For a show about grief, mental illness and time travel, Undone is surprisingly relatable.
By Liz Singh
No doubt, “Undone” will leave you with a lot of questions. Personally speaking, the burning question I had was, when has Kate Purdy been to my house? The main character, Alma, wears her hair like I used to. She dresses like me. She drinks too much and says the wrong thing and worries that she’s crazy like me. She zones out at work and she craves adventure like me. What she does, that I don’t, is travel through time but otherwise, she’s me. Also, she’s indigenous and I’m Indian diaspora but we’re both brown so other than that and the time travel it was like looking in a mirror.
The aspect of time travel in a TV show is not usually ‘my thing’ but I was so engaged in relating to the highly relatable Alma that I went with it. There are parts of her character and personality that felt relatable in an unpleasant way. She has a sister and a mother that she continually puts through the wringer. Same for her doting partner, Sam. She has a lot of problems. She’s dissatisfied with work. Her younger sister is getting married before her to a rich jock. She’s not really sure she wants to be in a relationship. You could have had a whole show just about all of the above but none of that is Alma’s biggest challenge.
The thing is Alma has started to see, interact with and have full-on time travel adventures with her dead father and she’s really not sure how to react. In some ways, her newly found abilities confirm what she’s always hoped was true about herself – that the reason she doesn’t fit in is that she’s more special than the others. On the other hand, what’s she’s experiencing violates and transforms everything she thought she knew about her world both past and present. And, of course, when she does tell people, they worry she’s mentally ill, specifically, schizophrenic, which puts a serious strain on her already tense relationships.
“No doubt, “Undone” will leave you with a lot of questions. Personally speaking, the burning question I had was, when has Kate Purdy been to my house? The aspect of time travel in a TV show is not usually ‘my thing’ but I was so engaged in relating to the highly relatable Alma that I went with it. There are parts of her character and personality that felt relatable in an unpleasant way.”
When it comes to the question of her sanity, the show leaves it largely to the viewer to decide what to believe. There seems to be evidence pointing both ways. Ultimately, the truth may be complex. As the show points out, in shamanic cultures hearing voices and seeing visions are believed by some to be proof that one is a healer or a prophet. Unfortunately for Alma, she lives in Texas where that is less often the case.
Alma is played brilliantly by Rosa Salazar. She makes the experience Alma’s having believable and conveys such genuine regret after each one of Alma’s mortifying social faux pas that despite the character’s occasional nastiness, she comes off a basically good person. Also, the supporting cast are all excellent.
Visions aside, Alma’s life felt like a mirror – a mirror that I loved because it showed me the world in stunning rotoscope animation. Beautiful is a big word but there are moments where “Undone” is beautiful. I’ve never yet made it all the way through a rotoscoped film – I generally find the technique unsettling, the definition of the ‘uncanny’, but here it feels like enhanced reality, every day plus a touch of magic. A lot of magic because again, time travel.
However, this isn’t a show just about time travel- this is a show about relationships, coming of age and not fitting in. It’s a show about loss and how different people deal with it or don’t. And, it’s very much about the fine line between mental illness and brilliance or even holiness and the tension between being true to yourself and doing right by the people you love. No wonder they had to animate it – a show with this much to say and show and explore can’t be contained by live-action.
“Undone” comes to us courtesy of two “Bojack Horseman” alum – Kate Purdy who produces Bojack and Raphael Bob Waksberg who writes it. “Undone” would be excellent on its own but realizing the range that these creators have left me especially excited to see what they come up with next. The impending end of Bojack will leave a massive cultural void but these artists seem more than up to the challenge of filling it.