“Russian Doll” is exactly what its name suggests and much more. The wooden dolls gathered inside each other, with a tiny version of it at the center, symbolize Nadia, the protagonist. She is layered just like the dolls with a version of her childhood she cannot seem to get past, even at the age of 36. The dolls can also be interpreted as the mother and the child and the strained relationship that she shared with her mother, who died after turning 36. When Nadia is stuck in a time loop, she dies and returns to the same birthday party that her friend, Maxine, had organized. The characters repeat the same dialogue, and Nadia is desperate to find the truth behind it. The death and reappearance can be connected with video game characters, and Nadia, a software engineer, had designed games herself. From thereon, her 36th birthday is of primal importance as she gets to decide how she will be as a person from that point.
Season 1: Plot Summary – What Is The Series About?
At the center of the series is Nadia, a woman who just turned 36. She is an independent person who prefers to navigate her life all by herself, much like the central character of the first video game she designed. She runs away from dependence and long-term commitments. However, her 36th birthday helped her bring her life into perspective. Every time Nadia died, she reappeared inside Maxine’s new apartment’s washroom. The washroom had peculiar elements as well, particularly the fact that the door had almost an outlandish neon structure at the center, somewhat similar to popular culture’s depiction of a time travel portal. The moment she stepped out of the bathroom, she was greeted by Maxine, who offered her an Israeli joint laced with cocaine. The loop started when Nadia was hit by a car after she attempted to grab hold of Oatmeal, her cat, on the other side of the road. Throughout the series, Nadia searches for Oatmeal because she believes the presence of the feline would cheer her up. She even compared herself to Oatmeal, as they are independent entities who do not believe in living a caged life.
The series shifts when another character is introduced who experiences the same loop that Nadia does. Alan Zaveri, an uptight young man who is quite the opposite of Nadia, goes through the day of his breakup over and over again. He had been in a relationship with his girlfriend, Beatrice, for over nine years, and he decided to propose to her for marriage. But sadly, Beatrice wanted a different life. She was not happy in their relationship, and she finally admitted the truth. Alan’s death was not the result of an accident but rather a choice. He committed suicide as he could not bear the pain of living alone, but then he was back in the washroom of his apartment and had to relive the same day again. Nadia and Alan met in an elevator. When the elevator went astray, people started to panic, but they both were unbothered. Alan looked at Nadia and said that he had died several times, and Nadia replied that she had experienced the same. After meeting Alan, they teamed up to find the reason why they were experiencing the loop, or what Nadia called a bug. From then on, they were not alone trying to navigate their worlds but together, helping to piece the puzzle and supporting one another in times of crisis.
Layered with meanings and symbols, “Russian Doll” Season 1 is all about the characters, Nadia and Alan, learning to accept their flaws and address them. Friendship becomes the key to solving the mystery of multiple timelines. The two polar opposite characters complement each other and help one another to stay alive one last time.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Understanding The ‘Russian Doll’ World: What Do The Deaths Signify?
Nadia’s attempt to find Oatmeal resulted in her first death in a car accident. She is a chain-smoking alcoholic who decided to go home with a professor named Mike. He was one of the many flings she got herself involved in. But the universe wanted her to figure out the complexities of her emotions, which she swiftly avoided. The deaths resulted in Nadia trying to understand herself better, and, in the process, she was forced to encounter a past demon she had deeply buried. Nadia initially focused on logical explanations for what she experienced. She concluded that it could either be the Israeli joints that she smoked or that the old Jewish building (where Maxine’s new apartment was) was haunted. The first option was dismissed when she learned that the joint was laced with ketamine, a drug she had tried and did not experience such extremes. Upon questioning the Rabbi about the building, he simply replied that it was the people that were haunted and not the buildings. After her introduction to Alan, she explained a theory involving multiple dimensions. The fruits that had slowly started to rot appeared to be experiencing the same time that Nadia and Alan were, but after chopping them into two halves, it showed that the fruit inside was fresh. Therefore, the passage of time that the two experienced was the outer shell, while in another dimension, just like the fresh fruit, they were also living a fresh new timeline. Thus, it became almost their responsibility to save the people they loved in the dimensions they appeared in.
