Mark Watches ‘Russian Doll’: S01E04 – Alan’s Routine

In the fourth episode of the first season of Russian Doll, we learn what Alan’s loop is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Russian Doll.

Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of death, anxiety

Holy shit, y’all, this was INCREDIBLE. I wanted to expand a bit at the start with what I said on video: This twist on the story has made Russian Doll a million times more interesting. I was already engaged, but this is a brilliant way to expand on the experience and create a fascinating dichotomy. In practically every way, Alan Zaveri is the polar opposite to Nadia, and thus, we’re shown that unlike Nadia, Alan has set about to make sure every loop of his repeats in exactly the same way. He has no interest in deviation. In change. In figuring out what the meaning of this loop is! 

It’s in this that I find an eerie and heart-wrenching portrayal of someone who feels FRIGHTENINGLY like me. I’ve had an anxiety disorder since I was a kid, and in so many ways, it manifests like it does for Alan. I am terrified of the unknown, and I thrive in certainty. I organize my days so that there is certainty in them. I pack suitcases like Alan does; everything has its rightful place. My room here in Brooklyn is disgustingly organized so that, just like packing, each object can return exactly to its spot. I didn’t figure this out until a decade ago, but if I let things get even the slightest bit messy, it can leave me feeling raw, anxious, and unfocused. I don’t know if y’all saw this on my Instagram, but this photo of the work desk I’ve set up in my bedroom? That’s what it looks like ALL THE FUCKING TIME. 

This behavior, coupled with having to become independent at a young age, has meant that, like Alan, I developed an intense need to fix things myself. Part of that came from being unable to emotionally rely on my parents. I knew in elementary school that if I was upset, my parents would not comfort me. I had to do it myself, which unfortunately meant that I developed some pretty toxic coping mechanisms, one of which is that I keep EVERYTHING that’s going wrong with me at the current time to myself because I can fix it! I’ve fixed things before by myself, so I’ll just keep doing that! (Spoiler warning: I did not fix those things before. I just thought I did.) This was only exacerbated by being thrown out of my house at sixteen and having to IMMEDIATELY become an adult. That’ll make most people fiercely independent. When you literally cannot rely on your parents for anything, it’s understandable that someone like me developed an attachment to going it alone. 

Yeah, it’s worked out well in some regards. I think my writing career wouldn’t be where it is today without that sort of work ethic. I certainly wouldn’t have kept up Mark Does Stuff for a decade (!!!!) without it. But interpersonal relationships? Oh. OH, LORD. Look, the whole timing of this show is bizarre because in the last year of my life I had to deal with a break-up with my last partner and his death, so Russian Doll is being VERY LOUD about all of these things!!! Why are you calling me out???? So yes, this was a deeply personal thing to watch, but I don’t want that to be the sole reason I have for why I enjoyed “Alan’s Routine.” I do want to dig into the craft of this, both from the writing and the acting side. There’s an incredibly funny scene at the jewelry shop between Nadia and the clerk there that, all on its own, is comedic brilliance. God, I love how weirdly and quickly everything escalates there, and Nadia does nothing to stop that spiral into chaos. (Again, she is NOTHING like Alan.) During this, look at how Nadia describes Alan SO PERFECTLY, despite having been in his presence for thirty seconds. She does this so accurately (and so completely as Nadia would do) that the sales clerk knows exactly who she is talking about. It’s incredible to me how Charlie Barnett is able to portray this character exactly like this. He holds that anxiety in the way he stands, in the way he talks, in how he decides who to make eye contact with. IT’S INCREDIBLE. It is one significant way in which the two of us differ, as I hide my nervousness in humor and being an extrovert. IT’S GREAT, I WEAR THIS MASK ALL THE TIME. 

From a writing perspective, though, I think it was so goddamn smart to introduce a second character to be stuck in a loop. I can’t escape Nadia’s line when she finally tracks down Alan: Are the two of them in this together? Is there a reason why only these two people are in a loop? Oh god, are there more people? Okay, I’m thinking too far ahead. For now, all we know is that Nadia and Alan are repeating the same night. Both of them begin their loops with different musical themes and they’re standing at a sink. However, Alan’s life is most definitely not a birthday party. No, he must repeat the night in which his girlfriend of nine years dumps him on the eve of a week-long vacation. It gives us a clue as to why we saw Alan in that first loop so fucked up in Ferran’s store. Which is… very different from what we see in the other loops? I think it’s intentional that we don’t see two things: 1) anything from the loops prior to the tenth one, and 2) how Alan dies except in the final loop in “Alan’s Routine.” So… what did Alan do differently that first night? Did he develop his routine after that experience? I’m guessing he got real fucked up and went to the deli, rather than wait until the day after to speak with Ferran. So now he just gets fucked up at home? 

It’s controlled chaos. He knows what’s going to happen, and he does nothing to change it. That is, until in one of those loops, Nadia is in the elevator with him, and he finds out he’s not alone. Thus, it’s so fucking clever that this story gives us Alan’s routine first, then shows us how just adding Nadia—our local agent of chaos—unravels Alan’s routine. The man Alan lets in his building says something misogynistic, breaking Alan’s illusion of him as nothing more than a polite old man. Beatrice admits that she’s breaking up with Alan because she’s been sleeping with her professor—Mike, who we saw in Nadia’s loops!!! And oh my god, I am so happy that the show portrays Mike as scummy as he is instead of going for the route where a while male professor is attractive and tortured for sleeping with his students. NOPE, HE’S AWFUL AND ARROGANT. Even Alan’s morning meet-up with Ferran changes, as Ferran admits his girlfriend (wife?) cheated on him early in their relationship. Every certain thing about Alan’s loop changes. 

I get why he’s so averse to talking to Nadia. She took away his comfort. Just by existing in this loop experience, she made Alan think of things differently. Which makes me wonder: Is that why the ring disappears in Alan’s twelfth loop? Is it because he threw it in the East River? What about his fish? Why does his fish disappear? Does this mean that the two of them can change their fate if they do certain things? Will Alan influence Nadia to approach things differently? 

UGH I LOVED THIS SO MUCH, Y’ALL. I can’t wait to watch more!!!

The video for “Alan’s Routine” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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