Created by BoJack Horseman’s Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Katy Purdy, the first season of Prime Video’s Undone was driven in large part by the question of what was really happening. Was Alma a shaman bending time, or was she experiencing schizophrenic delusions? There was evidence for both interpretations. Season 1’s final scene, in which Alma waits by a pyramid in Mexico in hopes of seeing her father Jacob return from the dead and sees something, was as much a cliffhanger as it was a Rorschach test. Had Undone been a one-and-done, it would have worked perfectly Inception-style ending.
Actually following up on that cliffhanger, however, requires answers. Rather than trying to keep up Season 1’s big “magic or mental illness?” question, Season 2 settles pretty definitively on “both.” The show is still dealing seriously with issues of mental health, but it treats Alma and Jacob’s abilities to reshape reality as real. She enters a new timeline where her dad’s alive, and her sister Becca also proves herself capable of time travel, mind-reading, and supernatural possession. Those insistent on Alma’s abilities being delusions could interpret this alternate reality as a dream, but spending the whole season in said “dream,” including multiple scenes where Alma isn’t even present, effectively makes its alternate reality “real” for the purposes of the drama. In that, Undone Season 2 is a superhero show—albeit a very unusual one.
With its mind-bending explorations of time travel and a superpowered family unit whose abilities overlap with their neurodivergencies, Undone brings to mind other alt-superhero shows like Legion and Doom Patrol. Parallels could also be drawn with Marvel’s Disney+ series Moon Knight, which is about someone who is simultaneously a superhero and severely mentally ill. In some ways, it’s like an alternate version of Mr. Robot, the science fiction-adjacent drama which teased alternate realities throughout and almost went full-blown sci-fi in its penultimate episode, only to end up, once again, in its protagonist’s head.
But the second season of Undone is inevitably going to be compared the most to Russian Doll Season 2. Somehow in the same month, two acclaimed 2019 sci-fi dramedies that many felt worked perfectly as stand-alone stories ended up getting arguably unnecessary, but still genuinely interesting follow-ups that both just happen to involve characters traveling through time to address Jewish generational trauma with their mother and grandmother.
Russian Doll’s Nadia, however, is decidedly not a superhero. Her whole deal is that she’s essentially powerless; in the face of all the space-time continuum mishaps that come her way, she can’t change the past even when she tries. Alma and her family, in contrast, are specifically able to control time and actually cause changes. That element of power fantasy places Undone within the superhero genre.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and using these powers comes with consequences. Instead of drawing a sharp line between the fantastic and the delusional, powers in Undone are directly tied up with mental illness. In Season 1, Jacob’s ghost explained that his mother’s schizophrenia was a result of overusing her abilities, and Jacob’s own experimentation led to his suicidal breakdown. Season 2’s revived, alternate-reality Jacob is thus decidedly reluctant to use his own powers as a result, and doesn’t want Becca even knowing about them.
One might expect Alma overbearingly pushing her family into dangerous situations to go wrong, but strangely, basically everything seems to go right. She actually saves her grandmother and ends up creating a reality where everyone is happy—relatively and temporarily, at least. Jacob dies, due in part to over-stretching his abilities to create this new timeline, but unlike his horrific suicide in Alma’s original reality, here he’s lived a long life and passed away peacefully. Alma has trouble accepting his passing and wants to change reality yet another time, but Becca wisely advises against this.
If Undone comes to a similar message of accepting one’s powerlessness as Russian Doll does in the end, it’s because even when she succeeds in using her powers, Alma remains fundamentally unsatisfied. Changing the timeline for the better once, twice, or however many times will never be enough for her—and these timeline fixes don’t actually remove the worse timelines from existence.
Because while Alma’s consciousness might be in a new, happier timeline, her original timeline still exists, and she’s haunted by visions of this parallel self’s harm and continued mental deterioration. Ultimately, she makes the choice to return to her original world to try and take care of herself. And in the end, all the heroic deeds she accomplished with her superpowers in the alternate realities are effectively, well, undone, so that she can save herself.
Reuben Baron is the author of the webcomic
Con Job: Revenge of the SamurAlchemist
and a regular contributor to Looper, among other websites. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndalusianDoge.
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