It was not just the fruits rotting, but with time, people started to disappear as well. The birthday party gradually started to become empty, and, in the end, it had only Maxine. She danced in the middle of the empty apartment and wished Nadia a happy birthday. The loss of people from their lives led them to a state of panic. They wanted to be a better version of themselves before they died for the final time or lost everyone they loved.
Nadia was extremely close to Ruth, a therapist who took care of her from a young age. With nearly every death she encountered, she noticed that the person who would be the most hurt was Ruth. After the realization struck her, she tried to make sure that she would not die in front of her. In the end, it was only after addressing her neglected thoughts that she was able to truly save Ruth’s life.
‘Russian Doll’ Season 1: Ending Explained – Did Nadia And Alan Survive In The End?
Nadia was visited by the ghost of her childhood self. Though in the world of “Russian Doll,” the young Nadia still exists, and she has to make the tough choice of living with her mother or Ruth over and over again. She felt guilty for choosing to live with Ruth instead of her mother. She held herself responsible for the death of her mother. When she admitted to blaming herself for her mother’s death in front of Ruth, Ruth reasoned with her that a child couldn’t live with a mentally unstable mother. She used to be fixated on little things; at times, it would be melons for every meal or mirrors all around the house. Ruth said that it was Nadia’s strong will to live that forced her to make a choice, and it is what kept her alive. Nadia remembered that it was the book “Emily of New Moon” that helped her survive the tough times. They were quite similar. Emily too, had two aunts; one was detached and cold while the other was loving, similar to her situation with her mother and Ruth. It was only after confessing her true feelings to Ruth that she was able to save her from disappearing from her world.
Meanwhile, after several deaths, Alan realized that Beatrice was not happy with him. Even though they could not be lovers, he did not want her to be gone from his life. He went to her apartment and comforted her, saying that it was he who was blind to what she felt. They parted ways gracefully. And it was this acceptance of the difficult truth that allowed him to go back to the linear time that we humans are aware of.
It is also interesting to note that, towards the end, their rooms lost every mirror they had. The mirror, as a symbol of narcissism, was removed from their lives, providing them with the opportunity to look at others and understand the world beyond their selfish needs. It was only after acknowledging their issues and also by helping each other that they were able to stabilize the world. Oatmeal returned, and Alan’s fish was back in the aquarium.
While the two learned to live with their truths, they were separated into two different worlds. Alan, who had evolved, transferred to the world in which Nadia was still lost, and Nadia, after accepting her truth, landed in the world where Alan was ready to give up his life after the breakup. This was their final test to prove that they would look out for each other. Even though Alan could not recognize Nadia, she kept him company throughout the night. Alan was heartbroken and drunk, but Nadia wanted to be by his side to make sure that he did not commit suicide like he did the first time. When Alan stood on the terrace, he asked Nadia whether he would be happy if he chose not to jump. Nadia replied that there was no way she could tell him such lies, but she could surely confirm that he would not be alone anymore. Nadia was able to save Alan in one universe; she could change his mind and be the friend he needed at that crucial hour.
Meanwhile, in another world, Alan struggled to befriend Nadia. She refused to believe any word he said, as she did not know him at all. Only after mentioning key details from her life, was she partially convinced. When Alan saved her from a car, she felt a connection. Instead of going home with Mike and living her life in despair, she chose to accompany Alan, who seemed to know her well and genuinely cared for her. This ending can also be compared to choosing the cat in “Emily of New Moon;” while Mike the cat was attractive, she chose Saucy Sal instead because she felt that one needed more care. Perhaps Nadia, even in a different world, realized that she and Alan needed each other to navigate the world.
“Russian Doll” Season 1 ends with an episode titled “Ariadne,” a character from Greek mythology who helped Theseus find his way through a labyrinth. In the last scene, we see Alan and Nadia from different worlds join together in a masked march, where their presence in every alternative world is confirmed.
“Russian Doll” is a 2019 Drama Thriller Series created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Poehler. Season 1 of the series will keep you engaged till the last minute. Multiple possible theories and a substantial value at the core make Natasha Lyonne’s “Russian Doll” a thrilling watch.
See More: ‘Russian Doll’ Season 2: Ending, Explained: Did Nadia Stabilize The Collapse Of Time? Did Ruth & Alan Survive?