‘Undone’ Season 2 Travels Through Time and Painfully Complex Generational Trauma

If we could travel back in time the experience would probably be more emotionally shattering than suspenseful. Amazon’s “Undone” traverses timelines to profile the inner workings of its characters. Few showrunners have the capacity to write our most intimate selves like Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy, who first broke new ground with “BoJack Horseman.” This animated show is not as despairing as that Netflix gem, but its second season does manage to reach into realms of pain, uncertainty and sad memories. There’s also humor and love in the material, but with one of the most sobering approaches on TV when it comes to life. By using rotoscope animation, it’s easier for us to become immersed since it’s not so stark. “I think some ways animation can be a sneak attack in a fun way,” Bob-Waksberg tells Entertainment Voice. “Because we associate it with childhood, it puts us in a more relaxed state and in touch with our emotions.” 

Last season ended with Alma (Rosa Salazar) in Mexico hoping to “merge timelines” in order to bring back her dead professor father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk). Standing in front of the cave where the last season closed, Alma calls her sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral). Suddenly Becca is now married and honeymooning with Reed (Kevin Bigley), meaning time has been altered or realigned. Alma hurries home to San Antonio, Texas and finds that Jacob is indeed now alive, in his office and excited that finally they have proven his theories about time. In this timeline, Alma is also a professor at the same campus where Jacob teaches, and is working on her dissertation. But all does not remain stable when Becca reveals to Alma that she too appears to have the ability to travel through time. One moment in particular haunts both sisters, it is a scene Becca revisits over and over where their mother, Camila (Constance Marie) steps out of a car driven by a stranger, distraught. What secret is Camila hiding, and how will it ripple through the family?

“You have to open your mind to this story,” Cabral tells Entertainment Voice. “It’s expansive, it’s epic. You discover a lot about the family history this season and familial trauma and what makes us who we are. This is a season where every audience member can take something different from it. It’s hard not to be affected by the show.” Bob-Waksberg specializes in finding a finer kind of drama in the experience of the everyday. Even his short story collection about doomed love, “Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory,” adds surreal flourishes to what are all too common emotions. “Undone” explores mental illness and the feeling of carrying on traumas we may not even know about. If Alma worried about being schizophrenic in the first season, this one gives more room to her collective pain with her sister. She and Becca both initiate a journey in which Becca, who carries on like the wiser older sibling, discovers she also has special abilities. But time traveling is not a fun sport in “Undone.” When the sisters see the mysterious memory of Camila and the stranger, they realize their parents’ story has many shadowy spots they were never aware of. Eventually they also travel into their grandmother’s memories, which are not romanticized or comfortable.

“I think this season is about the need for a lot more understanding,” Constance Marie tells Entertainment Voice. “That’s something we lack in the current climate, politically and socially. This show provides that. It gets down to the core of humanity. Whether you agree with someone or not, the understanding changes how we approach each other. There’s a lot more understanding this season about why Becca is the way she is and why Camila is the way she is.” To find such answers, the show weaves a hypnotic rhythm with its dreamlike style. One of the brilliant effects of having the entire series designed in rotoscope is how it can distort very realistic settings into something artfully hallucinatory. Alma and Becca crash through clouds and enter recollections and different timelines. Speaking with their grandmother can open a window into the past, literally. Yet it’s not about dazzling us, but about exploring how this family has been formed. Jacob refuses to even acknowledge something was ever wrong with Camila, because for him certain moments might be too painful to acknowledge.

One of the enduringly admirable features of “Undone” is its diversity mixed with universal appeal. On a human level, viewers from anywhere can relate to Alma and Becca’s struggles with feeling uncertain and in limbo about life. Yet by zeroing in on a Mexican-American family in Texas, the show also celebrates a sector of American Latino culture that is rarely depicted in such suburban, middle class terms. The sisters speak what is known as “pocho” Spanish, meaning Latinos who speak with heavy accents because their first language is English. “I’m from San Antonio and I feel it’s underrepresented in terms of storytelling,” Kate Purdy tells Entertainment Voice. “It’s amazing to me how much this city is influenced by Mexican culture. When I moved to the east coast and learned about sushi and falafel it was a shock to me (laughs). I really wanted to represent the people of this city through the characters.” 

“Without this setting, we couldn’t explore the stories in the way we do,” says Bob-Waksberg. “For a while we talked about it being set in Berkeley. But then Kate mentioned she’s from San Antonio and San Antonio is mostly Latinx, and that is who these characters would most likely be in that city. If this had been about white people in Berkeley it would be a completely different show (laughs).” It’s true that some of the stories Alma and Becca uncover about their family past are so particular to the Latino experience. They travel to Mexico to meet an aunt who reveals a melancholic tale about their mother and a man she loved who wanted to be a priest. The beauty of the narrative is that all families have buried scars. We all love and lose in our own, particular ways inherent to whatever environment we grow up in.

With an even more moving second season, “Undone” poses the question of whether it is worth it to venture into our roots. We look at pictures in a family photo album and forget the faces captured in the frames also went through life’s battlefields. Maybe we shouldn’t want to change the past, but learn from it. Bob-Waksberg and Purdy have crafted one of the most special shows now streaming. “I would like to time travel to my father’s side of the family,” says Cabral. “My father is Mexican and Native American and my mom is white. He actually doesn’t know a lot about his family, so it’s very unknown. There are all these questions about his youth. So I would go back to his youth or even to the youth of my grandmother. What happened to her was that she gave up my dad and chose this white man. So there’s all this generational stuff there I would like to unpack. I wouldn’t change anything though, because then I wouldn’t be me. I draw so much as a mother and actor from my own issues and childhood. I wouldn’t change it. I would just want to know the answers.”

Undone” season two begins streaming April 29 on Amazon Prime Video.