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Series / Russian Doll

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Nadia inside other Nadias.

Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the morning comes
What if I'm late, gotta big date, gotta get home before the sun comes up
Harry Nilsson, "Gotta Get Up"

Russian Doll is a 2019 half-hour dramedy Netflix Original on Netflix. It stars Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, and Elizabeth Ashley. It was created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler.

Nadia Vulvokov (Lyonne) is a video game programmer living in New York City who just turned 36. At the birthday party her friends threw for her, she decides to go home and sleep with Mike, a random guy she just met. After sleeping with him, she leaves, sees her cat Oatmeal on the other side of the street and goes to get him...and then gets hit by a car and dies.

And then she finds herself back at her party again. Back in the same bathroom, listening to the same song, always on her 36th birthday. And every time she tries to do something different, she eventually dies anyway and finds herself back in that same bathroom, listening to that same song.

If only she could figure out why this is happening.

A second season was greenlit pretty much immediately after the first season had aired, and filming was meant to begin in March 2020, but production was delayed for a whole year due to the filming restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 Pandemic in New York. The trailer for Season 2 was released on March 7th, 2022, and was released on April 20th, 2022, with the New York transit system playing a key role.

Warning: The series contains a major twist at the end of episode 3 that makes it tricky to talk about the show beyond that point without giving the twist away. Therefore, the twist is unmarked here. Read on at your own peril!

Tropes found in Russian Doll:

