You probably remember the movie Groundhog Day, in which Phil (Bill Murray) is stuck in a loop of living the same day over and over again. It’s what many have likened the Netflix original Russian Doll, and honestly, I can see why. Russian Doll, in many ways, is almost a 2019 reboot of the family classic but much darker. The show centres around 36-year-old Nadia (played by Natasha Lyonne who also helped produce and the direct the show) who finds herself reliving the night of her 36th birthday every time she dies. In some ways, the movie is also similar to Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch episode, just without the interactive elements an annoying song that plays every time the main character reboots.
Before I proceed, it should be noted that Russian Doll is a show best watched without any prior knowledge of it but the basic premise. So if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, watch it first – and then read the reviews! The show is structured in such a way that any deeper exploration of the main synopsis will probably give away major spoilers, so beware!
Around the 24-minute mark of episode one, Nadia gets hit by a car, triggering the first “loop.” However, this is only met with confusion and somehow even more profanity and drug abuse as Nadia falls down the stairs and twists her neck, meeting her second death. Most of the show portrays Nadia, and eventually Alan, another victim of the death-reboot loop, trying to avoid death for as long as they can and figure out what exactly is going on. You might even wonder why the pair can’t just try harder to not die. However, we soon find out that it’s something beyond their control, almost as if the universe is playing some kind of sick Bandersnatch-esque game with them. In episode 6, entitled “Reflection,” Nadia jokes that the only thing that could kill her in the subway station is a swarm of angry bees which she is “deathly allergic” to. In response to this, the universe unleashes a swarm of bees in the subway onto both Nadia and Alan as well as the general public.
What I love about the show is that it doesn’t offer any real clue as to why the loops keep happening until episode four when Nadia first encounters Alan properly in a doomed elevator ride (an eagle-eyed viewer might have spotted him in the first episode as Farran’s drunk friend who spills soup all over the floor). However, it doesn’t hesitate to insinuate possible explanations for Nadia’s situation. Sometimes the camera lingers on her cat while other times, it focuses on Horse, the local homeless man. At one point, Nadia blames the “Israeli Joints” that Maxine got her for her birthday which turn out to be laced with ketamine rather than cocaine. While some critics call it throwing ideas at the wall “to see if they’ll stick,” it could be the show’s way of telling Nadia and Alan that the answer was inside them all along. All the ideas brought up play some role in the real answer, revealed throughout the final two episodes, much akin to Netflix’s Maniac and its dream sequences. The show doesn’t try too hard to explain itself which I find really interesting as it leaves room for fan theories, rewatching sessions (as meta as that is!) and perhaps even more seasons.
russian doll spoilers without context pic.twitter.com/Tp8JOcbgG6
— aspen (@daddynichoIs) February 2, 2019
Many of my friends whom I’ve begged to watch the show have complained that this show is too much like its predecessors. I agree that the premise of being “stuck in a loop” is a well-recycled premise (which, ironically, is what made me watch it in the first place). However, much like its protagonist, Russian Doll is a breath of fresh air with enough swearing, dark humour and existential dread to keep you thinking about it for weeks to come. This is why Russian Doll is the 2019 “reboot” of much-loved classics such as Groundhog Day. With the heart-wrenching scenes involving Nadia’s mother and Ruth, as well as the oddly wholesome ending, Russian Doll is a story to be savoured and remembered for a long time after you’ve watched it (and re-watched it!). The characters may be flawed, but the storyline and performances, combined with the soundtrack and retro fashion, are far from it.
Featured image credits via Netflix.