Amazon Prime Show Continues to Bend Time and Minds



This article contains spoilers for season one of UndoneSeason two of Russian Doll was recently released on Netflix and is largely about time travel and attempting to right the wrongs of the past, and now Amazon Prime’s own Russian Doll-style show, Undone, is premiering its second season as well. Yes, they’re both excellent shows which feature intelligent, cynical, wisecracking female outcasts with troubled families who manipulate time in order to fix a variety of traumas, but despite this, they really couldn’t be more different.

Form and Content of Undone

First, Undone looks like nothing else on television. There have been rotoscoped movies before (specifically some films from Richard Linklater), but an entire TV show is a different beast altogether. The process involves actually filming the live actors with motion-capture technology and then animating over them; Undone goes a step further and utilizes hand-drawn frame-by-frame sequences, oil painting for background art, and more three-dimensional digital animation.

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Amazon Studios

As such, multiple studios were involved, creating a complicated production pipeline flowing between Amazon, the animation studio Minnow Mountain (who made the great documentary Tower) out of Austin, Submarine Animation (which adds color and composites) out of Amsterdam, and director Hisko Hulsing, who supervises the whole process. “The biggest challenge in Undone was the scale and the size of the project,” Minnow Mountain co-founder Craig Staggs told Animation World Network. “For Tower, we produced just 40 minutes of animation during a year-long production period. For Undone, we produced eight 22-minute episodes in about a year and a half. It was a challenge scaling up not only in volume but also in production value.”

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The animation is crucial for the show because its form is inseparable from its content. Undone follows Alma Winograd-Diaz (played by Rosa Salazar) after a car accident, when her deceased father (Bob Odenkirk) shows up and teaches her how to manipulate space-time and revisit and even change events in the past. The first season chronicled her attempts to save (and discover the truth about) her father before he died in her young childhood, though Undone continually interrogates Alma’s sanity as those around her believe she may be suffering the devastating effects of schizophrenia. The season ends with Alma waiting for the sunrise, unsure if she’d really completed her mission or if she has inherited the schizophrenia of her grandmother and gone insane.

Undone Season 2 and Spoilers

Amazon Studios

It’s basically impossible to discuss a single scene from season two of Undone without spoiling its first season, which was excellent and still has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes after three years and 56 critics reviews, so if one hasn’t seen those first eight episodes, they are highly recommended and necessary for the next season. This is not a show which can be watched out of order — it has an extremely tight arc and very efficient storytelling, and even skipping a single episode will lead to massive confusion.

As such, season two begins with the uplifting revelation that Alma was not mentally ill at all and that her time-bending plot with her father came to fruition. She, like her father Jacob, finds herself in a new timeline where Jacob never died, though they both retain all of their old memories, so the audience is spared the Cassandra cliche, the tedious trope where one character knows the truth but is never believed. Instead, viewers and Alma are thrust into the success story of what Alma always wanted.

Amazon Studios

Of course, getting what one wants is never the end. Undone goes on to brilliantly compare Alma’s new, ‘happy’ life with the monotonous misery of her old timeline through a similar montage (she brushes her teeth, she drives to work, she works, she eats, she sleeps, she brushes her teeth, ad infinitum). Monotony and banality creep in, as they always do because when a person truly gets what they want, they discover that there’s a deeper, unfillable lack elsewhere.

So Alma develops a new mission. There is something mysterious happening regarding her mother Camila (played by Constance Marie) — she’s lying about strange encounters, long-distance phone calls, sending a $5,000 wire transfer, and more. Alma uses this as a distraction, creating a new ‘want,’ a new idealized life which is often the subject of stories about time travel (“The thing that would make everything better if only it had happened, or hadn’t,” as Russian Doll puts it). Alma uses this as a way to get through the fact that even a good life can be hard, boring, and/or miserable, and her sister Becca (played by Angelique Cabral) goes along for the ride this time, running away from her own problems.

Undoing the Past

Amazon Studios

Eventually, Alma, Becca, and Jacob take possibly the weirdest family vacation in movies or television, jumping through time and space, decades and continents, to try and understand Camila’s secrets and help rectify the pain that they’ve caused her and others. They travel into the memories of others, and into the memories of people who are remembered in memories, both comically and tragically, as if this was National Lampoon’s Inception Vacation.

This all starts out rather slowly, and the season certainly takes more time to build stakes, suspense, and ideas than the first season, but it’s phenomenal when it does get going. Undone really takes off between episodes three and four of the second season, and is a joyride through the space-time continuum, turning the spirituality of interconnectedness into edge-of-your-seat entertainment. While Alma is still a very funny character, this season is also less humorous than the first, which is unfortunate, but perhaps too much humor would’ve been a distraction from the heavy themes of abandonment, mental illness, self-hatred, and family dysfunction. Maybe the main difference between Russian Doll and Undone is that the former is a dark comedy, while the latter is a true drama that happens to have funny characters.

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The dialogue and filial interactions throughout are fantastic, with a variety of good writers working on the show, but Kate Purdy (of BoJack Horseman) oversees it all perfectly. Several conversations are genuinely moving and reveal great depths of characters, with the time-travel and astral projection functioning as a kind of psychoanalysis to heal the family. Ultimately, the characters in the show are forced to acknowledge that there is no cure for life; like Undone revealed in its opening episode, a person can try and fix things, but there is no fixing ‘being alive.’ Being alive is the hardest part of living. “I should’ve just been here with you,” Jacob tells his sick mother, “instead of trying to solve you like a problem.”

The Talent of Undone Isn’t Painted Over by its Style

Amazon Studios

The aforementioned form of the show is integral for its content, creating a world capable of collapse at any given second, a universe where someone can sit in a chair and age into a skeleton in time-lapse before their dust becomes a baby, and they do it all again. It’s a wild world, a fluid space where realities are interchangeable and physical matter is interwoven with thoughts and feelings. The very form of Undone mirrors one of its ultimate themes, which is spoken in a beautiful monologue worth mentioning:

Maybe that’s what we’re ultimately meant to do here: face ourselves for the sake of our relationships and the people we love. Maybe that’s all that matters. These invisible threads running between us and through us at all times. These invisible lines that bind us and set us free. I’m so happy to be tied to all of you […] I can still feel the tug of the tie.

While it looks amazing, and its form is a huge draw, it’s the delivery of lines like that and others that really makes this show so emotionally resonant. It contains a touching, amazing Bob Odenkirk performance and great acting by everyone involved, but Rosa Salazar shines like a smart aleck supernova in a mesmerizing, deeply affecting way. She’s perfect here, and no amount of oil paint, digital animation, and rotoscoping can cover that up.

Time travel is a fascinating concept, and great films and television get a lot of mileage from it. The thought of being able to fix the past is quite irresistible. However, as one character in this show says, “Why can’t we just work things out — right here and right now?” Season two of Undone is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

Undone Season 2 Gets New Trailer Ahead of This Month’s Premiere on Prime Video

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About The Author

Matthew Mahler
(94 Articles Published)

Editor and writer for Movieweb.com. Lover of film, philosophy, and theology. Amateur human. Contact him at matthew.m@movieweb.com

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