Binge or Purge?: Undone.
Undone crafts a wonderful character study of a young woman’s journey through space, time, and her own mind.
This may be one of the most unique series of the season. Hell, decade. Rich animation overlays impressive performances from Rosa Salazar and the rest of the cast. The creative team behind BoJack Horseman use a surreal visual aesthetic to probe the heart of issues such as mental illness, social mobility, death, grief, and cultural heritage. It does all of this heavy lifting astutely, all while creating a fantastical situation where the lines between past, present, and future blur and break.
Undone plays with the concepts of space and time, causality and linearity. As such, it doesn’t work to do our usual synopsis of the first three episodes. The narrative bleeds backwards and forwards across them. Because new info shades so much of what you see, the less you know going in to the series, the better. To even talk about its merits requires light spoilers, but nothing beyond what you get from reading the blurbs for each episode on Amazon. Luckily, Undone gives you a lot else to talk about, even if you’re tiptoeing past the big plot reveals.
Undone (Amazon Prime.)
Alma (Rosa Salazar) feels stuck in a rut. She desperately wants to get out of her boring routine, but self-sabotages due to fear of her family’s legacy of mental illness. She’s also grappling with the death of her father (Bob Odenkirk) when she was a child. Her younger sister’s engagement to a man she dislikes pushes her to blow up her own living situation. She breaks it off with her boyfriend, Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay), and has a blow out with her sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral). Leaving the fight, she drives erratically through town. An impossible vision distracts her, and she gets in a major accident. Upon waking, she discovers she’s no longer tied to linear time, but fears it may be the family curse preying upon her mind.
Form and Function.
Undone grabs your attention quickly with its animation. The live actors are captured via rotoscope and then animated over, giving a dream-like verisimilitude to the visuals. This mixed media stresses the “caught between two worlds” theme of the show. The animation can do both hyper realistic detail and abstract fantasy equally well, and swap between those elements on the fly. Especially during the second episode, we have Alma moving between flashbacks, dreams, fantasy/delusions, and the mundane reality of her life dynamically. The mix of concrete details and artistic abstraction help sustain the tension at play. What is real, what is imagined? Has Alma really become unstuck in time, or is she losing her mind?
The design is often beautiful. The facial details show excellent detail, while keeping bits like hair loose and abstract. The bodily animation is good, but sometimes has that odd sense of sluggish inertia that I noticed in the similarly animation-overlaid Loving Vincent. The background work on the sets are gorgeous. The fantasy sequences pop with color and motion, and even the mundane city scape of the normal world is filled with detail. I really enjoyed it throughout.
The character work in Undone elevates the show beyond just visually engaging. Rosa Salazar already demonstrated she can create interior depth for a stylized character in Alita: Battle Angel. Here, she does fantastic work again. Alma is witty, truculent, vulnerable, aggressive, loving and vicious by turns. Each facet of her deeply fraught character comes to life from Salazar’s delivery, facial expressions, and a deft script. Bob Odenkirk’s character is an intentionally mysterious figure, but he gives really strong voice work. Siddharth Dhananjay has a good rapport with Salazar, and I’m hoping that his character continues to become more emotionally and morally complex as the first three episodes hint at his development.
At the heart of the story lies a mature look at how we filter reality through the complex mess of psychology between our ears. Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy are known for their work on BoJack Horeseman (creator/showrunner, writer/producer respectively) and their collaboration on Undone is just as complex. Similar themes appear: grief, trauma, self harm, and depression. Bojack’s take was a bit more at the societal level, whereas Undone is intensely cerebral. It’s the difference of outside in versus inside out. We get sometimes uncomfortably close to Alma and her state of mind. It’s deftly and soberly done, and all the more impressive as we don’t get the usual shortcuts of internal monologue or voice-over. It all comes from the script, the visuals, and the excellent acting.
Binge or Purge?
Undone is a real treat. Seeing the visual hooks and great cast in the trailer intrigued me. I wasn’t sure if the premise was going to rise much above “Alice in Physicist’s Wonderland” but I liked the early stuff. Having seen the first three episodes, I’m totally on board. The acting is fantastic. The animation innovates and brings the thematic elements to life. Bob-Waksberg and Purdy have spun another gem in the animated genre. I’m astonished that the show gets so much done, and done well, in its brief 22 minute bursts. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the first season. Undone is a solid Binge.