When there are already so many good shows around, one has to work up their imagination much harder to come up with something that is better than most, if not the best. This highly competitive world, which is due to the golden age of television, demands the storytellers to be bolder and more creative in the world they want to conjure. It is a chance that has to be taken if one doesn’t want to end up being just mediocre.
Amazon’s ‘Undone’ is not a mediocre show. It is artistic, stunning, deeply engaging and highly entertaining. From the rotoscope style to the plot that instantly gets a hold of you, the series lures the audience in the mesmerising world of Alma which could as much be a result of her heightened perception of reality as it could be a psychotic episode. If you haven’t yet seen the series, head over to Prime Video. You don’t want to miss this.
Summary of the Plot
‘Undone’ follows the story of a young woman named Alma. She is tired of her monotonous life. Her sister is getting married, but this only flusters her more and she breaks up with her boyfriend. Life pretty much sucks for her and she wishes there was more to it. She learns the meaning of “careful what you wish for” when she meets with an accident, and in its aftermath, starts seeing her father. He tells her about the special ability that she now possesses and asks for help to save his life. He trains her to unlock the doors that have held her back for so long. But with great power comes the great danger of losing her mind. While she continues to delve deeper in this new world, others around her begin to question her sanity.
Who Killed Alma’s Father?
Alma’s life as she knows it is blown away when she wakes up on a hospital bed to see her dead father sitting by her side. It could simply have been a delusion, an effect of a head injury she might have sustained in the accident. But then he begins to talk to her. Not just that, he begins to take her back and forth in time, opening her up to a world that she never knew existed. He tells her about the special ability she has, the power to manipulate space and time. Her accident has activated it and the disorientation she feels, in the beginning, is her mind easing up to the change. She is completely baffled by this discovery, but before she can make peace with it, her father unloads a new piece of information on her. She has to make a choice, as soon as possible. Either she has to accept this newfound power and agree to help him, or she has to let go of it completely and go back to her previous life. Alma tries to bide some time, but her father seems in a hurry. He sticks her in a time loop until she says yes or no.
The thing is, now that she has the power to go back in time and change things, he wants her to save him. Twenty years ago, on the night of Halloween, she had gone out with her father to get candies. In the middle of it, he gets a call and leaves her on the sidewalk to address an emergency at the lab. She waits for him the whole night but he doesn’t show up. In the morning, she is found by a police officer who brings her back home. This is where she discovers that her father had been in an accident. Now, after her own accident, he stands in front of her, telling her that someone had murdered him. He tells her about the research he had been conducting on the nature of time and space and had been on the verge of a breakthrough when someone killed him. He has tried to go back to that incident and see who did it, but the trauma of his death is keeping him away from that moment. Alma is the only one who can help him, and she needs to make a choice.
After going through the files of her father and scouring through a couple of his memories, two suspects emerge. The first one is the boyfriend of her father’s assistant. His name is Darold. The other person is Charlie Vanderhorn, the man who worked for the corporation that was funding Jacob’s research. He had broken ties with them because he thought they would misuse the power. After a while, she shares her situation with Sam, who had been very concerned with her behaviour since the accident. Together, they go to Jacob’s lab and find out the people who had been questioned for it. Darold’s name comes up and they visit him, but he shuts the door on their face and asks them to leave him alone. The next person is Charlie and they locate him after researching about the corporation on the Internet. On the day of Becca’s wedding, she meets Vanderhorn in the guise of someone else. But he too refuses to have had any part in Jacob’s death.
After Becca finally succeeds in changing something in her past, Jacob becomes sure of her powers and asks her to go back to that Halloween night and save him. She follows his trail and discovers that her mother was the one who had been to his lab that night. She also finds out that he had been doing experiments on her. Her mother was angry with him because of this and also harboured the suspicion that he was having an affair. She tells him to not come home and his assistant also quits. But then, he asks her to calm down and offers to take her home. On the way, he admits that there is nothing of worth left in his life now and drives the car off the cliff. Both Alma and Jacob are shocked by this discovery. He had told her that he didn’t remember anything beyond the time he left her on the sidewalk. He had even forgotten about the fight with his wife. He thought he couldn’t go back to these moments due to the trauma of death, but actually, it was the realisation of having lost everything.
Is Alma Schizophrenic?
Now for the million-dollar question: is it all real? Can Alma really travel through time? Is she really communicating with the astral form of her dead father, or is it all in her head? Like any good story that has an unreliable protagonist, ‘Undone’ gives enough fodder for both situations. If you are someone who really, really wants to believe that time-travel is possible, then sure, Alma did it. If you think that life is too precious to not have a secret, wonderful ability that can bend reality, then the show is pretty straight-forward. It is not the morose mess that we usually perceive; you just need a kaleidoscope to witness all its glorious colours and bewildering secrets. In Alma’s word, it is definitely more than just this.
No matter how much we want the story to be true, there are a number of things that serve a strong counterargument. I could go into the scientific discussion of why time travel is not possible, which is something even Stephen Hawking agreed upon, but I don’t want to burst any bubbles. (This in no way means that I won’t to travel in time!) Let’s focus on all the small details and the gaping truths in Alma’s life that tell us why it was all in her head. First of all, schizophrenia runs in her family. Her grandmother had it, and so did Jacob. We know that she has had a troubled life. First, there was the loss of hearing, which she overcame. Then, she lost her father. The effect of this event echoes throughout her life. At one time, she slits her wrists. She has had trouble in maintaining relationships and often distances herself through her sly humour and sarcasm. Her mother asks her to see a psychiatrist but she doesn’t want to believe that something is wrong with her. Her mental health is always a shaky ground, and not tending to it is slowly unwinding her.
