What would you do if, on your 40th birthday, you kept dying and coming back to that same party? This was the premise of the first season of Natasha Lyonne’s dark comedy Russian Doll. When it got renewed, however, many were puzzled on how the writers could continue it. Thankfully, the mad geniuses of Lyonne and her co-creators Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland knew exactly what to do: continue the madness and dive more into main character Nadia Vulvokov’s trauma!
Russian Doll’s second season is a body swap comedy. Sort of. Nadia transports to the 1980s in the body of her pregnant mother… but she can also see and talk to her mom. Her mom basically becomes her imaginary friend. Think Fight Club, but if Tyler Durden was Edward Norton’s mom. This season is wild and occasionally a bit messy, but it certainly packs an emotional punch. No matter how crazy the sci-fi concepts get, the profound intimacy that Russian Doll creates is always able to ground you.
Russian Doll Season 2 is, for all intents and purposes, Natasha Lyonne’s One-Woman Show. This is honestly for the best, as Nadia Vulvokov is a very layered character and it is a wonder to witness her insane internal monologues. Even the character of her mother (played by the legendary Chloë Sevigny) is a product of Nadia’s imagination and past. The wonderful Charlie Barnett’s Alan Zaveri is still in the show and fairly important, but he has undoubtedly taken a backseat to Nadia this season. As Nadia breaks down her and her mother’s life, so does Charlie — her partner in chaos.
The second season delves deep into a theme the first season began: Nadia’s generational trauma. For one, many of her relatives were Holocaust survivors, but her mom also dealt with mental illnesses that contributed to a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Throughout the course of this season, Nadia is dealing with her own trauma that comes from her mother’s trauma and trying to heal for both of them. Whilst in the body of her mother, she’s accompanied by her mom’s best friend (Annie Murphy), who watched over Nadia for years. This leads her to make one particularly devastating revelation. Unfortunately, trauma and decisions stick around, so she can’t do anything about this heartbreaking realization. This leaves the series with one of the most devastating season finales (and even series finales, should this not get renewed) of all time.
The thing that has always made “Russian Doll” stand out is its combination of absurdity and beauty. The show is so strangely shot that it’s almost nauseating, and yet this is somehow entirely to its benefit. It uses flashing colors, first-person POVs, and shaky editing to fully immerse the viewer. Without the direction of the show, the zaniness of the show wouldn’t feel complete. It all feels like it’s from Nadia’s perspective, and as off-putting as it can feel sometimes, it is undeniably beautiful.
Even though this could be the last time we see Nadia, the show has made such a lasting impact on so many people, including me. In my eyes, Russian Doll will always be one of the most creative and heartbreakingly funny shows out there.