  • 24-Hour Party People: Aside from Nadia, Maxine, Lizzie, Mike, and a couple of other minor characters, everyone at Nadia's party is set dressing. This becomes much more literal later on as reality begins to break down and these minor players disappear from existence entirely.
  • An Aesop: We cannot go through life alone. Sometimes, we need to either help other people or allow other people to help us, and to do that, we must also acknowledge and heal what is inside of us and move on with our pasts in order to change our and each other's futures.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: New York is portrayed as a big city filled with innatentive drivers, selfish people and beggars who occasionally freeze to death. In season 2, the subway is portrayed as dirty, and with robbers that will steal your belongings, along with bystanders that don't care about a pregnant woman's plight.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Season 2 ends with Ruth's funeral. Despite Nadia's best attempts at time travelling to get Ruth, her mother, her family money, and herself in a better position, she fails at all of this, ending up back in the present, at Ruth's wake, both her life and her mother's still the same. However, while still grieving anyway, Nadia is surrounded by friends and has learned to accept that there are things she cannot change.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Zig-zagged with Maxine. She appears to be this at first, generously throwing Nadia a lavish birthday party and apparently caring deeply about how she feels, only to freak out and insult Nadia regardless of whether or not Nadia expresses gratitude and affection, implying that she has a lot of built-up resentment and doesn't really like Nadia. In the final loop, however, she does help Nadia get down the stairs.
  • Black Comedy: A lot of the deaths are like this.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • When she is at the jewelry store, Nadia glances at a store sign asking for Yep reviews in exchange for a 5% purchase discount. Yep is also how she locates Alan Zaveri.
    • Heisler beer is visible in a number of scenes, a common bland name product movie prop.
    • Rock and Roll games is a stand-in for NYC-based company Rockstar Games.
  • Book Ends: Season 1's beginning and season 2's ending is Nadia inside a bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror.
  • Broken Record: Harry Nilsson's song "Gotta Get Up" plays at least once per episode in the first season, often times far more than that. It plays as the first song Nadia hears in the bathroom at the start of her loop.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Nadia. She is far, far more intelligent and educated than she lets on. During one loop she manages to make it to a workplace meeting, where despite being hungover and clearly disinterested she fixes a critical bug in seconds. Once she meets with Alan and they begin theorising about the origins and meanings of the loops, she shows a deep knowledge of metaphysics and philosophy.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Nadia can be open on the time loop, knowing no one will remember when it resets.
    • In season 2, Nadia's claims that she's from the future and inhabiting the body of her mother naturally do not go over well, including landing her a stint in a mental hospital.
  • Central Theme:
    • Season 1:
      • Reaching out to others, family, friends or strangers, for help or to help.
      • Addiction and mental illness. How these things work in cycles.
    • Season 2: Inevitability. The past can't be changed. Sometimes, neither can the future.
  • Centipede's Dilemma: Discussed. Nadia says that you'll be unable to swallow if you think about swallowing.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The series starts out darkly humorous, but gets progressively more dramatic as it goes, and delves into some horror elements in the final two episodes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the middle of the series, Nadia explains why she carries around a gold Krugerrand necklace: her grandparents had bought 150 gold Krugerrands because they didn't trust in banks, but her mother had spent all of them except for one, which was all that remained of Nadia's college fund. In the last loop, this is how Alan gets Original Nadia to meet him, by telling her the exact amount of her college fund. The Krugerrands end up being a major plot point in season 2, as Nadia tries preventing them from being lost.
  • Cool Car: Nadia's mother drives an Alfa Romeo Spider, which is pretty much the go-to car in Hollywood for an exotic sports car that nonetheless doesn't look very expensive. In season 2, she tries preventing her from buying it in the first place (while discovering she probably took the name Nadia from the saleswoman in the Alfa Romeo dealer!).
  • Cool Old Lady: Ruth, Nadia's foster mother, who took care of her after Lenora became unable to.
  • Death as Comedy: Sometimes the deaths are serious, but most of the time they are this. Examples include: Nadia dying from falling down the stairs multiple times.
  • Death Is Such an Odd Thing: Inverted. In one loop, Ruth accidentally shoots Nadia, mistaking her for a burglar, and her horrified begging as Nadia dies makes Nadia wondering whether every loop continues after she dies, leaving the people who cared about her grieving.
  • Deuteragonist: Alan. He's the second main character after Nadia, only introduced in the third episode.
  • Died on Their Birthday: The majority of Season One is set on Nadia's birthday, and depicts her dying in a myriad of different ways and constantly being reincarnated to the same point at her birthday party (Although sometimes she does manage to live past midnight, dying instead in the early hours of the following morning).
  • Diegetic Switch: Nadia's birth happens with "Running with the Devil" in the soundtrack, fitting how she was born in the subway and had to be wrapped in a Van Halen t-shirt. The next scene has her mother in the hospital, with that song playing in a radio.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title can refer to a matryoshka doll, as a metaphor for the levels of personality development and soul-searching Nadia experiences, the way the world loses details and simplifies (people disappearing, fruit and plants rotting) as they enter deeper timeloops, or it could just refer to the fact that the protagonist is attractive and Russian-American.
