Undone has spent a whole season teasing both the characters and the audience with a series of tantalizing questions. In the finale, we get some long-awaited answers.
The previous episode ended with Alma traveling, like Alice, through the looking glass. She emerges in the past, on the fateful Halloween night that ended with Jacob’s death and finally discovers who trashed his lab at San Antonio University. As it turns out, it wasn’t corporate espionage or Farnaz’s skinny-armed boyfriend. It was Camila, infuriated that Jacob had secretly been experimenting on Alma (and speculating, fairly reasonably, that he’s actually in love with Farnaz).
As they argue, Jacob makes the case that no one cares about Alma more than he does because she’s so important to his work. In this moment, the difference between Camila and Jacob becomes crystal clear. They both love Alma in their own way. But Camila is interested in her as a person, and Jacob is interested in her as a means to unlock something he believes is greater than any individual person. His motives may be personal — derived from his memories of his mother’s own schizophrenia diagnosis — but the research has long since overwhelmed any actual interpersonal relationships in his adult life. Camila leaves him on the spot, telling him never to come home again, and it’s hard to blame her for it.
And that brings us to Jacob’s death. Over the course of the season, it has become increasingly obvious that Jacob’s grandiose conspiracy theory about his own “murder” doesn’t actually pass the smell test. But the real answer takes an unexpectedly grim turn. The “car accident” wasn’t an accident at all. It was a murder-suicide, as Jacob — confronted with the reality of losing both his family and his research in a single night — deliberately drove into the ravine with Farnaz in the passenger’s seat.
I suspect this knowledge will drastically alter the way Undone plays on a rewatch. (At the very least, Darrold Harris, Farnaz’s boyfriend at the time of her death, will become exponentially more sympathetic.) It’s enough to make Jacob abandon his own quest for self-salvation, urging Alma to travel to the moment of her own car accident and stop it, eliminating the events of the series from the timeline. But this time, Alma refuses, believing that the ghostly Jacob who has been guiding her is better than the broken man who deliberately drove himself and his student off a cliff.
Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve seen any evidence of that. But the plan works. Ghost-Jacob merges with the Jacob who died on Halloween night, and his influence is enough that the timeline changes. Jacob ignores the phone call that lured him away from Alma. I’m not exactly clear on how that solves the problem; Camila is still trashing the lab and is presumably still furious about Jacob experimenting on Alma. But it sends Alma careening back to the present, where she becomes convinced that Jacob will emerge, reborn and Christlike, from the temple in Mexico they visited when she was a little girl.
Once again, Undone pits Alma’s day-to-day life against the urgency of her belief in herself and in Jacob. She finally gets fired for her erratic behavior. She alienates both Sam and Camila, who have concluded that’s she’s schizophrenic. She refuses to take her pills, steals Camila’s car, and drives to the temple, where she plans to wait and see if Jacob will emerge.
As Alma waits for a miracle, Becca arrives — sent by Camila — to keep an eye on her sister in her “delusions.” While Alma fixates on the possibility of the near-supernatural resurrection of her father, Becca’s problems are grounded in reality: She told Reed she’d cheated on him, and he responded by getting their marriage annulled.
In a different life, this would have been an ideal time for Alma to be there for Becca. Instead, Becca is in Mexico for her. But Alma thinks her own current predicament holds the solution to Becca’s problem as well. “Here’s the good news: This whole reality is going to go away,” she tells Becca. “All the stupid shit we’ve done in our lives will just go away.”
There’s something almost childlike in Alma’s belief that reversing Jacob’s death would fix all the problems in their lives. Yes, Alma’s and Becca’s lives would probably be better if their dad hadn’t died in a horrific car crash when they were children. But it probably wouldn’t solve the deep-rooted problems in Jacob and Camila’s marriage, or put a stop to Alma’s impulsive and sometimes self-destructive streak, or take away Becca’s impulse to cheat on her soon-to-be-husband just days before the wedding. People are flawed, and there’s no changing that, no matter how far you rewind the clock.
And still: Alma waits, hopeful for a single magic bullet to solve all the problems of her messy life. While Becca sleeps, Alma stays up all night — a vigil captured in a lengthy, almost fisheye-lens shot that heightens Alma’s separation from conventional reality.
But Jacob never emerges from the entrance to the cave.
Or does he? The finale ends as Becca walks away while Alma spends a few moments by herself. As the sun rises behind the temple, Undone stays fixed on Alma’s face. As the sunlight hits her, her eyes widen and her breathing quickens. And then the show cuts to black and the first season ends. Was Alma merely reacting to the natural earthbound beauty Becca was just celebrating, or did Jacob really come out of that cave at dawn? And if Alma does see Jacob in that moment, can anybody else see him? Can Alma even trust her own eyes anymore?
At least, I’m pretty sure that’s the Inception-like effect Undone is aiming for. But I don’t think it works, because Undone has never really earnestly engaged with the possibility that Alma might actually just be schizophrenic. Sure, it’s understandable why Sam and Camila and Becca would be worried about that — but we’ve repeatedly been shown evidence that Alma’s ability is real. Over the course of the season, Alma has used it over and over again to collect information she couldn’t have obtained in any other way. (I guess it’s possible she got some of that information from the many boxes of files she swiped from Camila’s atti, but that wouldn’t explain how Alma knew about the Sam breakup or Nancy the security guard, and either way it would feel like a cheat.)
So yes: plenty of answers and at least one big question hanging over the series as the credits roll. Maybe a second season of Undone will eventually answer it and dig deeper into the ramifications of Alma’s ability, which literally seems to contain an eternal universe of possibilities.
Or maybe the show will end right here, reminding both Alma and the audience that no matter how deep you go, you’ll never have all the answers. Either way: Undone has been quite a ride.
Pieces of Mind
• So now that this journey is over: What would you want out of a second season? Sound off in the comments below.
• Whatever the truth of that final scene: If the timelines haven’t realigned, Alma will have to build a new life when she gets back to Texas. She has no job, and her relationship with Sam isn’t looking particularly salvageable. Then again, what’s to stop her from rewinding the clock and trying to fix things?
• Another too-convenient thing I wish Undone had a better answer for: Why did Jacob’s memory of his death stop at the moment he left Alma on the sidewalk? The real answer, of course, is that there’s no TV show if he doesn’t get Alma to investigate his death, which he’d never do if he remembered the truth. But I wish there were a more compelling in-universe explanation for the hole in his memory.
• Alma’s explanation for why time travel functions differently in Undone than it does in Back to the Future: “Time travel works differently for white people.”
• Like the last episode’s speech about being human and imperfect, Becca’s final speech to Alma doubles as a statement of the show’s ethos: “Real life is also pretty amazing.”