russian doll

The camerawork within the show adds a realistic touch, as the shots of New York help viewers explore the city's setting.

Netflix’s new dark comedy “Russian Doll” is a fantastic, plot-driven show that surprises viewers at every turn. Known for her fan-favorite role as Nicky Nichols in “Orange is the New Black,” Natasha Lyonne stars as Nadia, a game designer living in New York City who’s stuck in a “Groundhog Day”-like loop as she keeps reliving the evening of her birthday. Regardless of the choices she makes, she dies every night and immediately reawakens in the bathroom at the party being held for her.

Frustrated and confused as to why this is happening to her, Nadia goes on a quest to hunt down the person responsible for supplying the drugs at her party, thinking they could have been laced with a powerful hallucinogenic. She keeps coming up short until she’s about to die yet again, this time in an elevator accident, where she meets a man who calmly tells her that he “dies all the time.” This shocking revelation turns the show in a new direction and prepares audiences for the bumpy ride they are about to endure.

Much like its title suggests, “Russian Doll” unveils layer after layer in each episode all the way until its satisfying conclusion. Though the show heavily focuses on plot, it still manages to include well-developed characters who help draw in audiences. Lyonne, who not only starred in the show but helped produce, write and direct it, puts on a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of Nadia. Though she’s confident and sarcastic, it’s easy to see she’s struggling to deal with troubles from her past, and while she puts on a tough persona, she endearingly worries about her cat, Oatmeal, in every episode.

Charlie Barnett plays Alan, the man living through the same continuous cycle as Nadia. Unlike Nadia, Alan’s first death resulted from a suicide. He’s a broken and compulsive person who’s going through a rough patch with his girlfriend (who is played by Dascha Polanco, a fellow “Orange is the New Black” star). Though at first glance the two would appear opposites, as their lives become entwined due to their situation, they find more similarities in each other than first expected.  

The production aspects of the show were also phenomenal. The camerawork on shots of New York City were realistic and exploratory, helping viewers get a real sense of the setting. One part of the show that was particularly impressive was the music. Every time Nadia opened her eyes to discover she was back in the bathroom on her birthday, Harry Nilsson’s upbeat song “Gotta Get Up” plays to contrast with Nadia’s unwillingness to go through another round of her never-ending death loop. The song is also used for Alan’s continuous routine along with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.

The show’s finale was an amazing character study that provided a great send-off for Nadia and Alan as well as good insight into human morality. Nadia and Alan discover the reason they’re linked is because the night of their first death, they encountered each other in a deli and had the opportunity to help one another when it was clear they were both deeply unhappy. Instead, Alan was lost in a drunken haze and Nadia was too self-absorbed to see past herself. To fix their situation, they realize they must go back to that point and help each other. First though, they had to help themselves.

Alan makes amends with his girlfriend and acknowledges his own fault within the relationship. Nadia forgives herself for carrying the grief of her mother’s mental illness and death. Once their own wounds are healed, they are given the chance to find the other person and save them. Unfortunately for them, these chances exist in different timelines.

After plenty of convincing, Alan still manages to get Nadia to follow and believe him while Nadia prevents Alan from killing himself. The last shot follows both versions of the pair in a split screen as they walk through a parade in an alleyway. Before the transition back to a single screen, Nadia is briefly seen walking past another version of herself, symbolizing the end of the time loop and the guilt and pain she has been carrying throughout her life finally leaving her.

Contact Kira Baldau at baldaukb@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.