The following contains spoilers for Undone Season 1 (created by Kate Purdy & Raphael Bob-Waksberg and directed by Hisko Hulsing)
Undone is a show cut through with ambiguity. It’s there in the very title, which might either refer to Alma (Rosa Salazar) trying to change the past or to the unraveling of her psyche. The power of the story lies, however, in how it keeps both possibilities open (and perhaps they are not mutually exclusive), as it centers on Alma’s existential quandry—should she settle for a life where she has opinions about cans of beans, or is there something more meaningful? (What’s a meaningful life, anyway?)
It’s been over two years since Season 1, so I decided to revisit Undone in preparation for the release of Season 2 on April 29. I didn’t remember a lot of the details before I did that, and I imagine many others who watched the show back in 2019 are probably in a similar boat. So I am going to provide something of a synopsis of Season 1, which I hope you may find to be of value in and of itself, in addition to sharing some reflections about the show overall, trying to set the table for the upcoming season.
You’ll recall that at the beginning of Season 1, Alma has a car accident and starts having visions of her dead father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk). She gets caught in a weird loop at the hospital, and Jacob convinces her that she can move through and alter time. He wants her to find out how he died (he thinks it was murder) and stop it from happening. It is clear that Alma’s experience of time has gone wonky, but what is uncertain throughout Undone Season 1 is whether the Jacob she is seeing is real or a figment of her mind, and whether or not she can truly affect the timeline.
If anything, the narrative suggests resolving this question in the direction of it all being real, as Alma has visions of her boyfriend Sam’s (Siddharth Dhananjay) youth (which she obviously did not experience firsthand), relays details about Nancy (Keiko Agena) the security guard’s life she couldn’t have known, and even seems to alter time more than once.
Prior to Becca’s (Angelique Cabral) wedding, for example, we see Alma rant about her sister, revealing Becca’s infidelity to Reed (Kevin Bigley), but then she’s able to go back and have a do-over, say the right things, and everything is OK. Of course, she could have just imagined the rant.
But after that, Alma seems to go back in time and see what happened the night her father died. Camila (Constance Marie) trashed his lab because he had been experimenting on young Alma (Luna-Marie Katich). Farnaz (Sheila Vand) said she was going to report him. He drove them off the cliff to their deaths. At least the part about Camila trashing the lab is confirmed by Camila herself when Alma confronts her about it, so it seems like all of this is true.
At the same time, however, Undone makes it evident throughout that we’re experiencing things from Alma’s perspective. So if it all feels real to us, it’s because it all seems real to Alma. It is not just that she is an unreliable narrator; Undone sucks us into her delusion. Or maybe it’s not a delusion. The theory of time Jacob presents has a veneer of plausibility. The ability of certain people to connect to some fifth-dimensional consciousness less so, but the questions take us right into metaphysics.
Of course, Alma has a family history of schizophrenia, but schizophrenia itself always has a tendency to butt up against metaphysics. This is not to deny the suffering of schizophrenics, nor to offer any bolstering to paranoid delusions, but part of what is so striking about Undone is how it resists reducing Alma’s experience to a category of mental illness that should simply be treated with medication.
(Though perhaps it should; I’m not sure we know yet. But it’s not simple, and the narrative is not reductive.)
Undone breaks from Alma’s perspective in small moments, particularly in the back half of Season 1, as when she rings Darrold’s (James Mathis III) doorbell for a second time just after he got done yelling at her and Sam to go away, as though she doesn’t remember that. She spaces out and talks to herself, and she very much runs headfirst into a mirror, to be discovered by the children she works with.
When she wakes up, Jacob is still dead, and her desire to go to the cave in Mexico presents itself as mania. Perhaps the events we witnessed that seemed like time travel were all just in Alma’s mind. Perhaps she learned that Camila had trashed the lab from papers she’d gone through from the attic, surmised or imagined that Jacob had run the car off the road on purpose, and looked into Nancy’s background before visiting campus, but then forgot that she had even done so.
Viewed from the outside, Alma is very much not well, and her mother, Camila, is right to be gravely concerned. Arguably this is the case even if everything with ghost Jacob and time travel is real—it is breaking Alma away from her day-to-day lived experience. As Camila says in response to Jacob’s ravings about the pool in Mexico, bathtubs are fun too—there is value in the mundane.
At the close of Undone Season 1, as Alma and Becca sit waiting at the cave for their father to return (or so Alma thinks, at least), the former tells the latter that all of their mistakes will be erased, and it does sound nice, to think the past could be undone. But Becca is right about the beauty of this world, and this life with this love between these two sisters. That’s why she is there.
They agree to leave together as the sun rises, but Alma asks for just a moment longer to wait, alone. And we’re left not knowing what happens next. It’s perfect.
If Jacob emerges from the cave, that won’t be a definitive answer, but I hope you’re not hoping for one. Either Undone is science fiction (or fantasy), where Alma’s ability to change time is real, or it’s an exploration of delusion from the inside. Or it could be both. It’s important that we never know for sure.
To be honest, I didn’t think we needed a Season 2, and if anything I’m worried that it might undermine the beauty of the indeterminate space Season 1 leaves us sitting in. I can only trust that this won’t happen and that Undone will continue its story in a way that preserves the ambiguity that has so far defined it.
There is still a mystery about what happened to Jacob, and whether Charlie Banderhorn (Brad Hall) and his company are guilty of anything nefarious that relates to it. There are also questions about Alma’s family history, which Undone Season 2 seems primed to explore (looking at promotional materials), and indeed it is the lives of the characters in this story that we should perhaps be most invested in seeing more of.
Alma broke up with Sam prior to her car accident in Season 1 but then forgot, so he pretended it hadn’t happened. She got mad at him when she remembered but then forgave him. He’s supportive of her investigation into Jacob’s death, but when we last saw him at the end of Season 1, he was starting to insist that Alma take her pills.
And, again, maybe she should, but I expect these tensions between Alma and those close to her to continue through Season 2. That’s the real story of Undone. It lies in how she and others deal with what’s happening to her, more than it does in resolving the question of why or even what exactly is going on.
Undone Season 2 releases on April 29, 2022 on Amazon Prime.