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A Review of "Russian Doll"... A Review of "Russian Doll"... A Review of "Russian Doll"

by Elisabeth Neruda
Visuals by Tori Fejfar

I binge watched this series in one day. Granted, I can and will do this with just about any show, but “Russian Doll” was one that not only required but deserved undivided attention. It was sci-fi without dragging me down into a self-reflecting “What even is time? What are we all doing here?” loop. It was funny while still developing well rounded and flawed characters. It was surprising and twisting without being confusing. “Russian Doll” is a show that is meant to be watched in one sitting and then meant to be watched all over because you will miss mind-blowing details the first time, guaranteed.

Created by Tori Fejfar.  Images courtesy of Netflix.

Created by Tori Fejfar. Images courtesy of Netflix.

The new Netflix show, “Russian Doll,” is a fresh spin on an often thought about question. “What if you had to live the same day over and over again?” It is the story of Nadia Volvokov, who on the night of her 36th birthday gets hit by a car and in that instant returns to her friend Maxine’s bathroom to start the night all over again. Despite the fact that this show was partially written by one of the all-time comedy great—Amy Poehler—this show has a much darker twist than you might expect, even for a show surrounding death. The deaths of Nadia, and then in later episodes her partner-in-tragedy, Alan, were never that gruesome or detailed. But as the show progressed and the loops got more dire, mental health and family relations played a much bigger part in the symbolism of the deaths. At the beginning,  it even seemed like this might be a nice situation; it gave Alan as long as he needed to try to fix his failing relationship with his girlfriend and Nadia could keep living it up at a party, but the unrelenting question of “Why?” loomed over the main duo as the days day dragged on.

But this question was never really answered. Is it slightly annoying? Yes. Did it set up future episodes very well? Also yes. It’s fun that we never really figured out why Alan and Nadia were the chosen ones stuck in this scenario. We never find out whether the universe has a vengeance, or if they are just bad people with karmic retribution, or some other reason. I think Oatmeal the cat is to blame, but that’s just me.  

The dynamic between Nadia and Alan was very wholesome and awkward and sweet and outrageous. They are two diametrically different human beings thrust together by the hands of fate? God? The universe? And change each other for the better. Alan started out so tightly wound and antisocial and Nadia so reckless, but by the end they had both let the other into the most intimate parts of their lives and that is what helps them save each other from their initial deaths. I suppose dying upwards of twenty times really makes you rely on those around you.

As Alan so eloquently said to Nadia, “Thank you for changing my life. Lives are hard to change.”

In general, the whole idea of time travel or multiple timelines really messes with my head. “Bandersnatch” —the choose-your-own-adventure episode of “Black Mirror”—made me question the entirety of my existence for a hot second after watching. Even “Stranger Things” lost me when relative dimensions of time and space and the Upside Down were introduced. This show, however, was not hard to follow— at least that’s how it seems. It lulls you into a false sense of “everything is fine.” The people, the set, the music, is all the same each time the day restarts but the closer you look the more things start to disappear and change. There were a group of 3 male actors who showed up in a number of the episodes, but every time in a new capacity. They were the drunk guys in the convenience store, they were the ambulance drivers, etc. Small details like that as well as small clues to the overall mystery were scattered throughout the show. This show made a real effort to pull you into the scenes and feel the anxiety that the characters had because as a watcher you assume that Nadia and Alan are getting the hang of their day and then all of a sudden fruit rots, or mirrors break, or people disappear.

There is also an abundance of strong female characters. They have women not afraid to openly enjoy sex without wanting a relationship. They have a working woman in the very male dominated field of computer programming. They have women supporting other women throughout rough patches in their lives. They have women openly portraying signs of mental illness and honest discussions about therapy and “craziness.” And this pertains to not only women, for they have a character contemplate suicide and with it, one of the most poignant lines of dialogue in the show be stated;

“You promise me I’ll be happy?”

“No. But I can promise that you will never be alone.”

This message was one of the show’s biggest takeaways—that even though the universe might be plotting against you, there are always going to be people in your corner and your actions are always going to affect someone. Although it made for more confusion, it was nice knowing that Alan and Nadia were trapped in death together, that they die at the same time. This was the reason it was so gut-wrenching when they are so close to each other at the end but so so far away. It was comfortable knowing that each loop she entered into was going to have the same people and the same events, and so devastating knowing that each time Nadia died, her friends mourned for her in an alternate timeline. No one in this show accomplished anything alone, all each of them needed was for someone to make sure they were okay.

This is a show I would gladly watch again, and am going to anxiously wait for the next season. There were so many hidden gems the writers included in the story, so many snappy quips from the characters; overall, a night of Netflix well spent. And it gets an extra credit point for Natasha Lyonne’s pronunciation of “cockroach”.