The first half of Amazon’s animated drama Undone finds Alma (Rosa Salazar) grappling with a newfound relationship with time, slipping between the past and the present, able to relive moments over and over. The writers carefully tread between attributing Alma’s slipping sense of reality to super powers or as symptoms of her declining mental health.
Things change in the sixth episode. The point of view pivots from Alma to her boyfriend Sam, who doesn’t see her as a traveller of time and space but as a woman in recovery now transfixed on her dead father. She mutters to herself. She looks vacantly into space. The show’s first episode reveals that Alma’s grandmother had schizophrenia, a history that Sam, along with Alma’s mother Camila and her sister Becca are very aware of.
So is the time travel real or is it happening all in her head? The answer gets a little complicated. The ending at first softly suggests an outcome, without outright confirming it, then blurs it again. Ambiguity works for the story itself, but in the end, the message Undone was ultimately after is left obscured.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for the end of Undone]
Alma completes her mission in the final episode of Undone. In her last time slip into the past, she learns the truth about her father’s car accident — he was the one who purposefully swerved his own car off a cliff — and influences past events, so that instead of heading to his lab that night, her father continues to take her trick-or-treating. When she comes back to the present, Alma believes she needs to go to a specific place in Mexico, where her father will emerge alive and the timelines will merge.
From the way Sam, Camila, and Becca see it, the answer is obvious. Alma is showing symptoms of schizophrenia. Sam confronts her about this before she leaves for Mexico, but to no avail. Camila tries to help Alma look inward, revealing that Alma’s father had also started to exhibit symptoms in the year before he died.
But there is the fact that Alma knows things that she shouldn’t be able to by conventional means. She manages to pinpoint the exact tragic backstory of a woman she’s never met before. She knows about the fight her parents had the night her father died, knows that her mother decided to leave her father because he was doing experiments on Alma — something her mother has not disclosed to anyone. In the end, she learns that her father’s accident was by his own design, which no one alive knows.
Undone doesn’t need the answer spelled out to be effective, even if the show softly suggests what is really going on. By suggesting the truth, instead of outright saying it, the show allows its final point — to face fear of the unknown, we need one another — to shine through, by closing in on Becca and Alma’s relationship.
While Sam and Camila have been the most involved in Alma’s struggle, Becca has more or less resigned herself to pretending everything is fine. But at this point, with Alma stealing her mother’s keys and driving to a pyramid in Mexico, it has become clear it is not.
Without prompting from her concerned mother, Becca travels to Mexico to be with Alma. Instead of forcing Alma to come home, Becca sits with her to wait for the sun to come up, listening tearfully as Alma talks about starting over and about not being broken when the timelines rearrange. She doesn’t talk down to Alma or tell her that it’s all in her head. She stays. She offers support. She listens.
When it looks like their father won’t show up, Alma claims that his astral self must’ve gotten stuck. It’s the only explanation, she insists.
Becca gently brushes Alma’s hair away, before she softly says, “There is another explanation.”
Alma is resistant at first. She still wants there to be more to the world. But Becca is gentle, pointing out that they’re here together. It’s a beautiful morning. She will be there for Alma, their mother will be there for Alma. No one thinks she is broken or messy.
Becca takes the time to understand Alma and in the end offers her help in a way that no one in the show has before. But Undone isn’t just about offering help; it is about receiving the help of others. And in this last vulnerable moment, Alma realizes that she does, in fact, need to open up and allow others in.
The suggestion that all of the time travel has happened in Alma’s head, a mere side effect of her schizophrenia never discounts her experiences as fake or unimportant. The slips through time and her conversations with her dead father are a part of her reality and her journey that allowed her to process her trauma, reach this epiphany, and eventually accept the help that she needs.
But instead of ending there, the show lingers and distorts things once more. Alma wants to make sure that their father will not emerge. Becca leaves for the car and Alma gets one last moment alone. The sun comes up. The music quickens. Her jaw goes a little slack as she sees something in the distance, something that we as viewers do not get to see.
By walking that fine line super powers and mental fabrications, Undone was never going to be a clean way out. On a macro level, the scene seems to work thematically. Perhaps it’s just another slip back into Alma’s point of view. This vision of light and clarity is all in her head, but because she’s finally accepted help, it shows she’s on the correct timeline. Perhaps her father did come back from the dead and the unknown Alma now faces is what happens when the timelines rearrange.
The ending leaves viewers with unnerving implications. If this light is in Alma’s head, she still thinks it is real, potentially causing her to double down on her mission and turn away from the help she’s finally realized she’s needed. If the light is real, then schizophrenia was just a red herring to raise the stakes, instead of a very real mental illness handled with surprising poignancy two minutes prior.
The truth won’t be revealed, and in a way, it reflects Alma’s situation herself; without a tidy conclusion, we find ourselves facing the unknown.