Russian Doll Season 1 follows Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a 36 year old game designer that’s celebrating her birthday with a party. We meet her with all her red frizzy hair staring into the bathroom mirror, sort of prepping herself for the fun shenanigans ahead. Unfortunately she gets into a car accident whilst chasing her cat Oatmeal and dies. We are then transported back to the same bathroom in front of the mirror with Nadia, repeating the same night again. Once more she dies, this time falling into the East River. Then she meets Ben (Charlie Barnett), a person suffering from the same misfortune: a never ending time loop ending in death. Together they do everything they can to break this cycle.
Russian Doll Season 2 catches up with the characters four years later. Nadia and Ben have a new set of problems. Both find themselves traveling to the past via subway car. Nadia inhabits her mother Nora’s (Chloe Sevigny) body in 1982 while Ben finds himself inhabiting his grandmother in 1962 West Berlin. Nadia sees this as an opportunity to fix the past, specifically to recover golden krugerrands that were stolen from her mother years before. Ben meets a boyfriend of his grandmother’s named Lenny and a number of student rebels who are trying to dig an underground tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall. The consequences of either character’s tampering with time are unclear.
Season 2 arrived last week. In a trend that’s alarmingly common primarily due to the pandemic, the second season arrives over three years after its first season, a very large gap in time that challenges not only the patience of a collective audience but its recollection. It’s easy to forget a show that’s not been on for years. It’s sort of like meeting a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages and listening to the ramblings of said friend with the friend assuming you know what he or she is talking about when you have no clue. It’s a bit insensitive, but so it goes.
While there have been some instances of this in the past - with delayed productions on the sets of The Sopranos and The Wire coming to mind either due to salary re-negotiations or the wavering fancies of a cable network respectively - it should remain an exception to the rule and not the rule itself. It might be a bit melodramatic of me to say these are trying times when I am in fact discussing a TV show, but these sort of void periods or breaks that shows are taking do not do much to add to the luster of said shows. Euphoria is another more recent example of a sort of time hole that now exists between its premiere in 2019 and the second season in 2022. At least creator Sam Levinson was kind enough to provide two 1-hour episodes-designed as short portraits of two of its main characters Rue and Jules- early last year, abating fan outrage some.
Regardless, Russian Doll Season 2 is a living breathing being now out in the world. Unfortunately this being has amnesia and is not of much help to its audience who is so very eager to find answers to so many riddles and clues that popped up in Season 1. Apparently, creators Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne had other things in mind, like turning the entire series from a horror version of Groundhog Day into some type of abstract time-traveling family mystery. I’m not saying it’s bad! But I do think it’s not what the fans may have wanted. One of the better elements of season 1 was its many secrets, its world-building that made us so eager to know the inner-workings, the logic to all this apparent chaos that most storytellers have all figured out.
Unfortunately, Russian Doll Season 2 does not answer many of the questions it proposed in Season 1. I guess instead we must look toward Season 3. Apparently, a three season lay-out is what the creators had in mind. Personally, I just want to know why its called Russian Doll. Am I missing something?
I may not be in the majority. Season 1 ended with a kind of moral redemption for both main characters and I’m sure many were okay with that. Just as some will be satisfied with the storytelling side-step the creators took with Russian Doll Season 2. The show deftly handles timelines and multiple versions of characters with careful consideration. Just because it doesn’t provide the answers I so eagerly crave does not mean the show is underdeveloped or lacking substance. In fact I think the opposite is the case. The characters are well-drawn out and somewhat complicated. Natasha Lyonne has stated that Nadia is a genderless hero. Identity is a big theme for the show and there are no easy answers in this exploration for meaning and truth.
So, while late on arrival, most audience members will be happy to be reunited with Nadia, Ben and all the other characters, new and old, that appear in Season 2. Hopefully as viewers, we won’t have to wait another three years for a third season. Any further unrecovered space in time should be written into the show and not be the result of delayed production.