Accepting the Pain in Prime Video’s Undone
After completing Season 2 of the Prime Video series Undone, which follows Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar) as she navigates time and space by accessing people’s memories, I was swept into a memory of my own. It involves Barbara Streisand.
I’m only familiar with one Streisand song, “The Way We Were,” because my eighth-grade class performed it at our graduation. Since the song was nearly 17-years-old by then, my suspicion is that we were being dragged into our teacher’s nostalgia as unwilling participants. Even though that performance failed to make a Streisand fan out of me, the song has stayed with me. It describes how memories can “light the corners of my mind” and asks whether we would relive fond memories if given the chance. On second thought, as I think of the perpetual disappointment on our teacher’s face, I’m convinced we were dragged into his nostalgia.
This begs an interesting question. If we could go back in time and prevent painful moments, would we? Should we? As Christians, we look forward to a future hope in eternal glory. However, we are not immune to the sting of loss; nor should we be. This is where I find Undone helpful, especially in understanding grief.
For two seasons now, Alma, with the help of her father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul), learns how rewriting the painful parts of her life to bypass the grieving process comes at a steep cost.
It would be tempting to rewrite our painful paths, even for Christians. But if we have learned anything from Doc Brown, it's that any change to the past will alter the present. Not to mention, if we bumped into our past selves, it could cause a “time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe.” No big deal. But since rewriting the past is a hypothetical impossibility, is the solution as easy as Streisand suggests: “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”?
Undone addresses this tension through a creative lens that combines culture, animation, and music. For instance, Alma’s father is Jewish and her mother, Camila (Constance Marie), is Mexican. The spiritism that serves as the vehicle to move the plot is contrasted against Jacob’s family’s traditional Jewish beliefs and Camila’s Catholic upbringing. Using English, Spanish, American Sign Language, Yiddish, and Polish, the series attempts to demonstrate that the spirit world is not confined to cultural or linguistic borders.
After she resets the timeline, Alma meets a curandera named Rosario (Alma Martinez), a traditional native folk healer who is able to interpret the spirit world. Rosario, who has connections to Alma’s mother, sets up Season 2 by telling her, “I hope your life will be perfect now.” Shortly after, Alma discovers that the new timeline is far from perfect. While Alma’s father shares her secret, her mother harbors one of her own, tearing the family apart. When her sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) discovers that she has similar powers, Alma recruits her to help perfect the previously altered timeline.
Through the use of rotoscoping—an animation technique that traces over live-action footage (in this case to evoke oil paintings)—Undone blurs the line between realities. It seamlessly merges the realism of the actors’ movements with impressionistic elements in a way that I can only describe as “motion painting.” This technique allows Alma and Becca to navigate through realities with artistic transitions as the world behind them breaks like glass, swirls like paint, or fills with fog. The sisters go deep down a rabbit hole to fix their reality, realizing that the source of the problem is usually several layers deeper than they previously expected. Although the style is fantastical, the story is painfully relatable.
The music in Undone also plays a role in this story. Alma is guided into the past by chilling piano chords, played by a younger version of her grandmother, who is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward when her powers are misinterpreted as mental illness. Alma finally sees her salvation as the key to her family’s happiness.
If we could go back in time and prevent painful moments, would we? Should we?
On top of the ethical problem of rewriting the realities of unaware individuals and possibly altering their lives for the worse, Alma’s goal to bypass grief is unsustainable. Helping her grandmother heal from a painful past comes at the cost of her father’s health—which is then another pain to undo. It isn’t until her father learns to deal with his pain that he urges Alma to deal with hers. So, while undoing the past bears the fruit of new and cherished memories, it can never replace the healing process.
Nobody is untouched by the pain that resulted from the Fall in Genesis 3. Even Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. In the brokenness of our lives, we grieve the loss of loved ones. We grieve the loss of innocence. We grieve the loss of opportunity or community. And while grief looks different for each of us, simply choosing to forget the pain is not a permanent solution. Jesus’ disciples lost hope after he was buried in the tomb, despite his own prediction of his death and resurrection. Peter’s response to the prediction was to figure out a way to prevent the painful process. He was quickly rebuked for giving in to Satan’s temptation. Rather than shying away from hardship, Christ challenged Peter to embrace it. Peter, strengthened through trials, produced beautiful letters to the persecuted believers, reminding them of their position in Christ.
This message was not lost on Jesus’ brother James. In fact, he opens his epistle with this invitation: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In my experience, pain has done two things: since I don’t have powers (that I’m aware of) where I can rewrite reality, I concede that my life is too big for me to control. Therefore, I’ve learned to lean in closer to an omnipotent and compassionate God when I hurt. Secondly, when I’ve been able to deal with the pain (with the help of a counselor, loving family members, faithful friends, and caring church community), I’ve gained the confidence to not only overcome future pain, but walk along others going through similar circumstances.
If you had the chance to erase the painful past, as Alma does in Undone, maybe you’d take it. But maybe trusting in God, even through hardship, will end up blessing more than just yourself.