In Undone episode 2, Alma wakes up in the hospital after her accident and discovers she’s been in a coma for a few days or weeks due to the severe head injury she sustained at the beginning and end of episode 1. Episode 2 is where the nonlinear storytelling aspect of Undone is at its peak, showing off the flexibility that the animation techniques used in the visuals give the narrative.
Cool as the visuals are, pay close attention to the use of sound in the episode as well. Alma’s hearing impairment isn’t just a plot device and the various environmental sounds in each episode aren’t just cool effects. Information is being warped and kept from Alma, by herself and by the other characters, and it’s through sound that we’re sometimes made aware of the missing facts.
Episode 2 begins with an overhead view of Alma’s accident from up in the sky, which gradually descends to ground level, then into the car, then focuses on her unconscious face. She’s slumped over the steering wheel, her forehead dripping blood, one arm thrown up over her head to try to break the impact. We can hear static from Alma’s cochlear implant, ominous musical tones and one long, high pitched whine, like the sound a heart monitor makes when a patient flatlines.
It could be feedback from the implant malfunctioning or tinnitus from Alma’s injuries. Or it could be that Alma flatlined. We’re never clearly told what her injuries were or how long her coma was. Though the narration appears to come from outside of Alma, there are strong signals in this episode that we always, and only, see what she sees and know what she knows, through her altered point of view.
Alma opens her eyes in a hospital room. Her hearing is muffled- her cochlear implant isn’t plugged in. She looks to her left and sees her father, who died years ago, reading a newspaper. This takes her back to the memory of one childhood Halloween night, when her mother took Becca and herself trick or treating. Alma (Luna-Marie Katich) is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Becca is Toto, her dog. Or maybe she’s coincidentally a dog.
Camila stops to pull up one of Alma’s socks, which inspires Becca to complain that she doesn’t have socks. Alma doesn’t want her mother to pull up her socks, while Becca can’t distracted from the notion that it’s unfair that she doesn’t also have socks as part of her costume. Alma appears to be around 11-12, while Becca is around 8, but it’s hard to tell in animation.
They go home, where Jacob is reading the paper. Becca is still complaining about the socks. Camila’s solution is for Alma to give Becca her socks, which Alma doesn’t agree to. Jacob turns a section of newspaper into a play sock, which makes everyone laugh, but Becca still isn’t satisfied.
Alma moves back to the hospital room and consciousness. Adult Becca enters the room and Camila plugs in Alma’s hearing device. Camila asks Alma if she knows how much much it would have hurt her if she had died, then leaves to get a nurse.
Alma drifts back into the rest of her memory. Once Camila took Becca to bed, Alma asked Jacob to take her back out trick or treating. He agrees, but tells her not to mention it to Camila.
He must have planned on being back before she was done with Becca’s bedtime routine.
As they walk down the street, Jacob says that he never understood why Dorothy would want to go home instead of staying in Oz, when it was so much more exciting. He asks Alma which life she would choose. Alma sidesteps the question and says that she thinks the witch must have pee very carefully, if she dies when she gets wet.
Alma is a deep but practical thinker. And The Wizard of Oz was clearly written by a man.
The upshot of that interaction is, Jacob only considers the exciting parts of moving from Kansas to Oz, not the practicalities and dangers Dorothy would face. Alma isn’t likely to make the same mistake, though she might be just as intrigued by the possibility.
Jacob gets a call from his research assistant, a young woman named Farnaz (Sheila Vand). He tells her not to call 911, he’ll come to the lab. Then he tells Alma to stay where she is while he goes to the lab. Alma says, “No, not again, Dad. I do not know this place. I cannot get home from here.” Jacob tells her he’ll be back and walks away as she calls for him to stay.
Back in Alma’s hospital room, Alma slurps juice through a straw as Camila angrily asks why she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. She accuses Alma of forgetting about how this would affect her and Becca, especially so close to Becca’s wedding. Alma sarcastically apologizes for inconveniencing her family by almost dying.
Becca suddenly plops down on Alma’s bed and announces that Alma’s doctor said she can start physical therapy tomorrow. Becca is super excited that Alma will be okay. Alma isn’t as thrilled as Becca about the therapy. Becca apologizes for the fight they had before the accident, but Alma doesn’t remember it.
