For those of you sick of me writing about Undone, I promise this is the last time. But this is a very spoiler-heavy review of the season and the series which will cover everything, so if you haven’t watched it yet, do that before you go any further.
There were few things in life I wanted more than a second season of Undone. It’s a very unique show on Amazon Prime that is animated in rotoscope, and tells a story that wouldn’t be as effective in any other medium — completely hand-drawn, or live-action with CGI, would not feel the same.
Undone‘s main character, Alma Winograd-Diaz, is a twentysomething slacker from San Antonio who drives her sister and mother crazy with her rude mouth. She can’t hold a job and doesn’t get much respect. Then the fateful day happens when she gets into a car accident and emerges with a bump on the head that awakens ancient powers. She starts seeing her dead father everywhere, and he explains to Alma that she’s a shaman, like her ancestors. Turns out it wasn’t just a title…being a shaman gives you the ability to not just see the dead, but warp and manipulate time with your mind!
Alma now seemingly has the ability to shift into earlier versions of herself and alter her behavior, correcting her past mistakes, of which there are many. But could she REALLY do it? The series never really answered the question of if Alma was actually a mental time master or if she was simply going crazy. Her attempts at spacetime manipulation were kept light, with no visual cues that they really happened, but she was about to attempt something that’d be hard to fake.
Alma’s ultimate goal in Season One was to go back to the night her father died and change the events to save his life. Such a move would obviously alter a lot of history, and it was the ultimate test of whether her powers were real or not. In the most cruel cliffhanger ever, the show cut off at the EXACT MOMENT Alma would have found out the answer.
I was starving for that answer, and I was in for a long wait. The pandemic arrived a couple months after the first season went live, and I watched with nervousness as show after show was canceled or “unrenewed” due to world events. Amazon wouldn’t say a peep about the fate of Undone. They never said it was canceled either, but as 2020 went into 2021 and then 2022 with no information, I had no reason to believe I would ever get more than the eight existing episodes, and never learn the truth about Alma.
Then suddenly, earlier this year, Amazon revealed a second season had been in production all this time and would be premiering that April. And when that day rolled around, you better believe my butt was on the sofa. To put this in perspective, this was the same day my Playstation 5 finally came in the mail after months of searching, and it was just sitting there while I booted up the app and put Alma on the screen. THIS was more important!
Everything started right back where I’d left it in 2019, with Alma sitting cross-legged in front of a cave at a Mexican ruin, the place her father promised he would return if she prevented his death. Meanwhile her mother was at home panicking and her sister was waiting by the car, having agreed to let Alma live out her fantasy for a couple more minutes before taking her to a doctor. Alma suddenly saw a white light emanating from the cave. Was it Pop?
She got up and slowly approached the light….but when she got to it, it vanished. No father, no nothing. Everything was still the same. Alma began to weep.
I prepared myself for what the hook of Season Two was probably going to be: Dad Ghost would appear again and say “I got it wrong! You actually have to do this thing instead!” And Alma would wave him off, believing herself to be simply nuts for most of the season, until the finale when she finally tried it and found out it was real, or possibly another cliffhanger. It was wheel-spinning, but it was what I’d expected.
As Alma was sitting there crying, a woman approached and asked what was wrong. Alma admitted she was a screw-up and that she had to go back into her family’s car to take her medicine. The woman replied, “What car?”
Alma looked up and it wasn’t there. She called her sister’s number to find out she was completely different. I’m not a sports fan, but I can imagine this is what it feels like when your home team finally wins the Super Bowl. I didn’t jump up and bellow out a triumphant “YYYEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!” but I sure felt like it. SHE DID IT!! SHE DID IT!! WAHOO!!
Not only was Alma’s father now alive, Alma wasn’t an unemployed slacker anymore…she was a highly-paid professor who taught from the same college her dad worked at. Well obviously, now that she was a proven shaman, she would try bigger and bigger things. Now the fun would REALLY begin!
….But then it didn’t begin.
Series creator Kate Purdy had decided to use the second season to extend the focus beyond Alma — to flesh out Alma’s family members and explore their lives and pasts. A noble idea, and I’m sure some people were pleased by it, but I wasn’t. There were a few problems with this idea that weighed the series down.
Alma discovered her sister Becca could mindwarp through time too — no car accident needed! Sounds interesting in theory, but now that Alma wasn’t alone anymore, now that she could confide to her family about EVERYTHING, there was little risk and no tension, and the show needed it. Worse yet, Becca started getting more scenes to herself.
The problem with following Becca is that Alma is endlessly hilarious and entertaining, and has a wild reaction to everything, while Becca is more of a grounded character who just gets scared, or sad, or something else that isn’t fun to watch. Undone Season 2 was a dramady that leaned more heavily on the drama than on the comedy, which is not to my taste at all. If I wanted to watch people cry and be miserable all the time I’d turn on This Is Us.
The plot this time was that Alma’s mother was keeping a secret and Alma and Becca had to use their powers to find out what it was, and possibly fix the problem. In the process they meet their grandmother Geraldine (who also had powers) in various stages of her life. They eventually have to go all the way back to the 1940s and change events from when Geraldine was a child, which leads to a pretty visually inventive sequence, but overall, it just wasn’t as captivating or thrilling as when Alma had to master unproven abilities to erase her father’s death by herself.
It didn’t help that Russian Doll, Another high-concept streaming series with a miracle second season, premiered ahead of Undone, used many of the same themes (time travel, fixing family history), and pulled it off in a much more interesting fashion. In addition, Nadia shares many traits with Alma (constantly snarky, very self-destructive) but the difference was, they didn’t spend the entire season following someone else. They knew what they had.
Purdy says the second season of Undone was written pre-pandemic, but it does not assume a third season at all, wrapping up the entire tale (and I don’t blame her). All throughout the season, Alma is pleased with her better life, but can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t a good fit for her. She ultimately realizes she doesn’t belong in this new, “fixed” world — she was actually more content in the broken one, because she is broken too. So she sends herself back to the cave, and re-joins her old timeline. Does she ever use her powers again? We’ll never know.
While I will probably watch the first season of Undone many more times, I doubt I’ll revisit Season 2 quite as much, except to re-feel the rush of that first episode. Like Alma, I got what I wanted, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. Would I have been better off if it had all remained a mystery? If she had just stared into the cave forever and ever?
Nah. That would have driven me crazy!