Russian Doll (Season 2): Review, Recap & Ending Explained
Created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll Season 1 (2019) followed Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a game developer who found herself in a Groundhog Day (1993) like situation, repeatedly dying and reliving her birthday night. While trying to figure out how to break the loop, she befriended Alan (Charlie Barnett) as he was also reliving the night he died by suicide. They freed themselves out of their respective miseries after realizing that they needed to save each other from their respective misery. Directors and writers Headland, Lyonne, Poehler, Allison Silverman, Jocelyn Bioh, Flora Birnbaum, Cirocco Dunlap, and director Jamie Babbit took this familiar premise and peppered it with relatable humor, profound explorations of the self, and a tear-jerking message about loving oneself so that you can love others. Russian Doll Season 2 (2022) has Nadia and Alan in yet another time-bending situation but something about it is off.
Spoiler warning: This article contains major spoilers for Russian Doll Season 2.
Russian Doll (Season 2) Recap:
Directed by Lyonne, Alex Buono and written by Lyonne, Silverman, Zakiyyah Alexander, Alice Ju, Lizzie Rose, Cirocco Dunlap, Season 2 of Russian Doll opens with an elderly red-haired woman extracting a bag out of a tunnel. Then it shifts to Nadia visiting Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley) to get her hospitalized. It seems like Nadia is trying to give up on her habit of smoking (which she did a lot of in Season 1) by just biting on the cigarette without lighting it. While talking to Maxine (Greta Lee), it’s revealed that four years have passed since the events of Season 1 and it’s Nadia’s birthday, again, and Maxine is again planning a birthday party, again.
Nadia decides to visit Alan since they’ve become good friends over the years. She takes the subway and sees Horse (Brendan Sexton III) on another platform. They’ve a weird interaction As the train arrives, Horse starts cackling and flips Nadia off. Nadia reciprocates the sentiment and gets aboard the 6 train, all annoyed, only to find people dressed in 80’s clothing. It’s only after she grabs a newspaper and reads the date that she realizes that she has time-traveled to 1982.
Nadia notices that her phone is missing and instead there’s a matchstick box with an address in it. She reaches there to wait out the fact that the universe is messing with her again. But incomes Chez (Sharlto Copley) swoops Nadia off to a house from where they steal a leather bag with something in it (which looks like the bag that the woman at the beginning of the episode was stealing). Chez is very hands-on with Nadia and Nadia consents to it. However, before doing the deed, she takes a trip to the bathroom and sees her mom Lenora (Chloë Sevigny) in the mirror.
Nadia doesn’t deduce it immediately but it becomes evident that Nadia hasn’t physically time-traveled to ‘82. Only her consciousness has. Probably because she’s a baby in Lenora’s belly during that time period. Nadia instantly bolts, takes the train back to 2022, and runs to Alan to tell him everything. Alan isn’t entirely convinced and goes to his date. Nadia pays Ruth a visit who tells her Chez is a con man and when Lenora was with him, she lost their family money. Nadia goes back to 1982 to check out the bag and finds her family Krugerrands in it. Soon after, Chez runs away with the money, leaving Nadia looking for him and her money.
While all this happens, Alan bites the bullet and takes the 6 train and he appears to land sometime in Germany. Nadia (as Lenora, please keep that in mind) wakes up in Vera’s (Irén Bordán) home, i.e. Lenora’s mother and Nadia’s grandmother. After a brief conversation about the money, Nadia goes after Chez only to hit dead end after dead end.
With no other option at her disposal, Nadia goes back to 2022 to use the internet to find Chez, and is informed by Maxine that she wasn’t around to receive Ruth when she was discharged from the hospital. Nevertheless, Nadia locates Chez, who is now old and interrogates him about the money. Which Chez says that the gold was a Coney Island, a hyper-specific metaphor to explain a fantasy that could’ve been lived if only one would’ve avoided a particular situation, which in this case is possessing the Krugerrands. Nadia goes back to 1982 and drops into a time where Chez has returned the money to Lenora and she has bought the Alfa Romeo Spider with it and she’s being ousted by Delia (Athina Papadimitriu), a fellow survivor from the time when Vera had to run away from Budapest due to the Nazi invasion.