  • Driven to Suicide: Alan. His first loop ended when he committed suicide after his long-time girlfriend cheated on and then dumped him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Both Nadia and Alan have gone through emotion and physical torture and finally figure out that they need to help each other during their first loop, but it's hard and complicated, especially as they find that they are in separate timelines. Finally, they figure it out and save each other.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Both Nadia's and Alan's loops begin while they are in the bathroom looking at the mirror. But while Nadia is at a party, Alan is at home and has precisely timed his loop so that he knows when everything is going to happen, like when he can kill a fly, when he can open the door for a neighbor, and so on. This shows that Alan is much more of a control freak than Nadia.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: The homeless woman who steals Horse's shoes is also hanging out with him in another timeline.
  • Female Gaze: Tons of sex and implied sex, but the nude and semi-nude characters are almost always sexy men, with a special shout-out to Alan's butt.
  • Foreshadowing
    • The vortex shape in the bathroom door is quite ominous and is hinted to be somehow related to the time loop, not to mention how the filmography focus on the door and the strange gun-shaped handle. However, the very first episode hints that it is actually a Red Herring, as a background conversation between Lizzie and Maxine reveals that the vortex was actually just a shape they made to decorate their bathroom and was actually supposed to look like a vagina. The first show of Alan's bathroom also shows that he does not have anything like it and he confirms that it is more likely to have nothing to do with the time loop when Nadia tells him her theory about the vortex.
    • The first time Nadia gets to the grocery store, she stares at the three drunks and Ferran's friend for a while, the shot is framed as if she's starring at two paths. It's later revealed that is indeed what happened; this was the moment she was thrown into the loop. Deciding to help Alan instead of mess with the drunk guys helped her avoid getting run over and stopped Alan from killing himself, thus ending the loop.
    • The second time Nadia goes to the grocery store, Nadia asks Ferran about his ill looking friend, but he answers that there is no one like this here. On the next timeline, the friend is with Ferran looking drunk again. This shows that there is something changing outside of Nadia's actions, meaning there is another person whose actions are changing in each timeline completely unrelated to her actions.
    • On the first timeline, Nadia gets to the second day, goes to her code review meeting and fixes a bug in her code. Near the end, she realizes the loop is essentially something similar: a bug in how they were supposed to function. For a bonus, at Nadia's code review she had to fix a bug in someone else's code to fix her part, much like she needs to help Alan to help herself.
    • Both Mike and Beatrice say that the reason she took so long to break up with Alan was due to fear of his reaction, since he was such a Control Freak. Beatrice turns out to have her fears confirmed when Alan remembers that his first death was a suicide after he was incredibly drunk and she broke up with him.
    • In a timeline where Nadia first visits Ruth in her house, Ruth is very insistent about keeping the door locked, mentioning that someone suspicious, possibly a burglar, has been around the neighborhood. In the very next timeline, Nadia goes to Ruth's house at night and is shot to death by her when mistaken as a burglar.
    • At one point, Ruth tells the story that Nadia's mom one day destroyed all the mirrors in their house. On the next timeline, the mirrors in Nadia and Alan's bathroom have vanished.
    • In the final timeline, Alan and Nadia are first shown in a shot showing them side by side separated by the bathroom wall. This hints at the fact that they are in separated timelines this time.
    • In an ambulance, Nadia staunchly refuses to take off her necklace. In a later episode, she explains its emotional significance and relevance to her backstory.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Maxine and Beatrice both have huge beautiful apartments in Manhattan, despite being, respectively, an indie artist and a grad student.
  • Gainax Ending: At the end of season 1 there are two separate timelines with a Nadia/Alan who experienced the time loops saving an Alan/Nadia who did not experience the loops shown side by side. Both of them have their respective Nadia and Alan coming upon an impromptu parade walking in the opposite direction. It cuts to the Nadia who experienced the loops taking a lantern from one of participants, and then suddenly she is part of the parade with two Nadias passing her by and the Alan who experienced the loops beside her.
  • Generational Trauma: Nadia is a troubled woman with self-destructive tendencies who ends up in a "Groundhog Day" Loop after dying on her 36th birthday. In the process of getting out of the loop, she's forced the confront the impact that her mother's mental illness and suicide had on her life. In the first season, it's hinted that all these issues ultimately stem from her grandparents' trauma and paranoia after surviving the Holocaust. This is elaborated on further in the second season when Nadia is able to time travel by taking over her mother's and grandmother's bodies. She desperately tries to alter the past to change her family's fate, only to realize that her actions created a Stable Time Loop.
  • Gilligan Cut: Nadia and Alan, both of whom are allergic to bees, joke that they'll probably die from a swarm of them. Cut to people running out of the subway.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: A twist on the standard trope. The loop doesn't have a set time limit, it instead resets every time Nadia (and Alan) die, and they become extremely death prone, so that they never make past one day beyond the reset point. As they continue making resets, the world slowly degenerates, providing an implied ticking clock to break out of the loop. Notably, no one ever mentions the time-loop similarity to the movie, even Nadia, who at one point proves to be pop-culturally aware enough to compare herself to Michael Douglas's character in The Game (1997).
  • Groundhog Peggy Sue: The premise of season 1 has Nadia and Alan working out what's causing them to forever repeat the same day until they die. The only way to escape the loop is they have to help each other by going back to their first loop. Alan has to help Nadia become a better person, while Nadia has to convince Alan to not commit suicide after being dumped.
  • Hollywood Game Design: Nadia is a video game programmer (and apparently also a former designer), but there are some unusual things about her profession.
