In the sixth episode of the first season of Russian Doll, Nadia proposes a solution to crack one part of the mystery of her and Alan. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watch Russian Doll.Â
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, very extensive discussion of suicide, mental illness
Well, this broke my heart.Â
I love it when a story is so well-written and so compelling that I find myself lost in the world. These are not long episodes, but I already care deeply and truly about Nadia and Alan. Thatâ€™s partially because in such a short span of time, these scripts and these performances have given the audience a large amount of information about these characters. We have a sense of their backstories without a single flashback; we know what their current lives are like through the window of these two day repeating loops. Thatâ€™s an achievement worth celebrating, and it fascinates me from a craft perspective. What a challenge! You can only show us two days worth of a personâ€™s life, and you have to give an audience a strong sense of who they are? Lord, the writers for this knocked it out of the park.Â
â€œReflectionâ€ is a stunning accomplishment on so many fronts. Both Charlie Bennett and Natasha Lyonne give gut-wrenching and hilarious performances here. Seriously, itâ€™s amazing that I can laugh at this show and then start tearing up moments later without that sort of tonal shift feeling jarring or unnecessary within the story. Itâ€™s part of the fabric of this narrative, but I also wonder if itâ€™s an intentional thing in terms of what Alan and Nadia need from one another. Does Alan need to appreciate the humor of the world? Does Nadia need some order and patience? Maybe, and that might come from a later episode, but itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve been thinking of. I know we talk about romantic chemistry as a means of measuring compatibility in acting, but I think thereâ€™s just as much room to talk about it in terms of other pairings. I donâ€™t necessarily see this as a romance, even though Nadia and Alan have sex. That act didnâ€™t feel romantic in the slightest. Charitable… maybe? One thing thatâ€™s so striking about Nadia specifically within â€œReflectionâ€ is that while sheâ€™s openly telling Ruth that humanity isnâ€™t worth it, sheâ€™s also offering Alan actual help.
I want to elaborate on that, too. On the surface, it seems easy to write-off Nadiaâ€™s behavior as self-serving. She just wants to get out of this loop, and figuring out her attachment to Alan is probably the easiest way to do so. Yet in this, I do see a tenderness in Nadia, a willingness to believe that humans arenâ€™t all that bad, that sometimes, itâ€™s perfectly fine to see goodness in them. She proposes to follow Alan when Alan admits he canâ€™t remember how he died in his first loop. A-HA! I was right to point out that we didnâ€™t see most of Alanâ€™s deaths!!!! Yet as the two of them set out to follow the path Alan took on that first night, we get to watch something incredible happen. NADIA STARTS CARING. I love that there is a willingness to criticize Alan here while also empathizing with him. For instance: that scene where Nadia takes Alan to Ruth. Thereâ€™s space for Alan to express that heâ€™s afraid of therapy, but then Ruth corrects his misconception of what therapy is. I LOVE WHAT SHE SAID: We are the most unreliable narrators for our own experience, and sometimes, we just need someone else to take the reins for a while.Â
Does it work? No. But at least now, Alan knows that heâ€™s had the wrong idea of what therapy is. Itâ€™s not something that tells a person whether they are â€œcrazyâ€ or not. And calling people that is gross anyway! So perhaps Alan will be open to this in the future, as itâ€™s clear that his refusal to deal with his anxiety and any other mental illnesses has affected his relationships. Beatriceâ€™s issues with Alan arenâ€™t irrational or unfair, especially if sheâ€™s been carrying the weight of taking care of them when he wonâ€™t. Yet as Beatrice is breaking up with Alan, Nadia recognizes that while Beatrice is probably right about Alan, SHE STILL CHEATED ON HER BOYFRIEND INSTEAD OF RESOLVING THE ISSUES SHE HAD WITH HIM. She betrayed Alan! And for the first time in all the loops, the dynamic in the break-up shifts. Nadia did that for Alan.Â
By the time we get to the scene at the bar, I think Nadia was trying her best to see things through Alanâ€™s eyes. Thereâ€™s an intimacy in their conversation aside from the sexual spark, aside from the alcohol, and I donâ€™t think Nadia would have shared what she did about the necklace she wore without feeling some sort of closeness to Alan. Thereâ€™s another reason it happens, though, and we see that later during a re-appearance with Horse. And doesnâ€™t that scene demonstrate that Nadia IS thinking of humanityâ€”even if itâ€™s just one humanâ€”with a sense of hope? With a sense of potential? With the purest of intentions in her heart? She gives Horse that gold medallion out of kindness, yes, but I also canâ€™t ignore the reason she speaks aloud: it was too heavy.
Look, the specter of Nadiaâ€™s mother hangs all over this. Maybe thatâ€™s why sheâ€™s stuck with Alan. There are elements of Alan that are similar to Nadiaâ€™s mother. Are they both trapped in loops because they canâ€™t forgive? Alan canâ€™t forgive Mike or Beatrice, and Nadia canâ€™t forgive her mother. (Or herself, for that matter.) And thatâ€™s not to suggest that forgiveness is required of people, or that anyone here necessarily deserves to be forgiven. But one thing Iâ€™m learning in therapy right now is how forgiveness can actually be a powerful selfish act. Itâ€™s a way of freeing oneâ€™s self. So you donâ€™t forgive out of grace or consideration for another person, but you forgive to let go. You forgive so that your sense of self and your worth can move on. Is that what is happening here?
I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m concerned by all the rotting things weâ€™re seeing with more frequency. Only Nadia seems to notice them? What about the missing items, like Alanâ€™s ring or his fish? Why does the world seem to be deteriorating? Like, I get this is all about death, but does that mean thereâ€™s a time limit here? Because thatâ€™s where my mind goes first: Do Alan and Nadia have a finite time in which to figure this all out? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe thereâ€™s something else going on here. (How is there another season??? How can this be sustained beyond this point???)Â
Iâ€™ve left one thing for the end here, both because it was so upsetting and because I think itâ€™s the biggest clue as to the nature of these loops. Yâ€™all know Iâ€™ve had a long history with depression and have dealt with suicide before, both in my own life and in losing so, so many people to it over the years. I think the final scene of â€œReflectionâ€ will always haunt me. We are watching someone come to an important but heartbreaking epiphany, and itâ€™s one that is rarely granted to people in our life. Iâ€™m one of those people, though, because I survived my attempts. And at least for me, there came a moment both timesâ€”when I pushed through the fog of sadness and pained and could actually examine what I had doneâ€”where I broke down very similarly to Alan. Because there are few things more tragic about humanity than suicide. And the truth is that even looking back, as dark as things got, I didnâ€™t actually want to die. I didnâ€™t want to cease living. I just wanted the pain to stop.Â
Iâ€™m in a better place these days relative to that. Therapy helped. Having that outside narrator was huge for me. And I say that while fully admitting that the past year of my life, on a personal level, has been the darkest experience in a long, long time. Iâ€™m still in it. Hell, the weird part is now the whole world is in it??? One of the biggest things Iâ€™ve been dealing with the past year is loneliness and isolation, and… well, letâ€™s just say this quarantine is a little too ironic for my tastes sometimes. But I share all of this to give some insight into why â€œReflectionâ€ hit so very hard. Why did Alan forget this death? Because it was too traumatic? Because he couldnâ€™t accept it? Because he needs to forgive himself? Perhaps it is all of the above.Â
And perhaps the universe is trying to correct what Alan chose to do by sticking him in a loop with the only person who can truly help him.
The video for â€œReflectionâ€ can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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