The Amazon original series ‘Undone’, which debuted on September 13th, is inarguably something new: the 8-part series, which consists of short 22-minute episodes and boasts an excellent cast including Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk and Alita’s Rosa Salazar, is unique in it’s ability to be both a time-travelling Science-fiction crime drama, as well as a deeply intimate portrayal of trauma, bereavement and mental illness which explores how we perceive reality- all peppered with a wealth of humorous moments of realism- without ever breaking a sweat.
The series weaves a surprisingly high volume of important themes, questions and debates into its fabric with incredible ease: race, colonialism, class, ableism, wealth, heritage, religion, ethics, morality, grief and trauma are all touched upon, and in some ways personified in the attitudes of the small set of characters, yet you never get the sense of being overwhelmed. In fact, the narrative is stunningly seamless, and the audience is deftly manoeuvred from one frame to the next with impressive ease.
The narrative of the sci-drama revolves around Alma, a nihilistic and dry-humoured young woman depicted in the throes of disassociation with her mundane everyday life, who begins to question the fabric of reality and time after, having suffered a very serious car crash, her deceased father begins to appear to her and tells her she has the ability to travel through and manipulate time. Alma must then attempt to hone her abilities in order to help her father find out who murdered him and then help him to prevent it.
However, it is not quite as straightforward as this: Alma has struggled with her mental health in the past and is clearly still struggling with her previous trauma, and there is significant evidence- including a grandmother who was afflicted with the condition prior to her death- which suggests Alma may be suffering from schizophrenia. As the series progresses, the audience is given more and more evidence to suggest that perhaps our narrator, Alma, is unreliable: yet, we can never truly be sure. The creators of Undone, Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, have admitted to giving sufficient evidence to support either conclusion and hoped to leave the series’ significance open to interpretation.
Artistically, the series is so impressive because of the incredible amount of work that has gone into the production: it is animated using a technique called rotoscoping, where animators will trace over live footage in order to create a semi-animated effect. This means that the entire series was filmed, then animated over in its entirety, to create this disarmingly surrealistic effect. It is a technique that is very rarely used in television and sets Undone apart from the off. Still more impressively, each of Undone’s backdrops also consist of oil paintings, an effect that heightens the sense of the fluidity and fantasy of the series- an effect not dissimilar to those produced by Studio Ghibli animations.
During the first episode, I remember wondering, rather cynically, ‘why have they bothered to animate this?’. But it doesn’t take long for you to discover the answer to this question- about halfway through the second episode, in fact, is where the animation truly comes into its own, as the mundane settings give way to bizarre and fantastic unreality. Equally, the use of transitions are reminiscent of Edgar Wright in their ability to create stepping stones in time through the use of shortcuts: interestingly, these techniques make the audience feel more connected to the principal character Alma, as she uses first a set of keys, and then an electronic blackjack game, to both ground herself to reality and shift through time.
Given the general success of Undone, it is unsurprising that there are already calls for a second season, and it is tempting to join in this wish to be given more of this tantalising cosmic world. But I would argue that the intricacy, delicacy and beauty of the series depend on its mystery and ambiguity. There are some works that are better left singular, untouched, their subtlety still intact. Undone is an enigma, and I believe it should remain that way.