It’s not unusual for TBI patients to have some memory loss. Becca doesn’t acknowledge the memory loss or that it’s normal.
She quickly moves on to talking about her wedding and how she needs Alma to get better and help with the planning. They joke about the way Alma has been slacking off while she’s been unconscious and how long she’s going to milk the coma as an excuse.
Jacob says, “No, well, partly.”
Alma is confused, and tries to talk to him, but gets distracted back to the wedding conversation by Becca, so she asks if Sam can wear his waiter tux to the wedding. Becca is confused, since she hadn’t planned to invite her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Alma is confused, because she doesn’t remember that she broke up with him. Becca doesn’t tell Alma that she and Sam broke up. She just tells her to get some rest.
The scenery outside the hospital window moves as if Alma is seeing it from a car. Alma asks if it’s a dream. Becca says “No.” Jacob says, “Partly.”
Becca and Jacob disappear and Sam appears in the room wearing hospital scrubs. He’s just finished his visit and is leaving, but Alma missed all of it. We see his departure from the doorway to the room. Alma doesn’t recognize him. She thinks he’s a nurse, so that’s the way she says goodbye.
Tunde enters as Sam is leaving. Now Alma is in a park like setting with a stream, trees, flowers and rocks. Tunde carefully makes his way through nature to sit next to the bed, but he denies that they’re outside when Alma asks. He tells her that the kids miss her and shows her a card they made. She apologizes for missing so much work, but he tells her it’s okay, because she was in a terrible accident. Alma says that Tunde visited before her boyfriend. Tunde points out that Sam just left. Alma says, “He did?”
Time shifts backwards several minutes, to the middle of Sam’s visit, when he gave Alma a card with a drawing of a nature scene, similar to the one she’s in now. Alma says, “It’s beautiful.” Sam tells her that he made it weeks ago, when she first went into the coma, but he wasn’t sure if she’d come out of it, so he left the message blank.
Alma apologizes for almost dying. Sam tells her it’s cool. He rambles a bit, so she asks if everything’s okay. He asks if she thinks everything’s okay. She responds that she thinks so, with a question mark. Sam tells her that everything is fine. Then he says goodbye.
One more major lie in the disoriented girl’s life. At least he didn’t blame her for the accident or call her selfish, but then it worked out great for him. So far Tunde is the only person who’s shown genuine concern for her above himself and his needs. The three most important people in her life are more worried about how they’ve been inconvenienced than they are about Alma. None of them expressed concern for her wellbeing for her own sake, or asked how she was feeling. Even dead Dad has his own agenda.
The fact that Alma has apologized for almost dying to every person who’s entered the room, even if it was half jokingly, says so much about how much priority she’s been taught to give taking care of herself. Her own emotional needs haven’t entered the equation, despite how traumatized she must be.
Even her physical needs have been framed as serving the needs of others. It matters whether she wears her seatbelt ot has to have physical therapy or can work because of how it will affect her family and employer, not because it’s her own body that’s affected and she might be in pain or injured.
No wonder Alma got confused and thought Sam was a nurse. He’s not really her boyfriend. He’s pretending, leading to a jumbled conversation. It felt impersonal by the end because of the cognitive dissonance she was experiencing.
She jumps forward to her visit with Tunde and realizes she’s caught in a loop. Then she’s sitting in a cafeteria with her dad and she repeats that she’s in a loop.
Jacob: “Either you have one foot in the world of the dead and one in the world of the living and you’re communicating with me through some sort of spirit realm, and the accident has shaken your temporal understanding of time and space and somehow given you the ability to see things in a non-linear fashion, and that’s all very-”
Jacob: “Disorienting, but also exhilarating, but also exhilarating and freeing, or this is all just some fever-dream, morphine drip head trauma type of thing. Are you gonna eat that whole grilled cheese? [She passes him her sandwich. He takes a couple of bites and passes it back.] I need your help. And I can’t let you leave here until you agree to help me.”
Can fever dreams eat grilled cheese sandwiches?
