“A life without limitations.”
In this age of social media and the overflow of information in the online space, it’s a rare thing to have a show sneak under the radar. Back in 2016, Stranger Things did just that with a mid-July premiere that eventually led to it becoming a global sensation. While Undone will most likely not reach that type of acclaim, the Amazon Prime series is one of those hidden gems that, if the entertainment gods are kind, will receive the praise it deserves.
The story centers on Alma (Rosa Salazar, Alita: Battle Angel), a woman who still carries the pangs of losing her father as a pre-teen with her nearly two decades later. She’s a character that, despite a seemingly decent life—a loving mother (Constance Marie, George Lopez, Switched at Birth) and sister (Angelique Cabral, Life in Pieces), a boyfriend (Siddharth Dhananjay, A Name Without a Place) who is her perfect match—continues to feel out of touch with her world, as if something’s missing.
This is further emphasized when she’s nearly killed in a car accident, distracted by her father’s apparition. But it’s no ghost; a theoretical physicist, Jacob Winograd (Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul) was deep into his research on the concept and mechanics of time travel before meeting his untimely fate. Reaching into the future, he tasks Alma to find the perpetrators of his death and, using that knowledge and time travel itself, prevent it to heal the quietly fractured family he left behind.
The first thing that stands out with Undone is the surreal visuals. Using a style that shares quite a bit with 2006’s A Scanner Darkly, Undone is an integration of live-action layered over a screen-popping, frenetic animation, with hand-painted backgrounds completing the picture. It’s a gorgeous marriage of style, making scenes jump off the screen with a mystifying seamlessness. Everything from the fluidity of characters’ movement or the flow from the normal to the dreamlike states of being throughout is almost second to the hyper-realistic nature of characters’ emotions bursting in a manner that even a standard live-action production would be hard-pressed to capture.
It only heightens the performances by the cast, with Rosa Salazar being especially brilliant. Though she’s been around for a few years, her turn as the titular Alita truly displayed the infectious energy and raw emotional gravitas she brings to the table. It’s no different in Undone where, despite the amazing talent surrounding her, Salazar shines above them all. She makes Alma real in a way that’s difficult to achieve, even for some of the most talented stars of Hollywood today.
In genre films, an actor can sometimes exemplify a character (Robert Downey Jr will always be Tony Stark/Iron Man) to the point where it’s difficult to picture anyone else carrying that mantle. Rosa Salazar has two such roles in 2019 alone: first Alita and now Undone. It’s hard to imagine this series working with anyone else in the lead role.
But Undone goes beyond the fascinating visuals and note-perfect acting. The narrative, brought to life by creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg with Hisko Hulsing taking the role as series director, is a fascinating examination of our perceptions of mind and reality. Early on, it’s mentioned that Alma’s grandmother (her father’s mother) suffered from schizophrenia. The little detail immediately takes root in the viewer’s mind and, as Alma experiences these fantastical leaps through space and time, maintains that nagging question of what is real versus what is a creation of Alma’s splintered mind.
The theoretical nature of time travel shares more similarities with an About Time than Avengers: End Game, though the truth of it all is secondary to the questions we ask ourselves. For Alma, it starts with her belief that she’s crazy but, as the series carries forward, she accepts that her reality does not just fall in line with what everyone else believes (or wants) it to be. It’s a psychological journey that only a series could deliver and, just as viewers believe we know what’s going on, Undone gently nudges us towards the possibility that no, we really don’t.
There’s a point in the show where a character mentions “being more than just the bad choices [you] made”. With the beautiful visuals and the swirl transitions taking us between the stages of the real and the hyper-real, such a line could get lost in the shuffle. For me it stands out as part of the beating heart that makes Undone so very special.
Alma’s journey is a fantastical representation of our own where, often times, we allow what’s beset us to define what we become. Undone challenges this by giving us a character as brilliant and alive as any I’ve seen on the big or small screen in years. Through Alma’s narrative, viewers will be challenged to ask themselves, is this real? Though the answers to the question are nuanced and varied, the closer truth lies in repackaging the approach and asking how real do you want it to be?
‘Undone’ Season 1– Amazon Prime
9.5 out of 10