All hell breaks loose for her when after the accident. She suffers injury and her psyche suffers another blow as PTSD sets in. And it is here that the details begin to chime in. While driving, she sees her father, which is what distracts her and leads to the crash. Notice here that she saw her father smoking. Never in her life had she known him to smoke. It is only after she finds his picture that she discovers it. Next, most of the things that he says to her are drawn from their previous conversations. Like, when he asks her to move the keys. He had done so before in her childhood. All the directions he is giving her, all the tips to keep her composure when reality begins to slip away- all of that has been done before. It was when he experimented on her.
Next thing is the mission. Her mother had been very tight-lipped about her father, and Alma felt like she was hiding some important things. She asks her about his death before the accident. So, when she wakes up, the thought is still circulating in her mind. Why would her father come to her? The answer is ready- to ask for her help. Another explanation that her mind comes up with is that she has this secret ability. Prior to the accident, she knew about her grandmother’s schizophrenia. She too has it, but her mind needs to explain it away. It gives it the guise of a superpower. But then, how is she travelling back and forth in time? She is not. It is all happening in the same sequence that it should. Her illness is playing tricks on her.
But then, how can she look into her father’s memories? How can she see something when she wasn’t even there? The simplest explanation is the files from the attic. She studied her father’s research; she came to know about her assistant. She must have read about their meeting with Vanderhorn and got to know about Darold. When she goes to Jacob’s lab with Sam and talks to the woman about her family, we can see her life on the wallpaper of her computer. Sam thinks she made up everything just from that, but she tells him that she saw her whole life. How did she know the woman still looked for her sister? Alma had been through something similar and knew how people generally process a loss. It just happened to be true for this stranger that she had just met.
Another detail worth mentioning is how Jacob didn’t remember anything beyond the moment he left her on the sidewalk. This proves that she is imagining him. Her hallucination has only as much information as she has. But then, how did she come to know about her parents’ fight that night. Remember that she got a number of things from her father’s lab. Even though we only get to see the list of people who were questioned, there must have been other things as well. The cops must have questioned her mother as well, and perhaps, the statement was in one of those documents.
But then, what about the time she changed her past. After talking with Vanderhorn, she arrives late to the photoshoot. This leads to a row between her and Becca, and she tells everyone about her affair with the bartender. Reed hears this and the wedding is ruined. Immediately after, she finds herself back in the moment. She realises what is about to happen and changes her reaction. The wedding takes place smoothly. So, if she couldn’t travel back in time, how did she do it? Well, she imagined the first reaction! In movies, we often see the characters doing something that they really want to do, but then the scene suddenly cuts back to the starting point and it is revealed that they were just imagining it. The same thing happens here. The only difference is that in the movies, the characters know that they are imagining. Here, Alma has lost touch from reality. She can’t tell fact from fiction. So, she convinces herself that she did lash out at her sister, and then changed it by travelling back in time.
There are a number of other things that point towards Alma’s deteriorating mental state. For every incident, there is a logical explanation. However, we can’t completely let go of the idea that there might be nothing to explain. Maybe she really can travel in time. It depends on whose perspective you choose to see it from. The show doesn’t strictly resolve this dilemma, so I, too, will keep myself from sticking with a conclusion.
Undone Ending, Explained
After helping her father go back in time and rectify the mistake he made, Alma wakes up in her reality. Now, she has to wait for the timelines to realign. If everything went down smoothly, then her father will meet her in the cave in Mexico. Sam and her mother try to tell her that she is sick and that none of that was real. But she still runs away and sits in the desert waiting for him to appear. Becca follows her and they spend the night talking to each other and waiting. In the morning, Becca wakes up to find Alma still waiting for Jacob to show up. When he doesn’t, Alma tries to come up with a plausible explanation but has to settle with the fact that she might be going crazy after all. Before leaving, she asks Becca to leave her alone for a few minutes, just to make sure he is not coming. In the last shot, we see the sun rising higher in the sky, and as the sunlight gets brighter, we see Alma looking at the opening of the cave and being surprised by something.
Now, we don’t really know what Alma sees, but the guess is that it is Jacob, just as she had imagined it. Now, the theory can take two turns. First, she is schizophrenic. This is supported by the fact that Jacob doesn’t come out until Becca leaves. If he really was real, then why did he wait for her to leave? Why did he have to appear to Alma alone? But if she is not schizophrenic, then maybe he did come back. Maybe it is just a coincidence that it happened after Becca left. We can only know for sure when, and if, the second season arrives.
There is one more thing that I would like to mention here. If Alma is not schizophrenic, then it is possible that her father is not the only one to come out of that cave. He had told her that he wanted to crack the code of their power because he wanted to help his mother. What if, Alma did succeed in averting his death. What if, he, then, went back in time to help his mother. Is this why it took him so long to come out of that cave? Is this why the timelines didn’t realign immediately? Because he was busy preventing another tragedy?