‘Baby Reindeer’ Recap & Detailed Breakdown: What Happened In Donny’s Past?


Adapted from comedian Richard Gadd’s play of the same name, Baby Reindeer is a new drama series streaming on Netflix, with some crime drama shade thrown into it. Based on actual incidents, the plot follows a failing stand-up artist, Donny Dunn, who comes across a woman named Martha and soon finds himself in great trouble, as Martha turns out to be a serial stalker. Despite having numerous comic moments, the series also reaches excellent depths of darkness, which are shocking and moving simultaneously. Overall, Baby Reindeer makes for a very entertaining and profound watch, holding on to its fervor until the end.

Spoiler Alert

What is the Netflix series about?

Baby Reindeer begins with the protagonist, Donny Dunn, walking into a police station to report an ongoing matter that has him feeling nervous. For many months now, Donny has been stalked by a woman he met while working as a bartender, and she has been repeatedly sending him emails and messages on social media. While these actions by themselves are perhaps not very alarming, the sheer number of messages and emails that the stalker has been leaving is truly unnatural. As Donny approaches the police officer and tells him about this strange situation, he is simply asked a question in return—why had he not reported the incident earlier? After all, it had been six months that the stalking had been going on, and yet he had not found it suspicious enough earlier. In response, Donny does not know what to say, and he confusedly stops himself from making the report. Through his narration, he then takes us back to the day when this situation started for the first time, to the day he met Martha. 

Six months earlier, Donny was still a struggling stand-up comedian, having to work as a bartender in order to make ends meet in a costly city like London. After having moved to the city with an ex-girlfriend, Keeley, Donny started living at her family home, and even though the relationship had ended, he was still living in the same house, accompanying Keeley’s mother, Liz. Life was definitely not great for the protagonist, as people hardly enjoyed his unconventional humor, leading to him getting very showy. During such a time, while working as a bartender, Donny first met a woman named Martha, who happened to walk into the bar right during his shift. As mentioned in his narration, Donny’s very first emotion towards Martha was feeling sorry for her since her out-of-shape body and her sad, disgruntled face seemed related to each other. Martha stated that she could not afford to order anything off the menu and that made Donny feel even more sympathetic, and he offered her a free cup of tea, on the house.

This small act of kindness was enough to impress Martha, and the woman started visiting the bar on a regular basis. Very soon, she befriended Donny, and he, too, did not mind the company or the attention he would get from her. Although he wanted to keep things between them restricted to friendly boundaries, Martha clearly showed signs of physical and romantic interest. Donny’s inhibitions were let loose during one of his stand-up comedy performances, in which Martha interacting with him from the audience made the show a success with the crowds. However, her incessant messaging on social media and email platforms also worried Donny, and he looked up Martha’s name on the internet which left him stunned. While she had claimed to be a lawyer by profession, with ties to all the big political names in England, Martha Scott was actually a serial stalker, having even served a prison sentence of four and a half years for stalking.

What had happened in Donny’s past?

Since Donny is himself narrating the story of his misfortune in Baby Reindeer, his introspection into some of the unexplainable actions he had committed becomes part of the narrative. For example, Donny is simply not strict enough with Martha in the early days of their friendship, and it is very evident that he gets drawn into her charms only because of the attention that he gets from her. After all, he likes being in the limelight of the world, as he finds most comfort and joy in performing stand-up comedy shows on stage, in the midst of people. But he is regularly deprived of this joy, as people hardly ever visit his shows, and hardly anyone enjoys his style of comedy even if they do. Therefore, Martha’s presence is like having a friend and an entire crowd right at his disposal to give him all the importance and self-confidence that he craves. 

But the matter turns stranger than usual when Donny starts to realize that his new friend is a stalker, and Martha even turns violent and abusive when he tries to build a distance between them. Yet, he is unable to keep himself away from her company. When he sees Martha sit at the bus stop in front of his house on a regular basis, to the point of almost freezing to death, the man once again feels the same sympathy and pity that had brought him so much trouble, and he once again grows close to the woman. Although the protagonist does try to clearly state to Martha that he does not want to have any romantic relations with her, there is a sense of duality in him that he himself is confused by. Despite wanting to stay away, he is already addicted to the company and the attention, to the extent of feeling himself physically desiring Martha as well.

While it all seems slightly hypocritical of Donny to be frustrated at his stalker and yet not report her to the police, both at the same time, there is actually a more deep-rooted problem amidst all this. The reality is that the young man is still reeling and coping with a shattering experience he had some time earlier, which had deeply affected the very foundations of his life. It all began with Donny enthusiastically going to Edinburgh in an attempt to explore the comedy scene in the city and earn some credits for himself through his performances. However, his illusion broke very soon, as he realized that hardly anyone was interested in watching comedy shows, especially when football was on. He still persevered and continued performing at a pub while self-doubt and a sense of failure started to creep in. Around this time, Donny learned of a nightclub that anyone important in the area would frequent, and he visited the place in the hopes of finding new contacts.

It was here that he met Darrien O’Conner, the writer of a TV show he had much loved, and the experience is almost too good to be true for Donny. He convinced Darrien to see him perform at the local pub, and the established TV writer agreed, even giving the protagonist tips about how to improve his writing. Donny was ecstatic about the appreciation and importance he was getting from such a famous personality, and he absolutely looked up to Darrien as his mentor and guide. Following the man’s advice helped Donny pull in crowds, but he soon lost interest in performing when Darrien stopped attending, as the latter had already returned to London. It did not take long for the protagonist’s life to return to the same usual routine, and so he left Edinburgh and enrolled in an acting course in England, where he met Keeley and fell in love with her. 

