Undone—Amazon’s thought-provoking, rotoscope-animated exploration of the limits of reality and possibly sanity, from creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman)—is back for a second season, which means that tremendous season one cliffhanger can be finally resolved. So did Alma (Rosa Salazar) find what she was looking for in that cave, or what?
Spoiler warning aside, this review won’t actually be spoiling much about Undone season two. But we do have to address one huge spoiler that’s revealed early in the first episode. Season one of Undone was all about Alma’s quest to find out more about her father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk)—a scientist who died in a car crash when she was a child, but who suddenly started appearing to her after she herself nearly died in a car crash. With his encouragement—though it was never clear if Jacob was really haunting his daughter, or if Alma was suffering a brain injury or, more likely, mental illness—she became obsessed with piecing together the mystery surrounding his death. Then, despite increasing concerns from her mother, Camila (Constance Marie), and younger sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral), Alma became determined to use her newfound time-travel abilities to reset the timeline so that Jacob could have a second chance.
This quest led her to that cave in Mexico, where we left her anxiously waiting at the end of season one. As season two begins, well… we find out that Alma succeeded! So all of season one really did happen—and Alma really does have some fantastic, reality-bending powers. In this new timeline, Jacob is alive. Alma and Becca have had many more years with their father, and Camila’s had just as many with her husband. Alma’s life is now perfect, right? Well… we wouldn’t have a season two of Undone to work through if that was the case, would we?
When Alma (from the season one timeline) enters the new timeline (where Jacob is alive, but remembers the timeline when he died, as well as his interactions with Alma from beyond the grave), she finds her formerly messed-up life is eerily on track. You see, a version of Alma’s been there all along, and now her consciousness retains memories from both lives. “You’re gonna love this life,” Jacob assures her, and for a little while, things do seem great. No longer a boozy ne’er-do-well, Alma is now a successful college professor; she also has two new skills that become important as season two continues: she’s an excellent piano player, and she speaks fluent Spanish. She is still using a cochlear implant to hear in this new timeline, but her deafness barely enters the story like it did in season one.
However, Alma’s been through too much—she’s too aware of how elastic and changeable the universe really is—to settle into a routine. And when she sees a problem that looks like maybe magic can have a hand in solving, she’s eager to become a mystical traveler once again. Jacob disapproves; though he’s the one who tuned Alma into her powers in the first place, he’s desperate to keep his new life intact. But there’s no stopping Alma. Though her time-travel skills don’t quite function in this timeline, she realizes that Becca has an extraordinary gift: she can step inside of another person’s memory. Though it takes a physical toll on Becca—a newlywed who’s trying to figure out if she wants to have kids or not, something not helped by the pressure her husband and family apply to her at every opportunity—Alma pushes her to use her abilities to follow Undone’s new central mystery: what wrenching secret back in her home country of Mexico is their mother, Camila, hiding from the rest of the family? And as that thread unravels, what connection does Jacob’s troubled mother have to the trauma that’s been reverberating across the family (and across timelines) for generations?
Watching Undone season two reminded me quite a bit of Russian Doll season two, another recent series about a sarcastic, extremely determined character who time-travels to try and fix problems in the past—and ends up creating more problems along the way. Undone’s Alma and Russian Doll’s Nadia both believe they’re doing the right thing to help their families, and they both hope to be the “hero” that fixes everything. You almost wish Nadia would pop up and explain to Alma what a “Coney Island” is; in the parlance of Russian Doll, it’s a “what if”—if only this one thing in the past had gone another way, life would be so much different and better. Both shows also feature visits to Jewish ancestors in Eastern Europe during or shortly before World War II, and both shows end with the death of a key character, the acceptance of which becomes a crucial component of the protagonist’s healing process.
But Undone is definitely its own strange concoction. Season two felt a lot more like an emotional drama (with some soap opera elements) than season one’s trippy sci-fi mystery. But it still has all of that weirdness, as Alma flits through time and space, a journey made possible by the gorgeously unique look of the show—directed by Hisko Hulsing, who also handled production design, with animation by the team at Submarine and rotoscoping by the team at Minnow Mountain. Much like season one, Undone season two’s incredibly realistic (particularly when it comes to the actors’ performances) yet surreal surroundings are a perfect backdrop for Alma’s increasingly unhinged pursuit of happiness. Ultimately, Alma does find closure, and Undone ends on a melancholy note that feels like the story’s really over now. But with infinite timelines just waiting to be re-set, who can say?
Undone season two is now streaming on Prime Video.
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