In the fifth episode of the first season of Russian Doll, Alan and Nadia team up to sort through their experiences… sort of. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Russian Doll.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, anxiety
AHHHHHH THIS EPISODE FUCKED ME UP!!! Why does it have to PERSONALLY address me and only me so LOUDLY???
Anyway, let’s start off with this: This episode did not go as I expected, and that’s a good thing. After “Alan’s Routine,” I figured that Alan and Nadia would stick by each other’s side in order to immediately try to figure this out. However, that’s not really a sensible thing, is it? Instead, “Superiority Complex” features some of their mutual mystery approach, but it also shows how both characters try to solve the problems in their own lives. Is that the point of all of this? Are they meant to repeat this specific night over and over until they determine what they’ve done wrong?
Indeed, I deeply understoodd why Alan was quick to believe that this was some sort of “purgatorial punishment” for him. I mean, in his case, his repeating night is so much worse than Nadia! (Well, on the surface. More on that in a bit.) He has to relive his girlfriend breaking up with him. And even in the controlled chaos of his experience prior to the arrival of Nadia, it was still pretty intense! He may have been able to adapt to the situation, but he continued to self-medicate with food and alcohol. So it’s not as if this was a pleasant experience. Thus: punishment. He’s being punished for… what, exactly? Failing to address his mental illness in a “healthy” way? For being unsatisfying to Beatrice? For not proposing to Beatrice earlier? Does any of that seem to be on the level of deserving a seemingly endless procession of repetition in one of the darkest moments of one’s life?
I don’t think so, and thus, I also deeply understood Nadia’s rejection of this. It seemed pretty self-centered, and Alan’s belief that he was being punished entailed that Nadia was being punished… because of him? Oh my god, I love SO MUCH that she made that announcement (AT HER OWN BIRTHDAY PARTY!!!) to have people tell her whether or not she’d been a bad person. It felt so distinctly Nadia! And yet, what happens pretty soon after that? Like every night in this loop, John shows up. In that act, Nadia must reflect on her own moral code and what effect she’s had on others. I admit to being totally fascinated with the fact that at the heart of this struggle is infidelity. Nadia was the other woman, and Alan was the person cheated on. Nadia has not seemed to feel much—if any—guilt for being involved in someone’s affair. Truthfully, I don’t even know if she was aware that John was married at first, though I wouldn’t be surprise if Nadia went through with this while being completely aware the whole time. Alan is only just coming to grapple with infidelity, as he never even found out until Nadia stood in that elevator with him.
So where does that lead these characters? Nadia re-thinks Alan’s purgatory idea, and while I’m certain she still rejects it by the end of the episode, it’s significant that she does try to make things right with John and her daughter. That’s not something that Nadia ever really considered until Alan came into her life. She doesn’t quite succeed in that, but after Alan points out how much Nadia riles up John, I did notice that she started treating him with more tenderness. And the whole act of finding Emily of New Moon for John’s daughter? It’s touching! It’s genuinely sentimental! But is it the right decision?
I ask the same question of Alan, who confronts Mike three different times in three very different ways over the course of “Superiority Complex.” There’s the brawl in Mike’s office; then there’s the fight at Maxine’s loft; then there’s the quieter confrontation in one of the bedrooms. All of these scenes, first of all, establish Mike as Kind of The Worst, which feels like the point. Mike is the worst, and yet, he remains unpunished. He’s not stuck in a “purgatorial” loop, is he? Even if he SEEMS perfectly primed to repeat an awful night until he learns from his mistakes. But all of these scenes demonstrate to Alan that Alan’s moral superiority—or what he perceives as a superiority—really don’t matter in the end. He can’t even guilt Mike into apologizing to him once. If there’s some greater meaning here, even if it’s outside the reasoning for the loops, it strikes deep at the heart of Alan’s problem: he is looking for closure in other people. He wants to fight Mike to feel better. He wants to get a “reason” for Beatrice cheating on him, as if that will give him what he needs. Instinctually, he already knew this wasn’t the right move for him! Remember when Farran said he needed to know everything about the infidelity that hurt his relationship? Alan’s reaction to that was rejection. And yet here he is, spending an entire episode chasing down those details.
Do both these characters want closure? Is this what these loops are about?
I admit, then, that Nadia’s theory feels INTENSELY disturbing to me, but I can’t get it out of my head. What if this isn’t necessarily a collection of time loops because with each death, the world splits off into another parallel universe? What if the people who love Nadia and Alan really have been mourning their deaths over and over again? Ugh, that’s so upsetting!!! But maybe Nadia isn’t that far off the mark. There appears to be some sort of logic to these loops, especially since it’s been established by Alan that he and Nadia are dying at the exact same moment in every loop. Why is that? Are they each punished if the other person doesn’t “do” the loop correctly, forcing them to restart? I DON’T FUCKING KNOW. But the idea is enough to send Nadia into a new existential crisis. Is she actively harming people by not figuring this out and stopping the loops?
Y’all, I’m so impressed by this show. SO IMPRESSED.
The video for “Superiority Complex” 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!
– Not only that, but my very first pre-order campaign is now live for North American readers! If you submit proof of pre-order, you can get a limited edition print that comes with the book.
– If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.