    • She seems to work primarily from home, which is unusual for a video game company with a local office space.
    • There's a scene in which a video game producer announces that they'd "found a bug" in her code, and she spends about ten seconds fixing it, causing the game to resume functioning, isn't an accurate portrayal of video game production.
    • When Alan plays Nadia's first video game, an otherwise undetectable trap door opens up under his character and kills her, which is thematic to the story, but terrible game design.
    • The footage for Nadia's first video game looks more like an old indie flash game than a game produced by a company and sold in physical copies for a modern console.
  • Hope Spot: Alan finally forgives his girlfriend Beatrice and tells her the truth about what he's been feeling. Nadia meets her ex-boyfriend's daughter Lucy and gives her the book that meant so much to her as a child. They both think that this might be it, the last loop. And then Alan's nose starts bleeding and Nadia starts coughing up blood and Lucy turns into Young Nadia, saying "She's still inside you." And then the last loop actually begins.
  • Immune to Drugs: Nadia has taken loads of drugs and seems to be okay. She freaks out when she thinks that the cocaine in the cigarette Maxine gave her was a different drug she never had... until Maxine reminds that she did have that drug before and forgot about it.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Inverted. Getting shot is actually one of the few deaths that aren't over in the blink of an eye - which sucks as it makes Nadia notice the grief of Ruth who mistook her for a burglar and lets her wonder whether other people live on after she passes in each loop.
  • Jerkass: Nadia, but she's more a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. She isn't an outright Hate Sink, just that she is very depressed with everything around her due to her upbringing being hell in a hand-basket. She gets better as the series goes along.
  • Kavorka Man: Mike isn't that handsome and is a sleazeball, but goes through women like candy.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Beatrice, who is cheating on Alan with Mike, is incensed to find out Mike is sleeping with another woman.
  • Meet Cute: Nadia and Alan meet in a plummeting elevator:
    Nadia: Didn't you get the news? We're about to die.
    Alan: It doesn't matter. I die all the time.
    Nadia: Me too.
  • Mental Time Travel: In the second season, Nadia catches the subway and ends up in her mother's body in the past and later her grandmother's.
  • Missing Mom: Nadia's mother had a mental illness (it's never stated in the show what it was) and eventually couldn't take care of Nadia, so Child Protective Services placed her with Ruth, a family friend.
  • My Own Grampa: Sort of attempted by Nadia, as she decides to bring her newborn self to the future thinking no one would be better to raise that baby than herself - while she discusses it, she points out "being my own mother will give me an aneurysm".
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Not actually due to Nadia meeting her baby self, but rather her time travelling with the baby.
  • Newspaper Dating: In the first episode of season two, when Nadia notices the strange clothes of the train passengers and steals someone's newspaper which says "1982".
  • Once per Episode: Season 1, being set in a time loop, has a few recurring gags:
    • The song "Gotta Get Up" by Harry Nilsson is present in every episode, often it plays several times in an episode.
    • Maxine saying "Sweet Birthday Baby" at some point in response to Nadia entering the room.
    • Nadia making reference to the stairs being lethal to her at the front of the apartment, which Nadia refuses to go down after repeatedly falling down them. Nadia succeeds in going down them on the last loop.
    • After Alan and Nadia meet, they meet up and recount how they die. Some of them are more absurd than others.
    • One or more deaths of Alan and Nadia will be shown in every episode except the last.
  • Parental Savings Splurge: Nadia recounts a story that after World War II, her Jewish grandparents became leery of banks for some reason. Instead, they piled their money in South African gold Krugerrands, which they intended as a college fund for Nadia. They amassed 150 of them. Unfortunately, Nadia's mentally-ill mother squandered them and spent all of them but one, which Nadia wears as a necklace. In season 2, she tries to prevent those Krugerrands from being lost, and it doesn't work. And when attempting to get an alternate money source for her grandmother, she ends up making her get enough money to buy gold coins in the first place!
  • Passed in Their Sleep: In the loop where Nadia befriends Horse, the homeless man, she lets him cut her hair and then they fall asleep together outside. When she wakes up in the bathroom, she realizes...
    Nadia: I froze to death?! Jesus fucking CHRIST, that's dark.
  • Race Against the Clock: Unlike other "Groundhog Day" Loop stories, this series has an implied time limit, as the world slowly degenerates. Fruit and plants begin to rot, and things start disappearing, including people.
  • Red Herring: Since it's not clear what is causing the loops until later, the early episodes are full of these:
    • In the first two episodes, Nadia believes that whatever was in the "Israeli cigarette" she was given was responsible for the loops, but that isn't the case.
    • The apartment building used to be a Yeshiva, which is Nadia's second theory for being responsible for the loops. She seeks a Rabbi to try to translate an ominous phrase in Hebrew. It means "the Beit Shalom Torah school", which doesn't help solve the mystery.
    • In the first two episodes, Nadia could swear that she's met the bum Horse before, but can't place him. Ultimately it's left unclear if he has anything to do with the origin of the time loops, though he does appear to act differently from loop to loop.
    • The vortex-like shape in the bathroom door. It has an ominous blue light and it's the only noteworthy thing in the bathroom that Nadia keeps coming back to. The very opening of the season even has a long shot focusing on the vortex. Ultimately though, it is just a decoration.
    • A lot of hooks are set up for a Set Right What Once Went Wrong story where the loops are resolved by Nadia and Alan showing character growth. Eventually, both decide to mature a little, with Alan having an honest, open meeting with Beatrice instead of one where he desperately tries to avoid her breaking up with him, and Nadia opening up to her friendly ex John and meeting his daughter. Turns out that this was not the kind of character growth they were supposed to undergo, and being there for each other is what makes the difference.
