Amazon Prime‘s animated series Undone feels like an exhalation. That might seem odd for a show that explores one woman’s break from reality, but Undone, created by BoJack Horseman’s Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, approaches mental health and spirituality (and time travel) in a way I haven’t seen depicted yet on TV.
DIRECTOR: Hisko Hulsing
Amazon’s first adult animated series shows immense potential.
Its protagonist is Alma (Rosa Salazar), a daycare worker living in San Antonio with her longtime boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay). Her younger sister Becca (Anjelique Cabral) is preparing for her wedding when Alma is in a car accident. When she wakes from a coma, she can see her late father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), who died in an accident when she was a kid. Thus begins Alma’s journey through the mirror, as time and memory impossibly shift and her physicist dad tries to recruit her to solve a deeper mystery.
Undone’s animation is one of its biggest calming effects. Director and animator Hisko Hulsing worked with the Austin-based Minnow Mountain (A Scanner Darkly) on the rotoscoped animation, which makes Alma’s world appear to pulsate in real time. Memories break open to expose galaxies, walls and doors are fluid, and people are painted in. Whereas BoJack Horseman’s vibrant animation often cloaks an underlying sadness, Undone immediately drops us into a world where the rules of time and space are open to interpretation.
In June, when Undone screened at the ATX Television Festival, Purdy told the Daily Dot about her own experience with mental health, which led her to seek out shamans and other forms of spirituality and healing. “The world is more flexible than you could possibly realize,” she said, “and there are kind of these powers at play, and we can tap into those energies.” Purdy incorporates this flexibility and energy into Undone, along with the knowledge that Alma’s grandmother was schizophrenic (as was Purdy’s), adding to the bigger question of whether Alma is, too. (Five of eight episodes were made available for review, but they leave this question up in the air.)
Alma struggles to make sense of her new “potential,” which draws her away from her already strained relationships. Yet as she tunes into this new frequency, she also gets to retry interactions with family and friends. In one of the more touching scenes, after an argument with Sam, Alma returns to his grade-school days and witnesses him being bullied, as well as his desire to learn how to speak like other kids. Alma, who’s had a cochlear implant since childhood, also had to adapt in her own way to being the “different” kid. Entering into Sam’s experience gives her the context she needs to understand and have empathy. It also gives viewers a heartbreaking glimpse of how she coped with trauma.
Other shows explore the complexities and nuances of women on the verge—Russian Doll, Sharp Objects, Lady Dynamite—but Undone slows everything down, and the gorgeous visuals pull viewers into the frame with Alma. Those day-to-day moments where you wonder, Did I put this here?, come into focus a bit more. The series deals with some heavy subject matter, but it also makes you question your own reality.
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