Undone Review: Amazon’s mind-being series is packed with meaningful messages about mental illness and stunning animation
Amazon’s Undone is an ambitiously mind-bending new series that delves into deep into its main character’s life and uncovers strong themes about mental illness and dealing with life in general through incredible animation.
The series follows Alma (Rosa Salazar), a woman who finds herself bored and distraught from the monotony of her daily life. Every day, Alma feels as if she’s just wondering if the dull existence she lives is all that is ever going to be and that this outlook makes her a broken person to those around her. Alma’s life completely changes, though, after a car accident makes her have a new kind of relationship with time and allows her to reconnect with her dead father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk). Although, he supposedly died in a car accident when Alma was young, Jacob says otherwise and decides to have Alma help him reconstruct the events of that night and figure out who killed him. With this new power comes new problems in Alma’s life as she struggles maintain a balance between reality and dreamlike time jumps causing those around her to question her decisions and state of mind.
Salazar has already proven her worth as a dominant leading lady with her top-notch performance in Alita: Battle Angel but takes things to a whole new level here. As Alma, Salazar brings an emotional depth to her personality and issues that makes her cynical outlook and inner struggles realistic and hard not to empathize with – especially with how her relationships change after the accident. Whether it’s the relationship Alma has with her boyfriend Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay), who takes advantage of her memory loss by keeping their relationship together even though she broke up with him before the accident, and her mother (Constance Marie) trying to manipulate her situation and how other people view her for Alma to get the help she thinks she needs, there’s this element of control that feels prevalent in Alma’s life. Even the newfound relationship with her father can almost seem like he’s using her love and drive to get him back for his own purposes and when they go back through time to look into their relationship, it’s hard not to see him kind of taking advantage of Alma to further the belief in his ideas. All of this is what makes Alma such a compelling character and easy to gravitate to for audiences.
Alma isn’t perfect, though, and the show and Salazar never portray her this way. She has a very self-destructive personality and cynical bite that causes a lot of issues for those around her. Sometimes she even knows that she is doing something wrong or causes something to happen that she knows would be a problem for someone around her, like being involved in her sister (Angelique Cabral) having an affair, because it’s something she wants. However, her selfishness and cynicism aren’t detractors from how emotionally connective Alma is and it’s what makes her such an intriguing character. There’s always a part of Alma that you can tell is trying to make those around her happy because she genuinely cares about them and tries to let people know what’s going on with her, but just either doesn’t know how to express it or is afraid to because of how people treat her after she tells them. It’s a story full of the complex emotions that come in facing the truth in your past, dealing with own issues, and figuring out life in general – which all come together to shed light on the series’ themes about understanding and dealing with mental illness.
Throughout the series, there are plenty of discussions about schizophrenia and how it runs in Alma’s family that causes a lot of strife in her relationships. While Jacob attempts to support Alma and say that her issues are a strength rather than weakness, although I constantly wasn’t sure how I felt about this support of it because it treats it like a superpower sometimes, everyone sees Alma as weak and in need of help – which is part of what fuels Alma’s self-destructive views. Undone tackles mental illness in a way that I actually haven’t seen before and find really effective because it never demonizes anyone for their views on how they think it should be perceived. Rather, it offers more ideas on how to find acceptance for your own issues, or someone else’s, and offer the support and help that not only makes those struggling with issues less stressed and alone, but more willing to seek help to make things more manageable. It’s really what makes Alma’s story so powerful and Salazar’s performance, as well as everyone else’s stellar performances, so captivity and connective.
All of the emotions and performances come off even stronger thanks to the series’ use of rotoscoping animation. The process of rotoscoping generally has animators tracing over live-action scenes in order gives the movement and emotions a stronger effect and has been seen in other works like A Scanner Darkly. So that means that Undone actually did double the work in having to film live-action scenes and then having animators trace over them. Thankfully, this extra work wasn’t for naught, as this choice is incredibly effective in driving out the emotions of each character and makes Alma’s mind-bending journey through space and time possible. It’s a truly beautifully looking experience that feels ambitious in a way that draws you into every scene.
There really aren’t many shows like Undone out there that both touch on the emotional struggles of mental illness, that elevated through Salazar’s top-tier performance, and come with incredible animation. Thankfully, Amazon has already ordered a second season, so it looks like Alma’s story isn’t done just yet and we’ll get to have more mind-bending adventures with her in the future.