In its original form, “Russian Doll” came as close to completion as any television program ever does. Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland had accomplished something absolutely dizzying, scary, and fantastic with the first eight episodes, which delved deep into the minds of cynical New Yorkers Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett) and then back out.
Rarely does a show half as ambitious or prepared to repeatedly hurl itself against the wall to see what sticks find a way to conclude itself satisfactorily.
However, this conclusion was as unforgettable as it was successful. And yet, three years later, here we are with Season 2 of a program that once felt as miraculously self-contained as anything on television. Why should the show return to a plot that has already been concluded?
As it turns out, this question is central to the implausible second season of “Russian Doll,” which premieres on April 20. It is difficult to discuss it without providing even a hint of the spoilers that Netflix prohibits, but I’ll do my best for Nadia and Alan.
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After the first season presented a horrific limbo in which Nadia and Alan kept dying and returning back to life on her 36th birthday, the second season begins a few weeks before her 40th birthday.
Materially, it appears that not much has changed: Nadia is still chain-smoking her way around the East Village; Maxine (Greta Lee) is still advancing the art of midday eye makeup; and Alan is still keeping to a rigorous schedule, albeit with a continuous stream of blind dates.
Even Horse (Brendon Sexton III), a resident of Tompkins Square who formerly haunted Nadia’s numerous deaths, continues to lurk on the fringe of her life. However, Nadia’s godmother Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley) is also deteriorating, and no matter how hard Nadia tries to deny it, time is running out.
It does not take long for the highly trippy arc of the season to become apparent. This time, only one tragic subway train is required to send Nadia and Alan on wild, unexpected travels into their respective pasts. (Think “Quantum Leap,” if “Quantum Leap” were about intergenerational trauma.) (Think “Quantum Leap,” if “Quantum Leap” were about intergenerational trauma.) With only 7 episodes to explore it all versus last season’s 8, Alan’s journey, unfortunately, receives less attention than Nadia’s.
Fortunately for Barnett, whose tender performance remains one of “Russian Doll’s” best qualities, Alan nonetheless finds himself at the season’s climax, just when the show and Nadia need him the most.
The majority of the season focuses on Nadia discovering what life was genuinely like for her mentally ill mother (Chlo Sevigny, Holocaust survivor grandmother (Irén Borán), and another character portrayed by Annie Murphy whom I cannot describe in any way until the show premieres.
Lyonne, much more in control of her on-screen persona than in Season 1, remains utterly fascinating as Nadia careens about in search of answers about her family (which, of course, is based on Lyonne’s own). And critically, as directed by Lyonne and Alex Buono, Nadia’s second descent down the rabbit hole has an entirely distinct appearance from the first, despite the fact that the two will inevitably converge.
Without disclosing the “how” of this season’s unique conceit, I will at least say that I am pleased that the “why” remains a scientific mystery. Perhaps other “Russian Doll” fans would like to know what continues making Nadia and Alan the improbable nexus of where time and space clash, but, to paraphrase Iris DeMent and “The Leftovers,” I’d rather let the mystery be and enjoy the journey. “When the world messes with you, don’t fight it,” Nadia says once she knows she’s back in some horrible temporal warp and resolves not to fight it.
It would not be realistic to claim that this iteration of the time-space continuum is quite as focused as the previous, nor that its conclusion is quite as viscerally satisfying, but it appears that this is more intentional than not. The manner in which Nadia unravels her family’s past mirrors the manner in which “Russian Doll” unravels its own stitches: chaotically, eagerly, and curiously.
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In tracking her family’s history and pain across the years, both Nadia and the show allow themselves to become messier than either would have anticipated at the end of Season 1. And if the show was determined to return to the beginning, it could have done a lot worse than making the muddled nature of revisiting previously established realities the entire purpose.
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What Was the Purpose of the Second Season of Russian Doll?
This action represents Nadia’s acceptance of her past; the Krugerrands were a “Coney Island,” a “what if” that weighed her down. In the season 2 conclusion of Russian Doll, Nadia finally embraces the present, and the Krugerrands become obsolete.
Why is Season 2 of Russian Doll So Dissimilar?
Season 2 of Russian Doll is so dissimilar from season 1 because the time loop had been fully utilized. The plot had been wrapped up quite cleanly, and Nadia and Alan’s indifference to their repeated deaths no longer provided any comic relief.