Alma doesn’t understand what Jacob is asking for and won’t agree until she does. He repeatedly insists she agree right now or he won’t let her leave. When he decides they’re at a stalemate, he sends her rolling through the accident, back into her hospital bed and the beginning of this loop.
Dad was apparently not a super great guy. Either his astral self is holding her mind hostage or she’s projecting that he was the type of person who was self absorbed enough to treat his seriously injured daughter who just came out of a coma that way.
She sips on her juice box as Camila tells her how selfish she is for forgetting her seatbelt. Alma apologizes for not putting her family first at all times, including when she’s in emotional distress, then wonders where Becca is. Camilla says that Becca is in the hospital cactus garden.
Alma is confused by the existence of a cactus garden, which makes me question her identity, since anyone from the southwest should understand the concept.
It seems self-explanatory.
As they walk in the hospital cactus garden, Becca repeats her story about the doctor and physical therapy. Alma brings up the fight Becca mentioned in the last loop. Becca is surprised that Alma doesn’t remember it. She suggests they forget about it, since Alma doesn’t remember what it was about, and start over. Alma goes along.
Then Becca says, “I’m so glad you’re getting better. I wouldn’t want my maid of honor to be in a back brace. I mean, what would that look like?”
Alma: “I don’t know, maybe like I survived a car crash, and I’m lucky to be alive?”
Becca insists she was kidding, so Alma shouldn’t get upset. Alma knows that she wasn’t, and calls her on it.
Alma: “For once, people are paying attention to me, and it’s killing you.”
Becca: “For once? Alma, you are the one that everyone always pays attention to. I ace the SATs and you drop out of college. I win at a swim meet and no one cares because you cut yourself. I turn 21 and you get busted for buying pot.”
Alma: “I was buying pot for you.”
Becca: “And don’t even get me started on all your hearing stuff. All your special doctors and your special classes.”
Alma: “You think I wanted that?”
Becca: “I just wanted one year that was about me and you ruined that.”
Basically, Becca still gets jealous over Alma’s socks. She wants a year where Alma ceases to exist, and she is her mother’s sole focus. Or, better yet, she wants Alma to act as the parent she lost, and also focus on nothing but Becca. Sure, it can be tough for the healthy child when they have a disabled sibling. But this is above and beyond that.
We saw how much Camilla caters to Becca to compensate for the attention Alma got for her hearing issues. Alma wasn’t even allowed to keep her own Halloween costume intact without her father’s intervention. What happened after he died?
Of course Alma’s longing for his return now, when both her mother and sister are putting so much pressure on her to put aside her own needs and opinions in order to give Becca a storybook wedding YEAR.
Reality breaks apart, becoming a flock of black birds, then a starry sky, in which Alma floats to classical music. The sky becomes a floating hospital hallway, which leads to an elevator.
Alma runs down the hallway, to where another version of herself is already waiting at the elevator. She tells herself to press the buttons, but she already is, and none of them work. She knows she needs to focus to get out of the loop, but it’s not working. Alma turns and runs down the hall, but she gets caught in a glowing white sheet, then a blanket, which drop in front of her.
She wakes up in her hospital bed as the covers drop over her head. The hallway graphic started with highway center lines, and from that point on the flatline whine was underneath the audio, along with Camila and Becca calling Alma’a name. A heartbeat is mixed in with the musical tones.
Did she have a seizure during their argument or did her heart stop at the scene of the accident and no one is telling her?
Alma watches in panic as Camila, who is sitting in the chair next to the bed, rapidly goes through the entire life cycle, from birth through death and decay, then repeats the cycle. Jacob reaches into the scene and yanks her out of the timestream.
Once she’s calm, he takes her to a natural, but surreal, landscape to explain what’s happening to her. First, he reminds her of how disorienting it was when she got her implant and her brain didn’t know how to process the new information it was receiving. She affirms that everything sounded like bells, ducks and robots.
Jacob explains that this is a similar situation. She can communicate with him now because the accident opened up her mind in a new way, and he needs that. Alma asks if she’s losing her mind the way her grandmother did. Jacob says that Alma is going through a similar process, but Geraldine became lost and couldn’t find her way back to reality. If he can guide Alma through the process right, she’ll be able to maintain her normal life and stay in touch with reality while also exploring new possibilities.
