overnights

Undone Recap: Snap Back to Reality

Undone

Handheld Blackjack
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****

Undone

Handheld Blackjack
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Amazon Studios

After her harrowing ordeal in the hospital, it’s clear that Alma is stuck jumping around time whether she likes it or not. If she’s going to get through this without losing her mind — as her grandmother Geraldine allegedly failed to do — she needs to figure out how to control it.

Fortunately, Alma has a guide — a weird, shady, possibly untrustworthy guide who happens to be her dead dad, but a guide nonetheless. Jacob spends much of the episode playing the Yoda to Alma’s Luke Skywalker, guiding her into a measure of control over her time-jumping. He even gives Alma the psychic equivalent of a lightsaber: An electronic handheld blackjack game, which Jacob says is “complex enough to keep you focused but simple enough not to overwhelm you.” (If you’ve ever half-watched a TV show while playing Words with Friends or Candy Crush, you know exactly how this would work.)

Alma spends the rest of the episode wandering through life while tapping away at her little blackjack game, annoying Becca at her wedding dress fitting and raising yet another red flag with her boss at the daycare center. But the trick works: When Alma gets lost, focusing on the blackjack game brings her right back. Along the way, we also get the sense of how Alma’s power could be both terrifying and deeply useful when — after several, possibly prophetic visions of her student Oliver drowning — she corners Oliver’s mother and makes her promise to sign the boy up for swimming lessons.

But as the rest of Alma’s current-day life passes uneasily, her relationship with her mysterious father is coming into sharper focus. Jacob was a theoretical physicist, and he had just secured funding for research on something related to time travel and quantum entanglement. We don’t have all the details yet — and who knows if we can trust him? — but Jacob, at the very least, believes that someone wanted him dead before his research went any further.

All of this exposition might be a little dry or suffocating if not for Undone’s expertly realized animation. One particularly inventive, harrowing sequence finds Alma and Jacob teleported into a toy car frozen in midair, in a funhouse-mirror version of the actual crash that led to Jacob’s death. And as Jacob continues to pressure Alma to dig into his own past, she begins to lose her grip on her present-day reality — even missing several entire days because he forces her forward toward the next clue.

The most revealing scene takes Alma far into the past, back when Jacob was alive, to his classroom at San Antonio University. There, Jacob delivers a dense lecture on theoretical physics to a class that includes a particularly devoted student named Farnaz. Alma soon discovers that Farnaz also died in the car accident that claimed Jacob’s life. Jacob dodges the question, and Alma’s mother denies it outright, but the obvious implication is that Jacob and Farnaz were having an affair.

But whether or not we ever get a clear answer on the nature of Jacob and Farnaz’s relationship, there are plenty of mysteries left to be solved about both Jacob’s life and Jacob’s death. By the end of the episode, Alma has swiped a roomful of cardboard boxes from her mother’s attic, poring over the documents late into the night. And when Sam comes in and gently suggests that she get some sleep, Alma removes her cochlear implant — literally drowning out the rest of the world as she tunnels, ever deeper and obsessively, into the mystery her dead father has demanded she solve. Hopefully she can keep her feet planted on the ground in the present as well.

Pieces of Mind

• We didn’t have enough context to understand it at the time, but Farnaz is the person who frantically called Jacob when he was trick-or-treating with Alma, leaving him to hastily abandon Alma on the sidewalk on the night of his death. It’s also worth noting that, at the time, Jacob specifically told Farnaz not to call 911 — so whatever happened, it was something pretty bad.

• Alma has done some pretty selfish things so far, but Jacob orders that her “core” is actually selflessness, recounting a memory of when she repeatedly got in trouble for “forgetting” her gym clothes because she was giving them to a bullied girl who kept wetting her pants.

• Alma’s fear that everyone, including Sam, is deliberately messing with her might seem like a side effect of her accident. But it’s worth noting that she said something similar to Becca before the car crash in the series premiere: “”Do you ever feel like you’re in a play, except you’re the only one who knows you’re in a play?”

• Alma talking about her dad in the present tense is understandable; after all, she spent much of the episode talking to him. But I wonder if it’s also a sign that Alma, in all her time-jumping, is losing her grip on what “the present” even is.

• According to the newspaper Alma finds in the attic, Jacob’s crashed car was spotted by “a local cheesemonger” named Al Calabrese.

• Another ominous newspaper headline under the story about Jacob’s death: “SCIENTISTS CLAIM ENVIRONMENT WILL COLLAPSE BY 2030—OTHERS SCOFF.”

• Jacob says one of the blocks represents Julia Roberts, who happened to top-line Homecoming, a similarly pitched Amazon genre hit from last year.

• The back of the cereal box in Alma’s apartment bears a message that feels particularly resonant to Alma’s journey: “SOLVE THE MAZE.”

Undone Recap: Snap Back to Reality