Netflix’s latest treat has come in the form of the comedy, ‘Russian Doll’, that effortlessly breaks away from any preconceived notions that you might have about it. By now, we have seen a lot of stories that have used the premise of time loops, but none of them had the character arcs and the thematic discussion that ‘Russian Doll’ so expertly touches upon. Its comedy is subtle, acting is top-notch, and the impact is profound. Like a matryoshka, it seamlessly covers up the heavy themes with its attractive casing. If you haven’t yet seen the show, I’d advise you to come back to this article later, because here, we’re going to break through all the layers.
Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) is a software engineer who is in the business of designing games. It is her 36th birthday, and her friend, Maxine, has thrown a wild party for her. There is drinking, dancing, a bit of cocaine wrapped in a joint, and an encounter with a stranger. Everything goes well until Nadia dies. For a normal person, it would have been the end. But, for Nadia, things are just getting started. Because in the very next moment, she finds herself back at the party. Confused and irritated, it takes a couple more dying sessions for Nadia to grasp the idea that she is caught up in a time loop and that there is no escape from it. And then, in just another repetition of the events, her path crosses with that of Alan’s. She learns that he, too, has been reliving the same night over and over again, though his life is quite different from hers. Considering that they are the only ones stuck in the loop, they unearth connections between themselves, in the hope of finding a way out.
The Game and the Players
For three episodes, we are kept under the impression that it is explicitly Nadia’s story. As we’ve often seen in other films, time loops are, generally, focused on a single character. For a while, ‘Russian Doll’ maintains the same façade. However, by the end of the third episode, the show actually begins to fulfil the meaning of its name and splits into half to reveal another story nested within it- Alan’s.
Even though their fates seem strongly connected to each other, Nadia and Alan are the representations of two very different kinds of people. Nadia is a cynic who doesn’t bother herself with making strong connections with anyone. She has seen some difficult times in her life, and these experiences have ingrained some harshness inside her which often comes out in the form of sarcasm. However, she also ends up hurting the emotions of people who really care about her. Maxine and Lizzie are her closest friends, but even they have faced her difficult side. For instance, Nadia’s comments on Lizzie’s endeavours discourage her from taking significant decisions in her life. She doesn’t adopt those mastiff puppies, and doesn’t get married to Gina!