Season 1 of “Undone” pulled off the magic trick of being grounded and fantastical all at once. It showed that a touching father-daughter story can still happen even as both of them are tumbling through different forms of reality and a jumble of stitched-together timelines. The Prime Video series’ co-creator and writer Kate Purdy helped to steer the story of Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar), a young woman recovering from a car accident who becomes convinced that she can communicate with the spirit of her dead father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk).
That initial germ of an idea spread over the course of the show’s first eight episodes, expanding along with Alma’s consciousness. With Alma perceiving glitches in time and revisiting her own memories as easily as if she were walking into an adjoining room, the details she found on each new go-round with the past led her closer to some uncomfortable truths about her family. Her sister Becca (Angelique Cabral), on the verge of getting married, had a few extracurricular slip-ups. Her father wasn’t the target of a conspiracy as his friendly ghost implied, but was more a casualty of his own research into the powers of the human mind. It all led to a pyramid in Mexico, where Alma waited for a sign that she could right her father’s wrongs and somehow manifest a version of events where she grew up with him as a constant, loving presence and not as just a parent-shaped hole.
Purdy kicks off Season 2 mere seconds after the first left off, with Alma still at the foot of the pyramid, waiting for some clarity to come along with the sunrise. What she discovers is the roots of another eight episodes that take the series’ premise and further makes good on its infinite promise. It’s a new path that transfers attention from a handful of characters from the first season in favor of zeroing in even more on the greater Winograd-Diaz tapestry, including Becca and Alma’s mother Camila (Constance Marie).
The apprenticeship aspect of Alma controlling her ability to shift consciousness and float through different stretches of her family’s timeline made for some inventive flourishes, taking full advantage of the art form. The lovely thorniness of Season 2 is that it focuses not so much on the “how” but the “what comes after,” looking at the implications of what happens when one vital part of the family chain is somehow restored and removed at the same time. It’s a masterful way to reexamine all the most potent ideas without the show feeling like it’s repeating itself.
Visually, the shifting visual language of “Undone” has followed Alma’s relative comfort. When she’s more in control, there’s more room to take in the detail of her settled surroundings. Yet, even if the floor is disappearing or walls are being subsumed into a giant pastel swirl of flowers, there’s an internal dreamlike logic to how everything flows, regardless which direction in space it’s moving. Director Hisko Hulsing returns for Season 2, bringing a helpful rotoscope-induced haze to familiar time-travel concepts like floating doors and pinholing portals and impossible staircases. Cutting against a shorthand where visual representations of memory often mean a dulling of color palettes or fraying of edges, Hulsing infuses some distinct splashes of color so that Alma’s journeys in and out of times gone by never feel like they’re sacrificing energy.
For all the renewed interest in telling stories set across different timelines and possibilities (including one of the year’s quintessential moviegoing experiences), there are precious few that consider the burdens of memory in quite the way that “Undone” does. Season 1 looked at Alma’s changing sense of perception and her resultant changing moods as inextricably tied to her mental state, part of a bigger conversation about how we label someone’s enthusiasm or preoccupations or anxieties. This second season doesn’t completely forget that thread, and it also acknowledges that Alma’s abilities make for a compelling analogy to the burden of guilt. Particularly through the lens of parenting, “Undone” looks at those who choose to absorb the blame for the misfortune that comes to those closest to them. The further along a chain of mistakes that Alma travels, the more she feels the responsibility to bring harmony to the chaos of her own family tree.
With that idea as even more of a guiding force here, each member of the Winograd-Diaz clan gets more attention. It’s not all viewed through the prism of Alma and whether or not what she’s experiencing is a delusion. With the opening episode of Season 2 coming down firmly on one side of that question (and in a canny way, almost eliminating it entirely), “Undone” has the freedom to see these characters as central to their own individual stories, not just Alma’s. The result is a season driven not by logistical concerns but by an overflowing amount of empathy for familiar and new figures in this family’s multicultural, metaphysical tapestry.
Given how easily this new approach could let tragedy encroach on everything, “Undone” hasn’t lost its sense of fun and mischief. Alma met her past discoveries with a healthy joking side, often laughing at her own luck. There are plenty of times in Season 2 where — through Salazar, ever the anchor here — she offers that same olive branch of relief to people facing similar confusion. Letting the Winograd-Diaz family have at least some reluctant smiles through the tears is a tiny blessing as they take on a generational challenge that none of them can really grasp in full.
Balancing that humor and heartache is proof that “Undone” has the trust that its central character has found too. For Alma and the show at large, the mechanics of the inexplicable don’t matter as much as the instinct that eventually gets you back to the ones you love. “Undone” juggles an interweaving set of shifting ethereal rules by using a handful of bonded people as its guide. Our reality is unquestionably better for having this much more time to spend alongside them.
“Undone” Season 2 premieres Friday, April 29 on Prime Video.
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