Amazon’s Undone inspires and concerns itself with all kinds of heavy thoughts and it has me wondering about the nature of fandom, ownership, and pop culture gluttony as I push away from the show deeply satisfied after one season. But while that gluttony may be understandable, owing to how rare it is to find an able distraction or something that captivates, I’m wondering if we have to hold these things so tight.
The series, which debuted on Amazon last week (and yes, there are spoilers ahead if you have yet to jump in or finish) focuses primarily on a young woman (Alma, who is played by Rosa Salazar) who is unsatisfied with the repeating rhythms of her life. She’s also deeply impacted by the loss of her father at a young age — and by his sudden semi-return. Her father (Jacob, played by Bob Odenkirk), a genius scientist, is also deeply unsatisfied, fixated on the loss of his corporeal form and his need to find out what really happened to him by way of a reconnection to and investigation with Rosa that shreds the rules of time and space, life and death. Or maybe not.
Maybe Undone isn’t about a father tutoring his daughter/prodigy on the astonishing powers of her amazing brain as both reach for more control, more answers, and more time. Maybe, instead, it’s a heartbreaking story about the spectacular and boundless realms our minds can concoct when schizophrenia and delusion take hold. A horror story about how real and isolating those realms and that belief can be to a person lost in a sea of mental illness, drifting from the shores of sanity and family and friends who feel helpless and scared. It’s a big question and one that series creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg don’t answer definitively.
This is where all that stuff about wanting more comes into play as it pertains to the show. Undone is a tremendous creation, using rotoscope tech to breathe life into something that, while initially unsettling to the eye (in a slightly “uncanny valley” kinda way) eventually inches so close to real life that you forget that it’s technically a cartoon. Even in moments where a character frantically hangs half out of her body or stops time mid car crash. But Undone is so much more than a visual and technical marvel. There’s ample heart, crisp wit, and unmistakeable chemistry between the core cast of Salazar, Odenkirk, Angelique Cabral (who plays Becca, Alma’s sister and Jacob’s daughter), and Constance Marie (who plays Camila, Alma and Becca’s mother and Jacob’s wife). Furthermore, the story of millennial angst over unfulfilled dreams and the crush that takes hold of all of us (no matter how well you curate your IG) when dealing with the plague of mundanity connects. Hard. Add in the supernatural and sci-fi elements, and it’s clear why this all feels truly distinct and fantastic. Clearly, I love the hell out of Undone. Especially its non-ending ending. I just don’t want to ever see another episode.
I want to reiterate that spoiler alert because here we go…
We’re left to wonder all through Alma and Jacob’s revelations about his role in his own death, his own mental health, his failings as a father, and even during Alma’s confrontation with her sometimes boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay) and Camila. Each path seems possible when immersed in this specific story.
As Alma sits in Mexico, watching a cave for Jacob’s Christ-like reemergence after the end of a long journey (in every sense of the word), the verdict on if any of this is real feels imminent, but instead, Purdy and Bob-Waksberg push all the way to the credits as we watch a dejected Alma see… something. Which is a deeply satisfying ending for a psycho like me who loves it when things resist tidiness and closure. That may not be your take on things. You may, in fact, be pissed. But there’s a method to the madness.
“We’re never saying whether she’s absolutely mentally ill or she’s actually having this experience, but I love that it’s an interpretation,” said Kate Purdy when we spoke with the series creators ahead of the premiere. Raphael Bob-Waksberg added, “I definitely want the show to be open to interpretation.” That’s a supremely democratic (and baller) move: now you can choose Alma’s adventure. Now the “end” can almost assuredly be based on your wants for the character and your tastes. Which allows the whole story to penetrate more deeply than something that was packaged up and fed to you to the exacting specifications of its creators. Obviously, I dig this approach and anything that acknowledges that our pop culture fixation with closure and finality denies the fact that the experience, not the destination, is often the most interesting part of a show or film. But it also enhances that sense of ownership with this show.
This all assumes that this is where things wind up for Undone and Alma. If it doesn’t, then the show has an immense challenge ahead of itself, finding a new mystery to chase and continuing to amp up the conflict between Alma and a world that thinks she is insane (as well as the internal conflict Alma would feel with increasing doubts about her grip on reality as typically defined). Interesting? Perhaps, but I have trouble imagining how it would be an improvement on the first season. I actually can’t help but feel that, and I also can’t help but wonder why that opinion should matter.
I know I could just sidestep future episodes and, effectively, declare my own ending before moving on to something else if the show comes back. That’s our one power move, really, when it comes to other peoples creations. But instead, we issue social media proclamations, weighing in on when things should end, when they should continue, which reboots should live, and which ones should die despite the extreme subjectivity of such things and, specific to the part about things needing to end or be cancelled, the broader impact of these creations (as joy bringers to others and job creators for some).
To an extent, this is all natural and part of critical discourse (and certainly things I do all the time as well), but sometimes it seems so intense. Like with the rumored reboot of The Princess Bride. Why? I think it’s because we connect and identify so closely with the art we consume and chain ourselves so tightly to the legacy of these things. And that is, of course, not all bad. But we also put too much import onto what our fandom says about us to the outside world: how smart we are, how connected to the culture we are. And on the other side, what it means if something we stan for withers. Junior High never ends, essentially, and we’re all perpetually in pursuit of being found cool by friends, followers, and everyone else. It’s all quite goofy, but maybe also weaved into our circuitry at this point. Meaning, whatchagonnado?
With that in mind, however, I will repeat, Undone is amazing (everybody got that?) and I never want to see another episode (I know you got that). But I’m also going to try real hard to not be needlessly aggrieved if a second season does materialize to continue this story for everyone else. Which is, I think, pretty cool and pretty smart, right? Right?