He goes on to explain that some people’s minds are able to see more, feel more and know more. Geraldine had that ability and so does Alma. This is the same ability that shamans use in indigenous cultures, though in Western culture people who see visions and hear voices are locked up or ostracized. That’s why they need to develop her potential carefully. Alma isn’t sure she wants to develop her potential at all.
Since Alma still hasn’t agreed to the mission, Jacob sends her back to the beginning of the loop. Camila is in the middle of telling her she’s selfish for forgetting her seatbelt. The scenery outside is the nicest yet. Alma gets up and runs to the elevator from her earlier vision. She presses the buttons, but it doesn’t work. Soon, the version of her from the first time through the loop appears behind her, and they repeat the scene.
The Alma at the elevator yells at the other Alma that she needs to focus, then the other runs down the hall. The religious symbols on the elevator panel revert to numbers, allowing Alma to push the “2” button.
There’s a channel changing static sound and visual, and we’re on the second floor, where Layton and Beth Hollingsworth are doing a broadcast of The Cake Off. They have baby cactus cupcakes and a cake shaped like the hospital on a table. It’s probably a fundraiser for the hospital. Alma runs off the elevator and between the camera and the table, just as Beth is saying that chocolate comes from our friends, the Aztecs. They mock Alma as she runs by, always insufferably smug.
Alma is momentarily in a speedboat on TV, then she’s back in her hospital bed. She tries to get up and leave the room again, but Camila stops her. This time, Camila explains to her that she was in an accident and she’s in the hospital.
That might be the first moment of true, full consciousness we’ve seen.
Alma argues that she’s not in the hospital. She’s home and it’s two weeks from now and she’s with Sam. The scene appears as she continues to describe it. She’s momentarily there. Sam asks if she’s still mad at him. She says that she isn’t. She just doesn’t understand why he lied, and she has a headache. But then the scene rumbles apart and she spins back to the hospital.
Jacob tells her she’s pushing herself too hard. She needs to stop letting in the whole ocean and keep her body in the boat or else she’ll go mad. His metaphor, not mine.
Jacob: “What you have is precious, Alma, and that’s why I caused the accident. I needed you to wake up. ‘Cause I need you to wake up. You’re the only one who can help me. That Halloween night, I wasn’t in an accident. I was killed. And with your ability to see what’s really real, we can change what happened. But, I need you to say yes. I need you to agree.”
Alma remembers back to the night he died, when she waited all night for him to come back and get her from her spot on the sidewalk. At dawn, she found a police woman who took her home. Her mother and Becca were angry with her for scaring them, and told her about her father’s accident at the same time. Alma refused to believe her father was gone and ran from her mother.
She lands back in her hospital bed. Camila starts in on her about the seatbelt. Alma makes a preemptive apology. Becca tells her about physical therapy and how great it is that she’s not permanently disabled from the accident, because it means she’ll still look perfect for Becca’s wedding. Alma agrees that it’s great, and tells Becca that she didn’t get into an accident on purpose. Becca makes a long speech about how she needs Alma to be there for every bit of her life. Alma says that she’s glad she didn’t die so that she can be there for Becca’s wedding.
They exhausted her into submission. I know I’m supposed to think that she was being selfish and now she’s learned to think about her family, but where was the concern for Alma, as herself, rather than as an extension of everyone else? All they did was convince her that she only matters if she’s fulfilling their needs and not her own, as if it’s not possible for both things to happen.
No one ever said, “Alma, what do you need? How are you really doing right now?” And she’s the one in the hospital. What’s it like during her normal life? They want her as a possession, not a person. Alma’s unhealthy behaviors are coping mechanisms to deal with the way they’re sucking the life out of her as a result of that attitude.
When Alma wakes up later, her father tells her she did a good job. She turns away from him. He asks what’s wrong. She says that he was supposed to be there for her while she was growing up. She depended on him to give her strength the way Becca now wants to lean on her.
Camila favors Becca and Jacob favored Alma. As long as he was alive, the family maintained a balance. When he died, Camila still favored Becca, and now Alma was the odd man out. There was no one to argue in Alma’s favor or distract Camila out of her intensity. And they’d all lost Jacob, but have a tendency toward denial.
