Netflix Review – Russian Doll: A New Take on Groundhog Day (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland bring you this story of a woman who can’t stop dying.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) is a 36 year old software engineer who hooks up with a guy named Mike (Jeremy Lowell Bobb) at her birthday party hosted by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) and attended by Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson), Nadia’s friend, and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia’s surrogate mother. Later that night, while trying to find her missing cat, Nadia is hit by a car and dies.

RussianDoll - 1Bathroom
However, her hair is unaffected.

She awakes back at the same birthday party. She finds out that she is now on fate’s hit list. Every cycle, within a few hours to a few days, she dies somehow (usually violently) and restarts at the same time at the party. She works to figure out exactly what it is that she needs to do to move on with her life.

RussianDoll - 2.jpg
However, she does not learn how to look where she’s going.

END SUMMARY

So, as I pointed out in my list of 5 (really 7) Groundhog Day episodes of television, there are a LOT of TV shows and films that use the mechanic of one person re-living the same experience over and over again. Groundhog Day isn’t the first, but it’s probably the most famous because of how well that movie portrayed the cycle, with it always being one day, whether Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors lived to the end of it, but others have played with the length of the loop or the mechanics of remembering. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) was basically the first-person-shooter video game situation played out through a movie. ARQ was about loops where multiple people can remember the loop. Run Lola Run allowed the rebooted Lola’s previous lives to physically impact the next run. Doctor Strange uses a time-loop to force a deity-level threat to give up trying to take over Earth. Happy Death Day puts a survivor girl in a slasher film in a position to get killed repeatedly while trying to figure out how to beat the killer. It’s a fairly used trope, to say the least, which is why it’s good that this TV show manages to make the show more about the characters, particularly Nadia, rather than about the mechanism itself, one of the things that Groundhog Day excelled in. Also, it manages to not mention a single one of the above movies, but doesn’t make it obvious that they’re NOT mentioning them, so you don’t really think about it.

RussianDoll - 5Friends
Her friends are usually drunk when she starts the loop.

The first few episodes, as you’d expect, are mostly Nadia trying to figure out what’s happening. While she doesn’t immediately jump to “I’m in a time loop,” the exploration period actually doesn’t feel too long, because she thinks of more rational explanations like “I’ve been drugged” or “I’m going crazy” before she hits “Space-time continuum rip” or whatever. After that, it’s about trying to stop the loops. It gives the season enough variety to not feel overly repetitive, even for a show that’s literally about repeating things.

RussianDoll - 4Drugs
To be fair, she does do drugs.

The acting and writing are both amazing, with full credit to Lyonne for doing both at different points, including doing the script for the excellent season finale. Her performance conveys her feelings of uncertainty, both about her life and about the loops, while also putting forth her insecurities and inner strength. She’s a real person, though not a genre savvy one, being found in a crazy situation. Her interactions with her co-stars, particularly Charlie Barnett’s Alan Zaveri, are all excellent and each connection fleshes the character out further.

RussianDoll - 3Elevator
Chemistry… just a weird kind.

Overall, this is a solid show. It just keeps getting better with more elements added until the great ending. Cinematography, acting, writing, and direction are all top notch. Give it a try. Speaking of endings, however, that brings us to the…

****SPOILERS****

If you’ve seen the show, you know that eventually Nadia runs into Alan Zaveri, another person who is reliving the loops, in fact looping at the same time as Nadia. Alan is revealed to have killed himself out of despair at the same moment that Nadia was killed by the car during her first loop. We then watch the loops start to degrade, with the universe going away, until finally Nadia lets go of her past guilt over leaving her Mother (Chloe Sevigny) who ended up dying and Alan gives up pursuing Beatrice (Dascha Polanco), his girlfriend of 9 years who has been the focus of much of his life. After both of them finally get past their hangups, they find out that they have looped again… but separately. There are now two universes: One in which Nadia remembers Alan and another where Alan remembers Nadia, and each of them now has to save the other. So, what happened?

RussianDoll - 6Split
Mirroring is a thing in the show.

Well, the show doesn’t definitively say it, but the leads to propose an idea and I think the narrative reinforces it: Both of them were supposed to be saved. Nadia was supposed to save Alan, which would lead to her not being killed by the car. Instead, because Nadia was having a crisis over her birthday (due to it being the age her mom died), she made a different, self-destructive choice. Alternatively, Alan should have kept Nadia from sleeping with Mike, which would have saved her life, but instead Alan chose to wallow in despair and kill himself. When each of them manages to truly move past what’s keeping them stuck in the past, time finally resets. If you’re wondering why it’s degrading, I think it’s the universe’s way of saying that they either need to move forward or the deaths will just stick. Nadia’s takes longer, because it’s harder for her to move past, which is why her last few deaths are more graphic than Alan’s.

RussianDoll - 7Glass.png
Particularly this one.

However, while both of them are now the kind of people who can save the other, they’re no longer the kind of people that need saving. In other words, they’d be violating causality if they reset together, so the universe solves the problem by splitting them into two different worlds: One with the old Alan and the new Nadia, another with it the other way around. Then, we watch the worlds play out, finally seeming to merge in the last scene, with everything the way that it was supposed to be.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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