'The Undoing': What Exactly Is Rescue Romance Syndrome?

In the latest episode of HBO's limited series, The Undoing, Grace's world continues to become, well, undone. The third episode is titled "Do No Harm," a reference to the Hippocratic oath doctors take that outlines the obligations and proper conduct they must follow. Part of it states that they first and foremost promise to do no harm. Hugh Grant's Dr. Jonathan Fraser, however, seems to do more harm than good.

Jonathan's wife, Grace (Nicole Kidman with the fabulous hair) finds out further details about his affair with Elena Alvez (Matilda De Angelis). When speaking with one of her husband's colleagues, Stuart (Jason Kravits), she learns more about Jonathan's affair.

Stuart explains that Elena's seven-year-old son, Miguel (Edan Alexander), had a Wilms tumor (a form of kidney cancer which typically develops in children), and Dr. Fraser looked after him.

"They weren't discreet," Stuart notes. "They weren't even trying to be. Warnings didn't seem to matter. He wanted her, and he was willing to risk everything, which he clearly did." Jonathan previously told Grace that Elena was not well, and obsessed over him. Grace tried to explain herself, but Stuart cut her off.

"Jonathan cultivated it," he said, adding that when people become obsessed with Dr. Fraser he fed off it. "His patients loved him, the parents worshipped him, he was saving their children. He thrived on being the center of intense emotion, in a very narcissistic and unhealthy way."

Stuart also claimed he thought after a certain point, it was more about the emotions Jonathan felt than the patients, and even went so far as to call him a psychopath.

Matilda de Angeles The Undoing
Matilda de Angelis in the first episode of "The Undoing." Niko Tavernise/HBO

Grace later chalks it up to be "rescue romance syndrome," which is related to hero worship, but not exactly the same. So, what exactly is rescue romance syndrome?

Newsweek spoke with Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, psychotherapist and relationship expert, about the dynamic between Dr. Fraser and Elena. "It's very easy to fall into that trap. Obviously the mother is very grateful for him and idolizes him, and maybe does what a lot of people do with doctors," Greenspan-Goldberg said. "They put them on an ivory tower, and it's like God. And perhaps this fellow also likes being treated like that — that he knows it all."

She also posited that something is happening inside of Dr. Fraser, and he's acting on said urge. "He could have a thought or feeling and be attracted to this person. But it's a matter of what is his urge...an urge doesn't have to lead to an action. Lots of feelings don't need to lead to an action. But here, it is."

Greenspan Goldberg also wondered if Jonathan even cared about Elena. "She feeds off his grandiosity...he's the one who's going to cure, rescue him [her son, Miguel] and rescue her. In the midst of all of this, she becomes very dependent on him. It's complicated. He gets off on it," she noted, referring to this as "ego massaging."

This type of dynamic is unfortunately very common, where people feel they can take advantage of those under their care, and get what they want in return. Unfortunately, Elena and Dr. Fraser get caught up in this vicious cycle of an affair, and it spirals out of control.

"She's not breaking up with this guy because she's madly in love with him, but are you really madly in love with him, or are you just very wanting him?" Greenspan-Goldberg posited. "You're giving him this kind of attention so he gives your son that kind of attention. It's not conscious, either."

Ultimately, there is are needs that need to be met for Jonathan that he couldn't find within his marriage. "His neediness, to have someone idolize him outweighs the reality of what could happen," Greenspan-Goldberg concluded. "Certainly the marriage is undone, and his whole career could become undone as well."

New episodes of The Undoing air on Sunday nights at 9 on HBO.