Alma tells Jacob that she can’t do it if he’s not going to be there. While she’s speaking, we see images of her growing up years and the place where he should have been. Finally, we see Alma lying on the floor, her wrists bleeding out during a suicide attempt. Camilla finds her and tries to stop the bleeding.
Jacob apologizes for not being there for her, and asks her not to abandon him. She looks at him incredulously. “Don’t abandon you?”
This is the guy who didn’t even bother to walk her home from a strange neighborhood before running off. He didn’t even bother to call someone else to come get her. He left her all alone on the street all night long.
I don’t know whether Alma’s memory of the night her father died is accurate, but I suspect the emotional reality is. He took her to a strange place and left her alone, without a second thought as to how she’d survive. He thought Dorothy’s life was fun, and forgot about the Wicked Witch and the false wizard.
He needs her to choose now. She can choose to go back to the life she’s been living all along and continue on the same path, with marriage, kids, grandchildren and death, the same as most people. Or she could choose to live outside of normal time and space, without limitations, where anything at all could happen at any time.
He asks her if she remembers what she said about silence the first time she heard it. She says that she didn’t know it would sound so alive.
Jacob: “So what’s it gonna be?”
Camila: “She’s awake.”
Alma has repeated this emotional loop before. She’s felt her father’s missing presence during every milestone and she’s felt the pressure to be perfect in order to make up for his absence. She’s felt how scared Becca and Camila are that they will lose her too, which means that her life is not her own, and hasn’t been since her father died. She carries the entire family’s grief and unspoken emotions, and they swirl and loop inside her, clawing up her insides.
The secrets and emotional manipulation started even before her father died, as evidenced by Jacob’s sketchy behavior. If Alma stayed out until he came back for her, he could lie and say he’d been with her the whole time. Since Alma said she didn’t want to be left that way again, this wasn’t the first time he’d used her that way. He was building the Halloween lie on top of initially planning to hide that they’d been trick or treating a second time.
Beyond Mental Illness: Alma’s POV, States of Consciousness, Traumatic Brain Injury and Near Death Experiences
To expand on what I said in the recap about the way the audience is receiving information as filtered through Alma’s point of view, for example, she, and thus we, might subconsciously hear or see something in the background that she’d be able to remember later if she tried, so we’ll be given that information as well. Or another character might eventually tell her about something she wasn’t present for.
Otherwise, if Alma’s attention or understanding is compromised in any way, so is the viewers’. Since Alma is recovering from a head injury for the rest of the season, it’s safe to assume she’s always experiencing some conscious changing disorientation, which she might not even be aware of as it’s happening.
This means that what we’re seeing is her interpretation of what happened when she woke up, for example, probably not the entire conversation, and possibly not what was actually said. The show we’re given is what these situations felt like to her as much as it is a record of how things happened, so, as with memories, things don’t always make complete sense or line up with each other, even when you take away the time travel and other surreal elements.
Alma is recovering from a traumatic brain injury, which could leave her with dizziness, light and noise sensitivity, an inability to focus visually or concentrate mentally, migraine headaches, smell and taste disturbances, memory issues, tinnitus, other visual disturbances, sleep issues, and more. The effects can linger indefinitely if the accident triggers another neurological condition, as Undone seems to be implying. (Which happens more commonly than people realize.)
The choice to open this episode with the view from above the accident and the sound of a patient flatlining opens up the possibility that Alma is dead or that either the episode or the entire season takes place during a near death experience while she’s either flatlining, still in a coma or in a minimally conscious state, as she appears to be during hospital scenes.
A patient in a minimally conscious state has begun to awaken from a coma, but lingers in semi consciousness for an extended period of time. Even though they may seem awake, but drowsy or disoriented, they are still significantly impaired, just as we see with Alma. Their memories of the the period when they were in the minimally conscious state will also be impaired- either nonexistent or in and out, which is also shown with Alma.
Much of the episode follows the pattern of a near death experience (NDE). Patients who have NDEs often report a sensation of floating outside their bodies and watching as they’re resuscitated. Sometimes they can hear the thoughts of the people around them. This may be what’s happening in the hospital room when Alma hears her mother’s and sister’s frustrations with the timing of her accident and her perceived thoughtlessness.
