that could explain her husband’s horrifying behavior. But the odds are that Jonathan was just obsessed with his image and the power that came with it. Once he ran out of lies and excuses in The Undoing ending, Jonathan nearly has a break from reality as he comes inches away from jumping off a bridge. Life wasn’t even worth it for Jonathan if his powerful image was destroyed.

Every Clue Jonathan Was Elena’s Killer

Hugh Grant in The Undoing

The Undoing skillfully lays out enough evidence throughout the show to prove that Jonathan was the killer. They may have thrown curve balls at the audience for the sake of drama, but Jonathan was always meant to stick in the back of the audience’s head. Simply put, Jonathan had the strongest motive out of any character to kill Elena. His affair is revealed early in the show’s six-season run. Right away, that was a red flag – Jonathan was an upper-class doctor, Elena was more working class. It’s a common trope in movies and TV shows – affairs between people of different classes often don’t end well. His hospital fired him for crossing a line with Elena and he eventually fathered a daughter with her. If word got out, he’d be cast out of his social circles. For someone powerful, image-obsessed, and lacking empathy, this was more than enough evidence pointing to the fact that Jonathan was the murderer.

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Why Henry Had the Murder Weapon

The Undoing Henry

The court establishes early on that Elena’s head was beaten in with a hammer. The Undoing‘s penultimate episode ends with a shock as Grace finds the hammer underneath Henry’s bed, explicitly leading the audience to believe that he was the murderer. Earlier in the season, a flashback reveals that Henry saw Elena and his dad together near school one day – and so, he figured out that Jonathan was having an affair. Jonathan stashed the hammer at their beach house and Henry connected the dots that his father was the murderer. So Henry decided to run it through the dishwasher twice to wash away any DNA.

Before the events of The Undoing, Henry and Jonathan had a close relationship. So keeping the hammer under his pillow wasn’t proof that he was angry enough to kill his dad over his affair. Instead, it was Henry’s way of protecting his dad. Henry lives a privileged life with his parents but is young enough to still remain grounded. Grappling with incredibly traumatic and adult events like adultery and murder will change him. The weight of his father’s lie in connections to those events robbed Henry of his childhood. The Undoing ending didn’t chronicle any of the fallout from the conclusion of Jonathan’s trial. Should The Undoing season 2 get the green light, the HBO show will undoubtedly follow the effect that the events of season 1 had on Henry.

Why Jonathan Killed Elena Alves

The Undoing Elena

The Undoing ending flashes back to the moment of Elena’s murder, showing everything that motivated Jonathan to kill her. In the first episode, Elena continues to pop up in Grace’s life. She comes on a little strong, even kissing Grace on the mouth to thank her for her kindness. The finale provides context to Elena’s actions – she wanted her and Jonathan’s families to become one. Elena shares this with Jonathan, talking about the bond she built with Grace and how her son and Henry could become fast friends.

Jonathan knows that Elena going public with their affair would threaten his image and cause him to lose everything. When she so much as suggested merging their social circles, something changed within Jonathan. It made everything real, and the idea of bringing down his image set off a rage inside him. The two got in a fight before he attempted to leave. She tried to go after him with a hammer and he grabbed it, repeatedly bashing her head in without so much as an ounce of emotion. That lingering shot on Jonathan’s empty face as he killed Elena showed that his reputation meant more to him than another person’s life – no matter whose life it was.

Why Grace Didn’t Realize Jonathan Was Dangerous Sooner

The Undoing Grace

Grace’s career as a psychologist was likely intentional as it poses an important question: How could someone professionally trained in studying human behavior not see what was right in front of them? Grace wasn’t the image-obsessed narcissist that her husband was, but she enjoyed their lavish lifestyle. She likely didn’t want to give that up. There’s a good chance that, deep down, Grace noticed things were off with her husband – but people see what they want to see.

Grace didn’t want to sacrifice the life they built, so she may have brushed aside anything she ever noticed that was suspicious about Jonathan. That is, unless her husband was a master at deception, which it didn’t seem like he was. She had an Ivy League degree in a field about human behavior, so there’s no way she never questioned Jonathan. Once he was accused of the crime, she denied it – no one in her picture-perfect life could do such a thing. But she was forced to face the truth; she realized her husband was a monster. It all boiled down to blissful ignorance.

Why Grace Testified Against Jonathan

The Undoing Grace

Grace is understandably taken on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout The Undoing. There are moments she’s scared of her husband, moments she believes him, and moments she hates him. But by the end, she realizes it’s not about Jonathan – it’s about Henry. Grace was deeply disturbed when she learned about Jonathan’s reaction to his sister’s death and could never shake the feeling that something was broken within him. So, while she agreed to testify on behalf of her husband in The Undoing season 1 finale, it was all a ruse to share the story of Jonathan’s sister. With so much evidence already stacked against him, lack of empathy was the nail in the coffin for Jonathan.

Despite enjoying the privileged life she and Jonathan built together, once he was accused of the murder, her image fell apart. It was jarring initially, but it made her realize that the only thing that really mattered was her son. Jonathan proved to be a threat to Henry, so Grace needed to him out of her son’s life. Providing such damning evidence to the jury was the only way she could guarantee that would happen.

Her decision poses an interesting plot point for a potential The Undoing season 2.;Grace and Jonathan started at the same point in their lives but went on wildly different paths after the trial began. Grace realizes that power isn’t worth it and lies can be destructive. Jonathan, however, never reached that realization. The Undoing season 2 could follow Henry a year or so after the events of the trial and see which parent he eventually takes after. Will he learn that truth and family are the things that matter the most? Or is there something darker lurking within him, just like his dad? Fans will have to wait to see if The Undoing returns and answers these questions.

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Updated: December 2, 2020 — 1:29 am

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