  • Resurrection/Death Loop: Both Nadia and Alan are stuck in one of these, as the normal "Groundhog Day" Loop can only be reset by one of them dying - often leaving them more than a little traumatized as a result.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The second time through the series, you'll notice that people and things start disappearing much earlier then you probably did the first time.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Both Nadia and Alan have it. The problem, however, is when the last loop happens, they end up in separate timelines, where the other person doesn't have it.
  • Running Over the Plot: Nadia gets run over by a taxi on her birthday, resulting in her death. She suddenly finds herself back at her birthday party a few hours earlier and eventually realizes that she's stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop. Every time she dies, she ends up back at the party. Nadia spends the rest of the first season trying to find a way out.
  • Save Scumming: As per usual, with a "Groundhog Day" Loop, Nadia realizes that she can help people before she even meets them, such as saving the homeless man's shoes from being stolen. Alan actually sets up a routine to hold people's doors, call off (and tip) his fish-sitter and so on.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong:
    • Nadia and Alan eventually realize that they ran into each other on the first loop and had they stopped and helped each other, neither one would have died (Nadia wouldn't have gotten hit by a car and Alan wouldn't have committed suicide).
    • Nadia does it again in season 2, trying to prevent the loss of gold coins that made her mother and her grandmother fall apart, or get an alternate source of money to make her upbringing easier. It doesn't work.
  • Sex for Solace: Implied with many of the hookups on the show ("the hole where a choice should have been made"), somewhat more explicitly this when Nadia and Alan have sex.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Split Timelines Plot: This is the entire plot of the show. Nadia fears each timeline has people living on after she's died. Later on, a literal example happens, where Nadia and Alan have to save each other from their first deaths but are in separate timelines where the other doesn't remember ever dying. Season 2 does a change on this, as Nadia discovers she can time travel, inhabiting the body of an ancestor, but her attempts at creating a new timeline end up not changing history. On in one case, causing a Time Crash.
  • Stable Time Loop: In the second season, Nadia's quest to rescue the gold from the Nazi train to give her grandmother an alternate wealth after the Krugerrands are lost leads to... her grandmother converting the gold into Krugerrands.
  • Staircase Tumble: Several of Nadia's deaths are caused by this.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The first three episodes are from Nadia's POV, until she learns about Alan. And then the fourth episode switches to Alan's POV and the episodes after that go back and forth.
  • Tempting Fate: The two characters find out that they're both deathly allergic to bees. “I guess we’re going to run into a bunch of honeybees now.” Cut to people running out of a subway station while a buzzing sound is heard. Cut to the mirror.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted with Ruth, who is shown to be a very caring therapist, but neither Nadia nor Alan go to therapy for their issues. Alan, especially, is afraid to go to therapy. However, they do both eventually talk through their issues, and with Ruth's help at that.
  • Time Crash: In the penultimate episode of season two, time begins occurring simultaneously with weeks or years going by with every door opened and multiple versions of the same person appearing.
  • Time Loop Fatigue: Happens to Nadia. She hates constantly dying and it doesn't take long for this to start taking its toll on her. At one point, she worries that each loop might create an alternate universe where her deaths are permanent, leaving her loved ones mourning each time. Subverted with Alan. Even though he's reliving the worst day of his life — when his girlfriend confessed to an affair and dumped him the same night he planned to propose — he finds comfort in always knowing what to expect.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: The biggest point in Nadia's character development involves being more loving and appreciative towards people.
  • Visual Title Drop: At one point, Nadia finds a Russian nesting doll in Ruth's home. It's brought back up in a darker context when it's revealed that Young Nadia is "still inside" of Adult Nadia, like a Russian doll.
  • Where It All Began: Following the Time Crash, Nadia and Alan meet again in the birthday party of the first time loop, soundtrack and all.
  • A World Half Full: What Nadia and Alan ultimately realize:
    Alan: You promise me I’ll be happy?
    Nadia: No. But I can promise you you will never be alone.
  • Wham Episode: When Nadia meets someone else who's trapped in a death loop.
  • Wham Line:
    Alan: It doesn't matter. I die all the time.
  • Wham Shot: The opening episode of Season 2 has two in a row after Nadia gets on a subway, and is a bit struck by the old fashions folks have. She then grabs a newspaper (which has an ad for Tab soda on the back) to read the date of "1982." And right afterwards the bigger case is when Nadia gets a look at herself in the mirror and realizes whose body in the past she's in: "Mom?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In season 1, a lot of time is spent focusing on Nadia's relationship with John, but he's completely absent from the finale and it's Left Hanging whether or not the Nadia from the final timeline ever resolves things with him. Ruth also doesn't show up in the finale, despite being a steady supporting character for the rest of the show.
  • Which Me?: In the second season, Nadia (as Lenora) gives birth to herself and frequently struggles with referring to herself and the person she's inhabiting in the past.
  • Write Back to the Future: In the second season, Nadia draws a map to show her grandmother where the Krugerrands are hidden.
  • You Can't Fight Fate:
    • In season 1, Alan and Nadia will always die at the same time. Even if they seem relatively safe, both of them will end up dying. Even if it's a heart attack. The only way to fix this is to help each other in their first loop.
    • In season 2, Nadia tries to fix some past events to make her upbringing easier. It not only fails but ends up causing the events in the first place.