Alma also runs through a strange hallway in this episode, which could be her version of the tunnel NDErs report experiencing. She meets with her father, who is dead, and travels to beautiful places with him that are outside of her waking experiences. They also review memories from her life. Then she returns to her own body.
The fact that Alma repeats the experiences could mean she continues to hover near death. Or it could mean that she’s in another altered state of consciousness, though she’s moved past the full coma. NDE-like experiences have been reported by people while meditating or in a deep state of grief. Alma tells herself that she needs to focus while she’s at the elevator. The ability to become deeply absorbed in an activity is the one personality trait commonly associated with people who’ve had NDEs.
When Alma reaches the end of the tunnel/hallway, she can’t get on the elevator with the floors designated by religious symbols. She runs into the glowing sheet, which is barely a light at the end of the tunnel, then watches her mother’s life pass before her eyes, instead of her own. She’s having the “powerlessness” type of NDE, which occurs when the patient fights the experience and finds it distressing. Distressing NDEs can become pleasurable when the patient stops fighting the experience.
Shamanism, Altered Consciousness and Mysticism
This is the second time that inserted dialogue by ancillary character(s) has been used to remind the audience that indigenous peoples often view intellectual nonconformity differently from western culture. In episode 1, Father Miguel’s sermon ran behind Alma and Becca’s argument and was easy to miss. In this episode, Alma runs through the Hollingsworths’ fundraising broadcast.
Jacob introduces the argument that shamanism and mental illness are two sides of the same coin in episode 2, an argument that will be extensively discussed, though not deeply examined, this season. He also argues that Western culture dismisses shamanism, unlike indigenous peoples, who are more spiritually evolved from his point of view. The use of the Aztecs also brings up a historical point of view.
The Hollingsworths views are clearly meant to be racist. Jacob’s argument borders on the racist view that primitive people are closer to nature and God than people of European descent because they are less evolved. There is an equally hurtful view that people of European descent are unable to get in touch with nature or God because, as a people, they’ve moved too far away from both concepts in some way and are now tainted beings who inherit the sins of their forebears.
The argument that people of color are closer to God and nature also dismisses the entire Western tradition of Judeo-Christian mysticism, not to mention the historical traditions of the mystery religions which continued to exist underground throughout the period when they were outlawed by the Catholic church and made a public comeback in the 20th century. There are also the pre-Christian European religions which were stamped out and have been revived in modern times.
The potential ability to seek altered states of consciousness and the wisdom they can teach, whether it’s through a near death experience, sacred dance, meditation, or a psychotropic drug exists in all people from all time periods, and it’s racist, misogynist and classist to say otherwise.
It’s only in modern times, since the Enlightenment and the rise of Science, that some parts of Western culture have denied this aspect of spirituality (it’s really not universal). Historically, our culture made room for mental differences of artists and mystics and their frequent need to live separately from society, or at least to live a very different lifestyle. Christian mystics could become monks or nuns. Great religious artists could find patrons in Renaissance Italy.
Even Jesus and the Bible make note of this, for example, in Luke 10:38-42, the story of the sisters Mary and Martha, in which Jesus visits the two and spends time teaching to the apostles and locals. Martha spends his visit organizing and doing housekeeping rather than listening to Jesus, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, one of his most attentive disciples. When Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping with the women’s work, Jesus tells her to leave Mary alone, because there is room in his church for members whose faith is shown through acts and members whose faith is shown through spiritual learning and thought.
In that speech, Jesus not only sanctioned mysticism, he sanctioned the mysticism of women and others who are often denied spiritual depth. The use of the Hollingsworths to mention Aztec culture is significant, because the religions and spirituality of indigenous peoples have so often been denied and exploited by dominant cultures. Jacob said he caused Alma’s accident because he wants to exploit her abilities for his own purposes.
Jacob’s potential exploitation of his own daughter’s abilities and suffering is something to keep an eye on. We been shown that the Winograd-Diaz household keeps many secrets. He may have put his own needs before his family’s in other ways, too.
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.