During this whole time, Donny kept writing text messages to Darrien, driven by the appreciation and promise of brilliance that the TV writer had stated he saw in him. Eventually, Darrien replied and agreed to take the young man under his wing, an act that was perceived as a huge favor by the protagonist. Despite the difficulties in his professional life, Donny was absolutely committed to his art, and therefore, he naturally enjoyed being told that there was enormous talent and potential in him. However, Darrien O’Conner had very different motives with the man, as he technically groomed the writer into taking drugs and then getting intimate with him. Donny did not mind the drugs, as he felt it all to be important for his expression and writing, but when he objected to the intimacy, Darrien brought out his vile nature by drugging Donny and forcing himself upon him.

Although Donny did not remember exactly what had happened to him, he did guess that his body had been violated, following which he faced a severe mental crisis. Despite having inhibitions about Darrien not being a nice person to spend time with, he had repeatedly returned to the man, only to ensure that his skills in writing would be improved. In turn, Darrien had simply broken all self-confidence in Donny, along with making the protagonist go through extreme trauma and confusion. Along with everything else that had changed in his life, he also still missed the appreciation and attention that the TV writer had falsely shown him, which was basically part of his grooming process. Thus, when Martha came along and showed the same interest in him, Donny could not hold himself back and was drawn to her no matter what, despite realizing too well that her company was extremely unhealthy.

Why does Donny struggle with relationships?

Donny Dunn is an incredibly lonely person, at least in the first half of Baby Reindeer, until his parents are not introduced. Even when we do meet the parents, it is clear that the son is not very close with them, and this is particularly because of his experience in the past. The horrific trauma of Darrien’s abuse had crippled Donny emotionally, too, as he could no longer have any romantic connection with anyone. This had positively changed when he first met Teri, but he still had a lot of undesired inhibitions. The abusive experience had changed Donny’s sexual orientation, as is not uncommon in many such cases, and he had grown an interest in men, which he himself is unclear and confused about. As a result, he had gone through a series of romantic flings with both men and women and did not find anyone interesting enough beyond physical attraction. Although he did feel very different with Teri, the fact that she is a transwoman is a matter of guilt and to some extent, shame for Donny.

The protagonist is constantly afraid of being judged for being out with a transwoman, and so he wants to hide his relationship with Teri as much as possible. The shame and the guilt are obviously effects of the trauma that he was still dealing with internally, as he had not told anyone about the experience. It was also because of this reason that Donny did not report Martha to the police initially, as he felt that her crime of stalking and threatening him was so insignificant when compared to what Darrien O’Conner had done. Gradually, this thought becomes more pertinent in Donny’s mind, and he eventually lets it all out during a comedy show, shocking the crowds with his upfront and honest confession. This incident was secretly recorded in a video by someone in the crowd and uploaded to the internet, making it go viral. This sudden development brought a lot of sympathy and support to Donny’s way, and he was called to various shows, podcasts, and events to talk about his experiences.

This situation, in turn, makes Donny reveal the truth to his parents as well, and much to his surprise, they are extremely supportive and loving towards him. His father was always perceived as extremely firm and stern to the entire world, including his own son, and Donny feared that he would be angry after knowing that his son now had queer interests. However, the father reveals that he himself had to go through traumatic experiences while growing up as a Catholic missionary, and this support from his parents finally heals Donny massively. But his viral video also brings the wrath of Martha upon him, as she starts stalking and threatening him once again, this time even getting hold of his phone number and leaving him voicemails. As a result, Donny’s relationship with Teri does not work out, and they eventually break up.

Did Donny finally get rid of Martha in the end?

Despite the happy turn of events in Donny’s life, the ending of Baby Reindeer is not really happy or reassuring. Following the reentry of Martha in Donny’s life, he finally gets the police involved in a serious capacity, and when the stalker physically assaults him, it ultimately leads to an investigation. Martha is sentenced to nine months in prison by the court, with five years of restraining order, and she breaks down in court, stating how she genuinely loved Donny. Confused and intrigued by the strange nature of the woman, Donny had started looking for answers as to why she was so determined in her pursuits, to the extent of not caring about laws and ethics. He goes through all the mail and texts she has left him and listens to all the voicemails from Martha in an effort to study her life. 

Around this time, Keeley also welcomes him back to her home, feeling sorry for the experiences he had had in the past, which had actually ruined their relationship. Feeling confident in his fate and wanting to resolve the one last hitch, Donny goes over to the house of Darrien O’Conner. However, neither does the TV writer show any guilt or remorse for his actions nor is Donny able to confront him. Instead, Darrien offers Donny the chance to be a part of the writing team for his TV show, and the protagonist happily agrees to it. Soon after leaving the place, he realizes that he is making the same mistakes as before and yet cannot give up the chance to work on an almost dream project.

As Donny listens to one of Martha’s voicemails, he realizes that she too had been a victim of trauma, and possibly abuse, during her childhood, and he starts to relate to her in these terms, suddenly growing guilty for sending her to prison. This is obviously not a healthy or normal thought to have, and it only shows that the protagonist is still ultimately stuck in a loop of sympathy, guilt, and suffering. At the end of Baby Reindeer, Donny is seen going to a pub, where he orders a drink, only to realize that he has no money on him. Seeing Donny’s sad appearance and disheveled state, the bartender offers the drink for free, and Donny is immediately impressed by this small act of kindness. The look in his eyes suggests that Donny will now become too attached to and obsessed with the bartender, perhaps to the extent of stalking him and trying to be with him despite his unwillingness, just like Martha. 

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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