This Russian Doll article contains spoilers.
Netflix’s new must-binge series Russian Doll landed on the streaming service at the start of February to rave reviews. It’s a high concept comedy, drama, sci-fi horror created by Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler, and Natasha Lyonne, who also stars in the show as Nadia, a woman who we meet at her 36th birthday party.
Nadia is an acerbic heavy drinker and smoker who also enjoys quite a bit of drugs and carries an enormous weight of guilt on her shoulders. At the party, she gets wasted, goes home with a total douchebag, and later goes to find her lost cat Oatmeal, when… Well, you’ll have to scroll down for the end of that sentence since Russian Doll is definitely a show best watched cold. Already seen it? Come this way…
So since you’ve already seen season one, you know that Nadia is hit by a car and dies. Only she doesn’t die, she wakes up in the bathroom at her own party, confused and experiencing some serious deja vu.
Gradually it dawns on her that she’s lived this before. Is she actually dead? Is she in purgatory? Or is this some kind of multiverse situation? What starts a bit Groundhog Day (or indeed Happy Death Day) becomes something even more complicated and magical-realist.
Russian Doll is packed with twists and turns as well as a fair bit of existential debate. It’s also massively moving and extremely sweet. We loved it, and while we’d love to be back in Nadia’s world, hellish though it is, Russian Doll is great as a standalone series. By the end, we understand what’s happened to Nadia and Alan (Charlie Barnett), and equilibrium in their worlds has returned (somewhat).
The initial massive kicker towards the end of the last episode that they’re now in two different timelines is softened and sweetened by the knowledge that our versions of Nadia and Alan (we’ll use this phrase to refer to the ones we’ve been following throughout the series, not the other iterations) have resolved to save the original versions of Alan and Nadia – they have become each other’s guardian angel at the breaking point in their own respective timelines, and we can see that the other Nadia and Alan have already started making better choices for it.
And then at the very end, in the parade led by Horse, the timelines merge back (we missed this on the first watch and had to go back again to check). Though our Nadia and Alan join the parade in separate timelines, there’s a moment where we see our Nadia walk past herself (going in the other direction), and when the angle flips, we see our Alan with her again (we know these are our Alan and Nadia because Alan’s wearing the red scarf given to him by Lizzy’s girlfriend and Nadia is wearing a white blouse — as opposed to the black top the other Nadia is wearing).
It’s perfect basically.
But Netflix knows it’s onions and something as cool and popular as Russian Doll isn’t getting away with single-season perfection, no sir! A second season hasn’t been announced but we’re sure it’s coming, especially given the creators pitched Russian Doll as a three-season series.
“We definitely pitched it as this three-season idea and yet it’s so interesting to think about how that shapes and morphs in the time since making it,” Lyonne told The Hollywood Reporter.
So what might we expect from season two and what threads could be taken forward? Here are our thoughts:
Infinite alt-timeline Nadia and Alans
At the end of the series, our Nadia and Alan are back in the same timeline together. So which timeline does that leave the other Alan and Nadia in (who we’re going to call 1st gen Alan and Nadia)? Are all the Alans and Nadias in the one timeline? Are the 1st gen Alan and Nadia even in the same timeline as each other? And what will happen if they meet but are clearly not the same Alan and Nadia as they’d met previously?
Russian Doll seems to be suggesting that there are infinite timelines, so it’s highly likely we’ll get to some alt-Alans and Nadias. Perhaps season two will allow us to see how different the 1st gen Alan and Nadia are as a result of meeting our Alan and Nadia so Alan doesn’t kill himself and Nadia doesn’t go home with the aforementioned douchebag. What will their lives look like now?
There are any number of possible timelines we could visit and the idea that it’s possible for timelines to cross opens season two up to even more possibilities. We can’t dive too far down this rabbit hole without our brains coming out of our ears, but we’d definitely except more alt-timeline Nadia and Alans.
Alt-timelines without Nadia and Alan
Nadia posits that it’s possible that the timelines in which they die carry on for everyone else. This becomes a major motivation for her avoiding meeting John’s daughter, Sarah, for breakfast, concerned that she might die again in some horrific way and that witnessing that would be massively damaging for the young girl. In a later timeline, Nadia does go to meet Sarah, gives her the book Emily of New Moon and then coughs blood in her face as she dies.
So let’s say she’s right.
While the show isn’t likely to work without its two protagonists being in it at all, we could conceivably see glimpses of what happened in some of the worlds where she and Alan are dead. How do the other characters react to their deaths? What effect does Alan and Nadia’s absence from the world have? It’s all a bit A Christmas Carol, but this could be an interesting development.
The first death
In episode one, before what we perceive to be Nadia’s first death, she sees Horse across the street and says she thinks she knows him. So is our first meeting with Nadia in the bathroom at her party not actually the first time she’s died after all? We’re told Oatmeal’s been missing for days too, and we know that things disappearing is a symptom of the glitching from multiple time loops (we later see Oatmeal vanish into thin air).
So is it possible that this isn’t her first death? And if so, will that be further explored in a second season? A show that messes about with timelines but also the very concept of the relativity of time would certainly not be out of place taking us into the past.
Are there others?
Nadia and Alan find each other while sharing an elevator, which begins plummeting to the ground. While everyone else panics, Alan and Nadia do not, with Alan explaining that he dies all the time. Nadia then cunningly tracks him down via the jeweler where he bought the engagement ring intended for Beatrice (Dascha Polanco). We learn that these two are linked, with their deaths coinciding.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others, either linked to the two or possibly linked to each other. Could season two introduce us to others who are in the same predicament? Or have we perhaps already met some of them? Horse, for example, is linked to Nadia in every timeline, dying by her side in the iteration where they both freeze to death.
At the end of season one, Nadia is with Horse and his parade dancing a macabre path through the city. Since for Nadia (and us) the timeline is reset every time she dies and comes back, we wouldn’t actually know if Horse also dies at the same time, and he conceivably could.
We’d definitely expect to see more of Horse in season two. Are all of his gang in a time loop? Or is something else going on with this band of misfits?
When Alan is lured over by Horse in one timeline and horse says something like, “I’ve got one,” what did he mean?
Or are Horse and the gang something else entirely? In the Rabbi’s office, his assistant says a prayer for Nadia which she translates as “angels are all around us.” This could be referring to our Nadia and Alan, who become guardian angels for other versions of each other but it could be something to do with Horse.
Of course, season two could go totally high concept, The Good Place style. If Nadia and Alan are actually dead and in purgatory throughout the whole of season one, which is possible, have they now righted enough of their wrongs to move on to another plane? Are Horse and his gang really the equivalent of Charon-esque ferry people shepherding the now enlightened versions of Nadia and Alan on to the next place?
“I definitely have ideas that range from the really out-there anthology to staying on board with our friend Nadia. And maybe it’s all one idea. Certainly, what we pitched and the heart and soul of Russian Doll, I’d love to continue to get to work in that way,” Lyonne told The Hollywood Reporter.
Quite honestly, anything is possible for this show and we can’t wait to see where it goes.
Russian Doll is streaming on Netflix now.