While Delia lectures about Nadia (as Lenora) stealing Vera’s money, Ruth (the younger version is played by Annie Murphy) scoops her away and the two of them plan to sell off the Alfa Romeo in the hopes of getting back the Krugerrands. But they find out that Lenora didn’t buy it with Krugerrands. She paid in cash. So, they take the cash and go to the pawnshop where the Krugerrands are. The cash falls short and Ruth gives away her wedding ring to get all the Krugerrands.
On her way back to 2022, upon noticing Alan on a train running parallel to hers, she leaves the bag with the coins and tries to get Alan’s attention. She turns back and, of course, the bag is gone. After being woken by an MTA worker, Agnes (Carolyn Michelle Smith), Nadia goes back to 1982 to take another shot at getting the gold and goes to Ruth. After a brief detour to check baby Nadia in Lenora, Nadia goes to Delia to know all about the origin of the gold that will apparently save the Vulvokovs and her debt (after hearing about it from Vera), and starts researching all about it.
During all this, Nadia and Lenora’s identities become separate in Nadia’s mind and they interact with each other while trying to solve the puzzle around the gold. They come across a crucial piece of information the Jews whose possessions were nabbed by the Nazis, they were given receipts so that they could retrieve them later (which we all know was a ruse) That’s when Ruth calls the cops on her and she (they?) are wheeled into a mental asylum where Nadia not only understands what life was like for Lenora, but also that her prolonged stay in Lenora’s body is causing her mind to meld with Lenora’s. After returning to 2022, Nadia discovers the aforementioned receipt that was given to Vera and decides to go to Budapest in order to find out what really happened to the gold train. Between all this, we find out that Alan has been roaming around in East Berlin as a young Agnes, helping a group of German students led by her boyfriend Lenny (Sandor Funtek) to go from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Upon reaching Budapest, Nadia and Maxine track down the grandson of the Nazi who had given Vera the receipt for her possessions, i.e. Kristóf (Balázs Czukor) to know about the gold train. He takes them to a psychedelic party where Kristóf’s grandfather’s diaries with the details of his Nazi era are apparently stored. In 1962, Alan (as Agnes) returns to find out that Lenny is already gone.
In 2022, Maxine and Nadia wake up the next day after a night of doing intense drugs beside the grave of a priest named Kiss László. Nadia boards the train again and reaches Budapest in 1944 as a young Vera (Ilona McCrea). There she meets up with a young Delia (Franciska Farkas) who gives Nadia the directions to the warehouse which possibly has Vera’s possessions. She finds it all after digesting the amount of looting the Nazis are doing and puts it in the walls of the tunnel from earlier. Then, she gets hold of a young László (Ákos Orosz) and directs him to send a letter with the address of the place in the tunnel after the war’s over.
Vera, who we saw breaking through the tunnel wall in the first episode, gets her stuff. Nadia boards the bogie of the 6 train that lands her in 1968 and beside Delia. And they go to a pawn shop where Delia exchanges all of Vera’s belongings for, you guessed it, Krugerrands. That confirms the fact that all of this is a closed time loop and no matter what choices Nadia or Alan make in their respective timelines, it’s going to come to the conclusion that it did in the past.
Nadia confronts a young Lenora (Vaughan Marie Reilly) and tells her to not steal the Krugerrands when she gets older. On her way back to 2022, Nadia realizes that each bogie of the 6 train represents a particular time period, gets overwhelmed by it, goes into labor, and gives birth to herself, i.e. baby Nadia on the platform that’s been helping her time travel. At the hospital, Nadia confronts Chez, Delia, Vera, and Ruth, and realizes that her life cycle is going to begin again. So, she weirdly decides to take herself out of the equation and bring over baby Nadia to 2022.
This decision of Nadia’s causes time and space to collapse. Wherever Nadia takes baby Nadia, all kinds of anomalies happen. A dying Ruth shows up in multiple places. She comes across all the dead versions of herself that died during the time loop situation in Season 1. She even sees Alan’s dead body from the night he died by suicide. Alan returns to 2022 as well to find that the anomalies are limited to Nadia. It’s happening everywhere as he finds people from various timelines existing along with each other, glitching out, in 2022. Nadia goes to Alan’s apartment, hoping to find him, and goes into the bathroom. Alan ends up in Maxine’s bathroom. And the two meet up as “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson starts playing.
