In the first season of Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy’s rotoscope animation series Undone, Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar) tries to bend time and space to save her dad (Bob Odenkirk). The show is cerebral, with Alma’s father teaching her the complex ins and outs of shifting realities, but it’s deeply emotional, too. By the time the season ends, with Alma perched outside a pyramid in Mexico, waiting on her dead dad’s return despite her family’s insistence that she’s mentally ill, it’s all about leaps of faith.
Undone season two, which will premiere on Amazon Prime, wastes no time telling viewers whether or not Alma’s leap of faith worked. Airing close to three years after its predecessor, the show’s sophomore outing is beautiful, inquisitive, and sometimes frustrating. To speak about the second season’s central conceit would be to ruin its first and greatest surprise, but it’s worth noting that the show finds a way to continue incorporating Odenkirk while focusing largely on Alma’s mother, Camila (Constance Marie).
In season one, Alma is a reluctant if curious time traveler. In season two, she’s a relentless one, fiddling with different timelines even once they’ve reached their most positive possible points. She can’t help but mess with perfection, and it seems like the show can’t either. Undone season two is still great, but it’s not quite the masterpiece that season one was. Most of its shortcomings are thanks to Alma herself. Salazar is excellent as the funny and adventurous young woman at the core of the cross-reality adventure, but she’s also a stubborn, careless, and sometimes outright infuriating protagonist. While season one presented her as what she’d call “the family f**kup,” season two gives her a stable place in the family–one she doesn’t know what to do with.
Angelique Cabral plays Alma’s sister Becca, who in the new season grapples with questions surrounding her marriage and a newfound ability to see into other peoples’ memories. Cabral and Salazar have a realistic and endearing sister relationship, with Alma’s tempestuousness tempered by Becca’s optimistic practicality. The show does well to center their bond as the pair investigates their devout mother’s long-held secret by dipping into her and her family’s memories. If the show’s first season isolated Alma in the strange reality of a power that looks like mental illness, the second season roots her in a power within her family lineage.
Undone’s most unfortunate problem, which is also one it can’t help, is an issue of timing. As the season digs into generations of family history, exploring both Camila’s side of the family and her father, Jacob’s, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Russian Doll’s second season. Of course, the similarities are accidental, but the fact that Undone will debut after Russian Doll makes it impossible not to regularly compare the two. Still, the story the season tells ends up being powerful, wide-ranging, and cross-generational.
Despite its imperfections, Undone continues to deliver some of the most effective animated acting on television. The rotoscope technique makes Alma’s life look especially real, yet allows for the freedom of trippy sequences in which she, say, falls through foggy temporal voids or sees someone glitch through different phases of their life. Director Hisko Hulsing maintains an ambitious vision that anchors viewers and characters with key images–a locked door, a crying baby–that keep returning.
Undone’s unique visuals, which at times give off the air of a painting in motion, put its CGI contemporaries to shame. They also allow for unusually expressive acting, and Salazar, Cabral, Marie, and Odenkirk all put in great, complimentary performances.
As beautiful as it is, Undone has lost bits of itself between seasons. The show was most interesting at its most ambiguous, but the second season slips from science fiction into magical realist territory, almost entirely doing away with the mental illness plot. It also fails to incorporate the Aztec history that underpins Alma’s powers. The season holds up well enough on its own, but by forgoing some of what made its first installment great, Undone isn’t quite as winning or heartfelt.
In the end, Undone is still good TV, even if it’s no longer mind-blowing. Salazar’s enthusiastic performance and a one-of-a-kind visual style keep the show compelling even as its season two plot feels more like a sometimes-frustrating side quest compared to the astonishing original mission. And although the show loses some existentialism along with its ambiguity, Purdy and Bob-Waksberg are always focused on deep, dynamic questions about family, history, and the repeating patterns of both. Even with its restless heart, Undone still manages to deliver some small-screen magic.
Related Topics: Undone