The previous episode of Undone was all about immersing us in Alma’s worldview: the excitement, and the confusion, and the divided loyalties, and the staggering capacity to understand another human being in all their flaws and love them anyway. And as fascinating and poignant as that was, our perspective was necessarily limited to what Alma was experiencing. There are other characters in Undone, and this episode, wisely, is all about showing us what Alma looks like to the rest of the world.
And frankly: It’s not always great.
Let’s start with Sam, who both believes and engages with Alma’s quest to solve the mystery of her father’s death. Sam spends much of the episode playing catchup and poring through files about Jacob’s past. The main action finds Alma and Sam traveling to San Antonio University to dig into a break-in at Jacob’s lab on the night of his death. A security guard named Nancy initially freezes them out — but while Sam’s attempt to charm her fails, Alma uses her ability to discover, understand, and empathize with the tragedy of Nancy’s missing sister, which is enough to coerce Nancy to give them the files they need.
This is clearly not an easy experience for Alma, who lives Nancy’s entire life in an instant to get the information she requires. But Undone makes an interesting choice here: We see this entire scene from Sam’s perspective, not Alma’s. And through his eyes, the exchange is … unsettling? Manipulative? Maybe even a little cruel?
The trail of breadcrumbs leads them to the doorstep of Darrold, the ex-boyfriend of Jacob’s late teacher’s assistant Farnaz. Darrold is openly hostile to Alma and Sam, which causes Alma to bristle but, under the circumstances, seems fairly understandable to me. He tells Alma that Jacob was a psycho and that his research was bullshit, and threatens to call the cops if they don’t leave.
Meanwhile — in a B plot that brings Undone back down to earth — we spend a day with Alma’s mother, Camila. Camila clearly plays a vital role in a number of people’s lives: She’s friendly with the children in her neighborhood, active in her congregation, and deeply devoted to what she thinks his best for her daughters — even if Reed Hollingsworth’s mother is openly condescending to her and Alma is worrying her by refusing to take her pills.
As with Sam, Undone gives us several scenes that are specifically from Camila’s perspective. She notices that Becca flinches away from Reed’s touch, and it bothers her. She’s elated when Father Miguel asks her to light the Pascal candle at midnight mass on Easter. And when Becca bows out to attend a protestant service with the Hollingsworth family, she’s understanding enough to let her go — even if it means she spends the evening fretting over the possibility that neither of her daughters will be there to witness a liturgical honor that means so much to her.
In the end, Alma shows up, but her conversation with Camila quickly devolves into an argument about Alma’s mental state. And this puts audiences in a tricky place. By this point, we know for a fact that Alma is right. But the entire episode has been spent outside of her very unique headspace. To everyone else, when Alma has a conversation with herself and says it was dad, or gets so lost in time she doesn’t remember ringing a doorbell two minutes earlier … well, you understand why the people in her life might be getting worried.
Whatever anyone else believes, we know that Alma’s ability is real, because we’ve spent the past five episodes watching her use it in real and tangible ways. But the more human, subjective side of her arc still requires closer scrutiny. “This is about justice, and saving my dad, and not taking shit from anyone ever again,” Alma tells Sam near the end of the episode.
And honestly: That sounds like a lot of mission creep. It’s easy to think of Alma’s situation as a binary problem: Either her power is real and she’s on a life-or-death mission, or she’s delusional and none of this means anything. But what if the truth is more complicated than that? What if Alma’s power is real and Jacob is completely wrong about the conspiracy surrounding his death? What if Alma’s power is real and she’s a real human being with real flaws she still needs to address?
And that brings us back to Camila, who Alma blows up at — yet again — right after the midnight Easter mass that was so important to her mother. And on principle, I’d say Alma is right here: Her mom shouldn’t be so pushy about medicine, and she certainly shouldn’t have enlisted her priest to lecture Alma about it.
But on the other hand: It was just one episode ago that Alma, using her ability, found it in her heart to understand and forgive Sam for something much, much worse. It makes me wonder what would happen if Alma took the same kind of super-powered empathy she expelled on Nancy the Security Guard and applied it to her own mother, who skips church and — in an apparent crisis of faith — doesn’t leave out the Easter eggs she so cheerfully promised the kids in the neighborhood just a day earlier.
Would that be enough to help defuse Alma’s difficult relationship with her mother? Because I don’t have Alma’s ability, but God, my heart broke for Camila.
Pieces of Mind
• Late in the episode, Sam watches an old home video of Jacob, dressed in white, mumbling about the Valley of the White Cactus while doing some kind of smoke ritual. This is as good a time as any to make predictions for the rest of the season, so here’s my guess: Darrold is right. Jacob went off the deep end, and his death in the car accident was a tragic accident, not a conspiracy. What do you think?
• The introduction of a sinister-sounding company called Global Creation Associates can’t help but make me think of Globo-Chem, the company at the heart of a classic Mr. Show sketch featuring Bob Odenkirk.
• And based on their promotional video, Global Creation Associates’ bafflingly vague line of products seems to include flying cars, rockets, clean water and air, medicines, energy systems, and bombs.
• The list of people questioned in the break-in includes a slew of in-jokes, including Carmiel Banasky and Patrick Metcalf (who both worked on Undone), and Karen Joseph Adcock, Nick Barragan, Lorraine DeGraffenreidt, and Amy Schwartz (who all worked on Netflix’s wonderful, unjustly canceled Tuca & Bertie, which shares some of the creative team behind Undone).
• Alma on the simplicity of finding Darrold’s home address: “Finally, the internet’s erosion of privacy works in my favor.”
• Sounds like the mustard bar at Becca and Reed’s wedding is going to be extra grainy. Sign me up.