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Russian Doll: Season Two

“There’s time for everything.”

Russian Doll’s first season was perfect; there was no need for a second. But I’m glad there is another season, since it’s just as delightful—and considerably less tense—than the original.

Everything else I have to say is a spoiler.

If you read past that sentence, you know what this season is about: time travel, the 1980s and Nadia’s mom, the 1940s and Nadia’s grandma, Alan’s grandma in 1962 East Berlin (“an alternative to western colonialism”—the one nice thing to say about East Berlin), regular life in 2022, cats, turning 40, and having great hair.

Natasha Lyonne, star and co-producer of Russian Doll

The first season kept me on the edge of my seat: How was Nadia going to get herself out of that pickle? And, once things got macabre and ghostly, I was on tenterhooks up to the end. But this season, Nadia is more active than reactive, which is calming in a way. She seemed confident (mostly) in her ability to move from era to era in order to make the plan, execute the plan, watch the plan go off the rails (pun!), and make a new plan.

Nadia has always been a boundary-pusher, from the constant smoking (regardless of location) to the way that she’s notorious for being late, no-showing, Irish-exiting, and so on. Her friends are her friends, perhaps, because they’re willing to deal with Nadia as she comes rather than as they might want her to be.

But this season really made clear Nadia’s superpower: she’s not a rule-breaker. She’s the sort of person who breaks rules that no one has invented yet. Alan puts it best, when he points out that despite everything she has read about people accidentally obliterating themselves through time-travel, she somehow managed to double herself.

Nadia’s character is what makes this season so compelling, since the plot is basic time travel in the “you can’t change the past” mode. I was completely content to just ride along on this journey, and didn’t spend too long thinking about the paradoxes Nadia was trying to create. After all, she didn’t seem to think too much about them, either.

The supporting characters are a grab-bag. Nadia’s friends continue to annoy me: Lizzie is post-ironic. Maxine is post-post-ironic. Both seem like parodies of the sorts of hip New Yorkers who don’t think of themselves as hipsters.

But I loved Delia. I loved the few moments we got with Alan’s grandma (as herself, post-Berlin). I really loved Danny, who works at Crazy Eddie’s, and I wanted to see him in the second half of the season. (I briefly hoped if Adult Nadia would ask Danny to babysit Baby Nadia, just so the show could work him in again.)

He was just so cool in a normal way.

And Ruth! Ruth in both the 1980s and the 2020s was so fabulous, so solid, and such a great maternal figure for Nadia. I thought it was extremely bittersweet that Nadia was so busy dealing with her own family’s nonsense that she managed to miss Ruth’s passing. There’s a message there, but one the show didn’t belabor.

And now, finally: the time travel. The mechanics of the body-swaps (if that’s the right word) were interesting, especially how Nadia gradually absorbed her mother’s schizophrenia, and more quickly absorbed her grandmother’s fluency in Hungarian. I did wonder if Nora or Vera remembered actions Nadia had taken, but that was never addressed.

The locations were convincing, too. The 1980s were pure, pre-Giuliani New York. (The 2022 years, on the other hand, were obviously pre-Eric Adams, since there were still subway buskers and homeless people, two populations that the current NYC mayor seems to really dislike). I loved the Guardian Angels and am afraid to google them, because I really, really, really want them to be a real thing.

I wish we’d had more time to spend with Alan’s grandmother: a Ghanian woman studying engineering in East Berlin in 1962—that’s a show I’d happily watch many, many episodes of!

The 1940s were incredibly tense; Nazis are never very fun. But I’ve been reading a lot of mid-century British literature lately, and some of the jokes, like young Delia being certain the Soviets would save Hungary, were totally perfect for the moment.

It’s the vibe, the mood, the thing, though, that kept me watching and enjoying this season. Natasha Lyonne could make a soliloquy in Hungarian about watching paint dry fascinating, and somehow she’d subvert all my expectations for doing so. Her offbeat, improv-ish, non-sequitur dialogue and verbal patterns were so unusual, yet still seemed so real.

I’m glad she came to realize that she can’t change the past, nor should she, because then she wouldn’t be who she is.

One question: how many krugerrands would you bet on the idea that Nadia’s susceptibility to time travel was caused by getting smooshed between two timey-whimey subway trains as an infant? It’s stealing a plotline from Doctor Who, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Bits and Pieces:

• I love the very New York use of the subway as a vehicle of time travel, and I started to wonder what the show would have used in other places. In Southern California, for instance, it would obviously be about freeways, probably with hidden exits and entrances. Can you think of any other analogues?

• Nadia’s entire look is basically what I wish I could pull off, but I know I never could.

• I love the set dressing on this show, too, especially all the books in Nadia’s and Ruth’s homes. I wish I could see the titles of what’s on their shelves!

• I did some googling to see if any eagle-eyed viewer had posted close-up screenshots of the bookshelves, but had no real luck. However, I did find a fascinating article from the production designer about how they staged Nadia, Max, and Alan’s apartments.

• Nadia is still afraid of the stairs in Maxine’s building! I thought that was hilarious.

Four out of four cock-a-roches.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Josie, thank you so much for your review!

    While I didn't quite enjoy this season as much as the first, I loved that they found a new direction, and that Nadia was so in control of where and when she went. Young Ruth was wonderful. And you're so right that Natasha Lyonne could read the phone book and I'd enjoy watching her do it -- she's amazing.

    It seemed odd that Alan had so little to do -- was that maybe covid-related?

  2. Haven't seen this yet but I want to pop in to say that the Guardian Angels are a real thing! They'e still active today too.

  3. I didn't love season 2 though I felt it improved as it went along. I can't really disagree with what you've written in your review, but for me the lack of tension was a bit of a problem. I was never really engaged by the whole quest for recovery of the family money because I just didn't believe success would really change Nadia's life for the better. And Alan's whole story line felt undercooked. Alan's grandmother was a really interesting character, but there wasn't enough time spent to really develop any attachment to anyone else in that time line.

    Maybe I was expecting too much and the period pieces were fun but it didn't work for me as well as the first season.

    @Honest Fangirl, I remember the Guardian Angels existing vaguely but didn't know they were still around.

  4. I think one reason this season wasn't as intense as S01 was Nadia's attitude. In S01 she was discovering and figuring everything out as she went along and we were right there with her. In S02 she'd been there and done that. She was like "I'm a New Yawker. I can put up with anything!" I agree with Magritte that Alan's story was a bit half baked. I still loved RD and spent almost all of it riveted to Nadia's face between those two forests of red. Loved the way she moved like Harpo Marx.
    The only alternate venue for RD I could come up with was New Orleans. Muggy streets, raunchy dive bars (Nadia does love to drink), and voodoo weirdness ("Don't go in that restroom!"). In that climate Nadia's hair would inflate like a blimp!
    I loved the back and forth between you and BD over payment. Now we know how the sausage is really made! She did pay you, right?


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