REVIEW: ‘Undone’ is a Visual and Narrative Masterpiece

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Undone - But Why Tho

Undone is the Amazon Prime Video original adult-animated series from BoJack Horseman creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy, starring Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) as its protagonist Alma Winograd-Diaz. The series is only eight episodes with each running about 22-minutes but even with its length, the series still manages to feel epic in scale.

Undone explores Alma’s relationship with time and the fragility of life following a car accident that nearly killed her. She feels as if her life is a play and that she is stuck in a loop. She is performing the same act every night but no one else around her seems to be aware that everyone is repeating the same motions over and over again. Alma pushes all of her mother, Camila’s(Constance Marie), buttons, breaks up with her boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay) knowing she can never settle down, and nearly ruins her sister Becca’s (Angelique Cabral) new engagement.

After a fight with her sister, Alma drives home but after hallucinating her dead father, Jacob Winograd (Bob Odenkirk) she gets into a fatal car wreck that nearly kills her and leaves her in a coma. Upon waking, Alma realizes she can still see her father and from beyond the grave he asks for her help in finding who killed him.

It is hard to categorize Undone as a murder mystery because it is never clear what, if any, of Alma’s visions are real. This is because Alma can see into time. She sees versions of her own future as her father explains the fundamentals of time travel and quantum entanglement. Meanwhile, as Alma explores the blurry line between reality and time, both the past and the present, as the real world continues moving along.

Alma’s story feels familiar despite the fantastical nature of the series. Undone explores the complicated nature of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, and grief. After losing her father Alma is convinced she cannot do things without her father. She cannot get married, finish school, or have children because she is broken, especially broken without him. Alma’s trauma is part of every decision she makes, before and after the car crash.

Undone is disorienting and trippy. Its visuals are a mind-melting, dream-like experience. The animation style is interpolated rotoscope and feels like a mix of real-life and watercolor paintings but with the addition of space and time-bending aesthetics similar to those found in Doctor Strange. Undone is a modern interpretation of a Monet painting brought to life, the broad strokes create a visual distortion has qualities of Expressionism. While at times the animation can be jarring, there are moments of true artistry. The animation truly makes the series stand apart and adds to the ethereal quality of the themes within the narrative.

In addition to the disorienting visuals, Alma’s hearing loss is also showcased and utilized as a disorienting element. As someone who is hard of hearing, the high pitch ringing noises feel disgustingly familiar. Much like Alma, my brain tends to focus on my hearing when I am anxious, my ears feel like there is an itch inside of them I can’t scratch while the world sounds like a mumbled mess mixed with ringing bells. Additionally, there are moments between Alma and her father that heavily use ASL in beautiful and touching ways.

The show also touches on the controversial procedure of surgically implanting a neuroprosthetic device that provides a sense of sound to a person with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Within the deaf community, many are against this procedure because it is not a magic fix and can be invasive. Additionally, the procedure is usually done on children at the behest of hearing parents, taking away their autonomy to choose how to treat their disability. There is nothing wrong with being deaf, and Undone shows this.

At one point in the series, Alma’s parents are speaking to her about getting a Cochlear Implant. Her father tells her, in ASL, it is ok to be deaf and not go through with the surgery. However, her mother gets upset because she does not know ASL and has not learned, immediately making her feel left out. Seeing deafness on screen is incredibly rare and I am grateful for Undone’s portrayal, that being said, Salazar is not deaf though the young actress who plays young Alma (Luna-Marie Katich) is.

There is a lot of ableism and discussion of disability within the series but always feels realistic. The discussions of disability feel realistic in Undone, even the ableism. In Jacob’s search to understanding his own death, through Alma’s newfound abilities, he tells her about her grandmother who was schizophrenic and his belief people with schizophrenia possess the potential to see through time and space like Alma is. Alma’s visions and ability to move freely through time remind me of my own issues with PTSD. Much like Alma in her visions, I have spaced out and dissociated from the world around me only to be stuck in a memory – good or bad.

Glorifying mental illness, and in the show’s case schizophrenia, and the idea of “high-functioning” people isn’t new. As someone who struggles with anxiety, it is something I do to myself. I have often argued with myself that my anxiety and imposter syndrome is actually what has driven me to the success I have or has it hindered me.

The entire cast is spectacular but Salazar and Odenkirk stand out. Alma is not always likable but her flaws are deeply relatable. Salazar walks that line well and despite the trippy nature of the series, she keeps the character grounded. Odenkirk’s character is equally complex and while he loves his daughter his selfish desire to use her powers in order to unravel the secrets behind his death makes his motivations seem questionable at best.

Undone is a visual masterpiece that tackles mental health and disability through an alluring narrative that interweaves every piece of the story. There is no scene in Undone that does not matter. Even small moments have multiple purposes within the narrative. With so few episodes it is mindboggling Undone is able to accomplish and say as much as it does.

Undone is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.


Undone
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    Undone - 10/10
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TL;DR

Undone is a visual masterpiece that tackles mental health and disability through an alluring narrative that interweaves every piece of the story. There is no scene in Undone that does not matter. Even small moments have multiple purposes within the narrative.