In the second episode of the first season of Russian Doll, Nadia begins to (understandably) freak out. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Russian Doll.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of drug use, mental illness, and unreality
There’s so much to enjoy here, but the main thing that struck me about “The Great Escape” (holy shit, that title) is just how believable Nadia’s reaction is. Initially, she refuses to accept her predicament, and with a righteous intensity, she seeks out answers. This is not a story about a passive character who accepts what the universe has given her. No, this is someone who goes back to her own birthday party and then loudly proclaims that she refuses to do what the universe wants her to.
She also throws a raw chicken on the ground like she’s just scored a touchdown, so there’s that, too.
There’s a chaos that surrounds Nadia outside of the context of this event, though, and it’s such a pleasure that Russian Doll chose such a messy, complicated character to exist at the center of this narrative. Pieces of Nadia’s life have come through in this episode, and she feels so real. We know that she was once in a relationship with John, and if I got the timeline right, John was married at the time. (Nadia says it was six months since the break-up, and John is only now going through his divorce.) We also know that Nadia’s mother had mental health issues and that she passed away before she reached the age of 36, which means that Nadia had to have been pretty damn young when her mother passed away. That seems to have more of a bearing on this story than anything else. The concern that Nadia herself is dealing with mental health issues feels like the elephant in the room, at least until Nadia sees Ruth Brenner.
And that fascinates me, as the episode uses mental illness in a way that is absolutely unlike what I’m used to, especially in this genre. Even the dialogue around the word “crazy” felt so damn incredible. It’s perfectly natural for Nadia to wonder about her own sanity, but this also deals with the reality of generational illness. Is Nadia going to suffer the same fate as her mother? Do her friends, like Maxine, expect that of her? How much pressure must Nadia feel not to turn out like her mom?
I don’t know quite yet, but I bring these things up because I think that this undercurrent is going to become something much bigger in future episodes. Which is such a wonderful thing! There’s so much emotional depth here amidst the comedy, and it’s balanced with the plot concerning the time loops. Y’all. Y’ALL. What is the logic behind what’s happening here? I was shocked at the opening of “The Great Escape” because Nadia woke up on the next day. She survived the night! And time loops never really operate this way, at least the one’s I’ve experienced in fiction. It’s generally a similar amount of time that loops around, like a full day or a few hours. But somehow, Nadia made it back home, and before her loop reset, she was able to investigate the source of the cocaine-laced joint that Maxine gave her in the first iteration of the loop.
And look, I get why she thinks that joint is what sent her on the journey. But even this takes us back to character more than plot. Part of the reason why this is upsetting is related to Maxine’s perception of Nadia. She calls Nadia a “cockroach” in an early loop because Nadia does EVERYTHING seemingly unscathed. But she’s not unscathed. At all. And as this narrative begins to crack and shatter and is then repeatedly destroyed by the end of “The Great Escape,” the plot is entirely connected to Nadia’s sense of self. And from a craft perspective, that’s SO INCREDIBLE. Look, sometimes writers think that plot and characterization exist separate from one another. I’m not saying this is a must for good art, but I tend to gravitate toward stories that have intricate combinations of the two. Why is this happening to Nadia specifically? How will she cope with this as the coop continues to repeat? It takes her a number of deaths—I lost count of how many times she dies in this episode—before fatalism begins to slip in. She spends the majority of this episode tracking down Wardog and his cocaine supplier, only to learn that the joint she smoked was laced with ketamine, not some strange, hallucinatory strain of… well, a drug she hasn’t taken. And when this plot thread does not give her closure, Nadia begins to give up. She is forever stuck in a loop that begins at this birthday party that’s not even at her own home.
So what is going on here? I’m fascinated by the constants as much as I am by the differences. Nadia always ends up back in that bathroom at the exact same time; Maxine is always smoking the same joint and offers it up to Nadia; she always wants to cook a chicken for her friends. The people at the party are the same, though when they show up or intersect with Nadia depends on what she chooses to do. Whenever she makes it to the next day, she passes the same people on the street as she walks to her software engineer job. This suggests that much of the loop is inevitable, as if this is all determined and must unfold the same way.
But why doesn’t the mark on Nadia’s hand stay? And how come Ferran doesn’t remember his own friend? Why was that the only detail that appeared once?
I don’t get it yet. YET. I’m having a blast watching this, though!
The video for “The Great Escape” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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