This article contains spoilers for Russian Doll season 2.
The first season of the Natasha Lyonne co-created and starring series put mid-30s New Yorker Nadia Vulvokov (Lyonne) through temporal hell. After attempting to celebrate her 36th birthday at her friend’s apartment, Nadia is struck and killed by a taxi only to “loop” right back to the bathroom of said apartment. Every attempt to make it through the night without dying brings her into death’s clutches and right back to the lavatorial starting point.
Now Russian Doll season 2 has upped the ante by introducing honest-to-goodness time travel. By entering into the 6 train (more specifically train no. 6622) on 77th Street, Nadia is able to travel back in time – first to 1982 and eventually all the way back to 1944. By getting to literally walk in her mother and then grandmother’s shoes, Nadia achieves a deeper understanding of her family’s past and even something approaching emotional release. For viewers, however, the experience can be a little confusing.
As is the case by definition in time travel stories, Russian Doll’s sojourns to the past aren’t perfectly linear. Nadia darts back and forth from 2022 to 1982 in the first few episodes of season 2. The end of episode 4 introduces the 1944 timeline, which Nadia is also able to navigate to and from before all of her time traveling interference collapses reality into a ball of mush.
By the end of the whole experience, both the viewers and Nadia have a rough narrative of the Volvokov family history in place. It may take more than one viewing to fully understand that narrative, however. So let’s spare you the second watch-through (unless you really want to do it!) by presenting the abbreviated history of Nadia’s family in chronological order.
The story of the Peschauer/Vulvokov family begins long before 1944. Hell, every family’s story does if you want to trace it back to Adam and Eve or the first single-cell organism. For the purposes of Russian Doll season 2’s saga, however, Budapest 1944 is where things start.
When Nadia travels back in time to 1944, she ends up in her grandmother, Vera Peschauer’s, body. A Hungarian Jew, Vera is operating under the name “Erzabet” to deflect attention from the Nazis occupying Hungary. Though World War II will end soon, taking the Nazi German regime down with it, existing while Jewish in 1944 Budapest is still an existential threat for Vera…particularly since her family was already taken away to concentration camps, never to be seen again.
Thanks to her knowledge from the future, Nadia/Vera knows that all of the Hungarian Jews’ possessions are being held in a warehouse and will eventually be placed on a train out of Hungary by the Schutzstaffel before 1945. Nadia/Vera infiltrates the warehouse as an interested buyer and eventually finds her family’s treasures in the basement.
Nadia/Vera then sneaks into a sewer, chisels out a hole in the side of it and deposits the valuables there. Thanks to Nadia’s experience in 2022 seeing stones left on a Christian minister named Kiss László’s grave, she knows he can be trusted as an Oskar Schindler-esque figure. Before departing for the future, Nadia gives László a map to the treasure and asks him to mail it to her after the war.
New York 1968
Thankfully László can be trusted and he does indeed mail the map to Vera after the war. In fact, the very first scene of the season (before we even know the significance of it) is Vera digging the Peschauer family treasures out of the tunnel.
In the year 1968, once those items are secured, Vera returns to New York with her friend Delia to visit an appraiser to have the belongings sold for South African gold Krugerrands (the most stable currency according to Delia). This is all good news for Vera. But for Nadia, inhabiting Vera’s body, it proves to be a sober realization. She went through all of this chaos only to secure the Krugerrands that her mother (and Vera’s daughter) will one day steal. It’s a closed time loop and there’s no way out.
New York 1982
Sure enough, Nadia’s mother Lenora (Chloë Sevigny) does steal those Kruggerands. With the help of her dirtbag boyfriend Chez (Sharlto Copley), Nora steals the Kruggerands from Vera’s home. While Nadia is in the past inhabiting Nora, Chez in turn steals the Krugerrands for himself. Nora visits Chez and is able to get the gold back but through what sexual alchemy she convinces him to give it up, Nadia does not want to know.
Instead of returning the Kruggerands to her family, however, Nora immediately heads out and buys an expensive car and some furs. With Nadia at the wheel of her mind, Nora then returns that car and furs and gets a sizable percentage of the money back. Unfortunately, when distracted by seeing Alan in another train car, Nadia takes her eye off the bag of Kruggerands and has them stolen.
The real question through the Volvokov’s family story so far is if this was the way things worked out originally or if Nadia’s presence influenced events. As Nadia discovers in 1968 though, the answer to that doesn’t really matter. Her presence is nothing other than a closed time loop. So whether her mother kept the car or returned it and had the gold stolen, the result remains the same: no gold as a nest egg for baby Nadia.
New York 2018
The events of Russian Doll season 1 unfold. You know the drill: “gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the mornin’ comes.” If you want a further breakdown of everything that happens in season 1, check out our recap over here.
One thing that’s important to note, however, is that we are now quite sure when the events of Russian Doll season 1 occurred. In season 2, Nadia explicitly mentions that the year is 2022 and that her 40th birthday is on March 30. Her 36th birthday would then be on March 30, 2018.
New York 2022
All of the action in the “present day” portion of Russian Doll season 2 takes place in 2022 – more specifically in March and April of 2022. Maxine (Greta Lee) prepares to throw Nadia another birthday party like she did in 2018. But Nadia would rather spend her birthday with her timeloop buddy Alan (Charlie Barnett) just to make sure nothing goes awry yet again. Of course, things do go slightly awry when Nadia first boards train 6622.
Throughout the season, Nadia repeatedly returns to 2022. She tracks down and meets a much older Chez to ask about the lost gold. She also meets with Alan to discuss their own separate time adventures. Through it all, Nadia’s version of 2022 is the “correct” version and similar to our own. That’s until she emerges from 1982 with herself as a baby.
The Void ∞
Predictably Nadia bringing her own infant self back from the past leads to reality itself becoming damaged. She and Alan are transported back to her fateful 36th birthday party and Nadia has to watch as her beloved Ruth gets stuck on a time loop of her own walking up the stairs.
In an attempt to bring baby Nadia back and fix this whole thing, Nadia and Alan rush to the train station and end up in what is described as a “void.” Consider this the very end of the timelines presented in Russian Doll season 2, though it might be more accurate to describe it as no time at all. This timeless space is an “empty pocket of time left over from the job not completed.” To learn more about the void and the ending of Russian Doll, check out our ending explained feature.
Ultimately, Nadia and Alan make it out of the Void and back to the “correct” 2022. That’s where the story of the Peschauer/Vulvokov family ends for now. Until Russian Doll season 3 that is…