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Russian Doll (Season 2) Review:
As someone who absolutely loved the hell out of Russian Doll Season 1, Season 2 seems off for a reason. Whether that’s something the makers want the audience to feel or not is uncertain. There are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly and most importantly, Nadia and Alan’s narratives feel rushed. Season 1 connected them in a very cosmic and logical way. Although they had separate journeys, there was a solid in-world reason for it with a strong emotional core about the two saving each other.
Here, it’s loose and Nadia and Alan are merely tethered by the fact that Alan’s grandmother Agnes was there at her birth? Which is alright. You don’t have to follow the formula of the first season to justify the characters’ journeys. But when the season is just seven episodes long, it feels both of those journeys feel unfocused and emotionally abrupt, as in, it fails any kind of sentimental crescendo before it ends.
That brings us to the second point: the focus of the character journeys. Seven episodes aren’t enough to give Alan and Nadia a good climax. A lot of attention is given to Nadia because she’s the poster girl of the show and her plot is somewhat personal because it’s all about her family jewels. But as soon as they cut to Alan, whose entire plot is helping some guy get through the Berlin Wall, the balance is ruined.
It’s not a plot that you can’t behind because students revolting against Nazis is powerful, tragic, and inspiring. However, when it’s not given enough time to marinate, the endeavor feels hollow and performative. On top of that when Alan/Agnes’s emotional investment in it is confusing, you don’t get to latch onto it. The same can be said about Nadia’s as she essentially becomes a time-traveling Indiana Jones for major chunks of the show, thereby making the soul-stirring realizations about her mother’s worldview fleeting.
Thirdly, the dialogues just didn’t hit this time. The one thing that can be expected from the writers to carry over from the first season is the punchy (and hilarious) dialogue that opens doors to meaningful thought exercises about existence and our purpose in this ever-expanding universe on this slowly decaying planet. In the second season, the dialogue-writing is sometimes too expository (which is necessary because there’s a lot to unpack), sometimes it makes the characters just say what’s on-screen (even though we can see what’s on-screen) or repeat an analogy but in a different way, and the humor is simply missing.
Season 1 gave way for some great physical comedy and Natasha Lyonne killed it. Season 2, not so much. There’s a lot of walking around and pointing at things and exclaiming. It’s fun if you love Lyonne but it gets boring after some time. At the cost of sounding repetitive, maybe it can be intentional. Maybe that’s what the tone the makers are going for and it just didn’t work for me.
Season 2 is undeniably ambitious, both in terms of its narrative and its visuals. Whenever the production team is given the task of recreating certain time periods, you just know that the makers really swung for the fences. Every frame, every costume, and every street is filled with minute details that make for an immersive experience. The void that Alan and Nadia eventually fall into is creepy and mind-blowing at the same time
The direction, cinematography, editing, and score are quite exquisite. The performances from Lyonne, Ashley, Lee, Copley, Murphy, Sevigny, Bordán, Papadimitriu, Barnett, Michelle Smith, McCrea, and Farkas are fantastic. They honestly do a stellar job of keeping you tethered to the emotional journeys of Nadia and Alan while the show comments about the after-effects of fascism that transcend space and time. The show’s message about not dwelling on the past and only learning from it to take steps (even though some of them can be mistakes) towards one’s future is relevant. However, sadly, that’s where the positives end. There’s a distinct possibility that there’s more to Season 2 than what’s meeting my eye and I wish everyone finds it.
Russian Doll (Season 2) Ending Explained:
In the final episode titled Matryoshka (meaning Russian Doll), for some inexplicable reason, Nadia, along with the baby version of herself, meets up with Alan on what seems to be the night of Nadia’s birthday in Maxine’s apartment. Alan realizes that Nadia bringing herself back from the past has caused time to collapse. Nadia argues that she had to take herself someplace safe. But she means that she didn’t want her baby version to go have the same life she has lived. Alan counters by saying that a time-collapsing version of the world isn’t exactly safe.
While they are arguing, part of the apartment turns into the Jewish school it used to be and the students start to party along with Maxine’s guests. Alan still tries to convince Nadia to return things to normal. However, Nadia feels compelled to listen to him only after seeing multiple versions of Ruth coming up the stairs, endlessly.
