“Am I Sick, or a Saint?” UNDONE refuses to answer its own questions

The beautifully-rendered vision of San Antonio, animated by UNDONE, an Amazon Prime original, is a lush and sweeping and sublime thing, and revels in a kind of ambiguity that is upended by the very work it does creating its own mysteries. Alma Winograd is in a terrible car accident, and it seems to break her mind from reality, into a new state of consciousness that no one in her life seems to understand. She has visions of her father, who died in a car accident many years ago. He tells her that she is special, and has the power to bring him back from the dead by traveling through time and rewriting reality, if only she can find out who killed him. Naturally, her family and boyfriend and employer are very concerned that she is falling into schizophrenia. She has terrifying visions of the death of one of her students at her preschool, where she is an assistant teacher, and sees visions of her boyfriend’s life before they met. The portrayal of mental illness from the inside, where she is experiencing profound and life-altering hallucinations, is probably the most interesting part of the series. But, equally important is what it feels like for the people who love Alma, who must come to terms with her new mannerisms and attitudes and revelations. Her mother struggles trying to get her daughter to take mental health and wellness seriously. Her boyfriend has to walk a fine line between trusting and working through Alma’s newfound revelations and his own sense of doubt about what she is truly becoming. Alma’s sister’s life collapses almost at the same time with a stressful wedding and a secret that could destroy her dream life. The relationships are well-written, with heartbreaking scenes of humans struggling to live and be and do for each other with all the free-floating harm that just accumulates around our communities.

UNDONE made choices along the way to support the shamanistic conclusions inspired by Alma’s father. There were scenes where she had access to information through her mental illness that were impossible. She also managed to alter the course of time when she had an outburst at her sister’s wedding that she needed to change for their own safety. In many ways, the series created a worldview that supported her visions of a shamanistic reality right up until the very end, when it decided to step back and question whether it was all real or not. The ambiguous ending, left intentionally mysterious, with Alma staring at the tomb where her father will supposedly emerge from death in the sunrise, and she is alone, and she is just about to give up and accept that she’s schizophrenic, and there is a rush of light and her eyes open, and…

Well, I’m spoiling the ending, of course, but it isn’t the sort of show that minds a few spoilers. It isn’t really resolving itself. It tries to play its hand both ways, in the end, and ultimately collapses in that last second by refusing to make a choice. It would have been a better show to choose. Take a side. Play the music. Dance. Dance your dance. Find that truth. Stick the landing.

Still, definitely worth watching, regardless. It was a beautiful limited series, with excellent performances, and every frame is gorgeously rendered by the animation technique. As a resident of San Antonio, and a fan of this beautiful city’s ancient and modern constructions, I was often distracted by how thrilling it is to see a show embrace our beautiful city. A meet-cute on the Riverwalk, and an old Spanish Catholic Church, and the expansive mansions of Terrell Hills, and palm trees and craftsmen houses and limestone walls. San Antonio is a beautiful city, and a multicultural one, and seeing it depicted like that was thrilling. It’s one of the oldest cities in North America, and has a history that has never really been depicted, with cultures that are as mysterious to the world as Seattle and Portland used to be before they became ‘cool’. Anyway, watch the setting, because the space they inhabit is my home, and it’s a beautiful place.

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