On their way to the wretched train station, they come across people from various timelines going about their life. When they reach though and the train doesn’t arrive at the designated time, Alan suspects that it is stuck in some kind of limbo since time isn’t moving linearly anymore. They come across an MTA employee who is seemingly trying to get away from Nadia and Alan and is later revealed to be Horse. Nadia asks him about the train since he’s kind of the only person/being that can see through all the space-time conundrum.
Horse says he’ll say so but for a price. Alan says he can’t help them. That’s when Horse says a peculiar thing while looking at the baby: “We’re both fathers. I respect that.” But Alan isn’t a father and we don’t know if Horse has or had one (does he?). When Nadia agrees to do a tradeoff, Horse takes them to the train which is just standing still in one of the tracks underground.
Before parting ways, Horse keeps obsessing over the baby and if it’s fine. That could be random or Horse is interested in the baby version of Nadia because she’s a product out of time and the source of all this chaos. So, if he gets her, he can wield her to create more chaos and somehow benefit off of it? The logistics around Horse is dicey, so, let’s just keep it at that. Nadia and Alan pay off Horse and board the train.
Maxine and Lizzy are seen holding an urn. They ask where Nadia has been all this time. And the more they talk, the more Nadia understands that Ruth is unfortunately dead and has been cremated. Alan says that they need to get off the train. Nadia starts to have a panic attack and says that she needs to go to Ruth’s wake. Alan forces Nadia off of the train. Nadia calms down eventually and they start talking about what they were supposed to do.
As Alan talks about being unable to help Lenny, Nadia comes to the conclusion that maybe they weren’t meant to change anything. They had to understand that the past can’t be changed, only learned from it to change the future. That’s when two trains coming from opposite directions at Alan and Nadia collide and send them, and baby Nadia, hurtling through a space-time portal into separate places with large column-like structures and lots of water.
Alan finds a door leading to somewhere while Nadia is forced to choose between the bag of Krugerrands or baby Nadia because she can’t carry both of them. Nadia chooses baby Nadia and soldiers on. Alan meets his grandmother Agnes and has a mini panic attack about not being able to save Lenny. But Agnes tells him that he or she wasn’t supposed to and things went exactly as they were meant to go. Agnes also reassures him that Alan shouldn’t be too afraid to make the wrong move and live a little.
Alan asks her what’s this place they’re in and Agnes says it’s a void, an empty pocket of space leftover from an incomplete job. As more workers start to enter, Agnes urges Alan to follow the blue lights and exit the place. As Alan leaves, Agnes says that there are so many empty forgotten places under the city that it’s a surprise that the city doesn’t cave in, which could be a commentary on the city expansion plans or a city’s forgotten history.
Meanwhile, Nadia goes through a similar door and ends up in the train and in front of Lenora. Like Alan, Nadia asks Lenora if she’s dead. But unlike Agnes, Lenora explicitly says she doesn’t know. Then, Lenora asks if Nadia had the choice to choose her mother, would she choose Lenora again? Nadia looks around to see the old and young versions of Ruth, Vera, and herself (Brooke Timber) sitting around. She tells Lenora that she didn’t choose her first time but she knows that that’s just how the story goes and returns Baby Nadia to Lenora.
The lights in the train flicker and it turns into the 80s bogie. Vera, Lenora, and Ruth cross Nadia. Nadia looks at Vera, asks Lenora what station they’re at (to which Lenora snarkily replies that she isn’t the train conductor), and tells Ruth that she didn’t have an obligation to love Nadia but she did. On that note, she bids goodbye to everyone and makes her way to Maxine’s apartment in 2022 to attend Ruth’s wake as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd plays.
Horse briefly crosses Nadia but doesn’t say anything. She enters Maxine’s home, hugs Lizzy and Maxine, and sees Ruth’s photos being projected onto the screen. War Dog (Waris Ahluwalia) gives her one of his signature cigarettes. She finds Alan and stands beside him for a moment. Then she goes back into the now legendary bathroom (out of which an old woman comes out who looks eerily similar to Nadia) and looks at where the mirror is supposed to be and smiles while smoking the cigarette. And then we cut to black.
To quote Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020), the moral of Russian Doll Season 2 is, “What’s happened, happened, it’s an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world, it’s not an excuse for doing nothing.”
Russian Doll (Season 2) is now streaming on Netflix
Russian Doll (Season 2) Links – IMDb, Wikipedia
Russian Doll (Season 2) Cast – Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee