Mark Watches ‘Russian Doll’: S01E06 – Reflection

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 it’s time for Mark to watch Russian Doll. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, very extensive discussion of suicide, mental illness

Well, this broke my heart. 

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. That’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. That’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 person’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. 

“Reflection” is a stunning accomplishment on so many fronts. Both Charlie Bennett and Natasha Lyonne give gut-wrenching and hilarious performances here. Seriously, it’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. It’s part of the fabric of this narrative, but I also wonder if it’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 it’s something I’ve been thinking of. I know we talk about romantic chemistry as a means of measuring compatibility in acting, but I think there’s just as much room to talk about it in terms of other pairings. I don’t necessarily see this as a romance, even though Nadia and Alan have sex. That act didn’t feel romantic in the slightest. Charitable… maybe? One thing that’s so striking about Nadia specifically within “Reflection” is that while she’s openly telling Ruth that humanity isn’t worth it, she’s also offering Alan actual help.

I want to elaborate on that, too. On the surface, it seems easy to write-off Nadia’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 aren’t all that bad, that sometimes, it’s perfectly fine to see goodness in them. She proposes to follow Alan when Alan admits he can’t remember how he died in his first loop. A-HA! I was right to point out that we didn’t see most of Alan’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. There’s space for Alan to express that he’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. 

Does it work? No. But at least now, Alan knows that he’s had the wrong idea of what therapy is. It’s not something that tells a person whether they are “crazy” or not. And calling people that is gross anyway! So perhaps Alan will be open to this in the future, as it’s clear that his refusal to deal with his anxiety and any other mental illnesses has affected his relationships. Beatrice’s issues with Alan aren’t irrational or unfair, especially if she’s been carrying the weight of taking care of them when he won’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. 

By the time we get to the scene at the bar, I think Nadia was trying her best to see things through Alan’s eyes. There’s an intimacy in their conversation aside from the sexual spark, aside from the alcohol, and I don’t think Nadia would have shared what she did about the necklace she wore without feeling some sort of closeness to Alan. There’s another reason it happens, though, and we see that later during a re-appearance with Horse. And doesn’t that scene demonstrate that Nadia IS thinking of humanity—even if it’s just one human—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 can’t ignore the reason she speaks aloud: it was too heavy.

Look, the specter of Nadia’s mother hangs all over this. Maybe that’s why she’s stuck with Alan. There are elements of Alan that are similar to Nadia’s mother. Are they both trapped in loops because they can’t forgive? Alan can’t forgive Mike or Beatrice, and Nadia can’t forgive her mother. (Or herself, for that matter.) And that’s not to suggest that forgiveness is required of people, or that anyone here necessarily deserves to be forgiven. But one thing I’m learning in therapy right now is how forgiveness can actually be a powerful selfish act. It’s a way of freeing one’s self. So you don’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 don’t know. I’m concerned by all the rotting things we’re seeing with more frequency. Only Nadia seems to notice them? What about the missing items, like Alan’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 there’s a time limit here? Because that’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 there’s something else going on here. (How is there another season??? How can this be sustained beyond this point???) 

I’ve left one thing for the end here, both because it was so upsetting and because I think it’s the biggest clue as to the nature of these loops. Y’all know I’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 “Reflection” will always haunt me. We are watching someone come to an important but heartbreaking epiphany, and it’s one that is rarely granted to people in our life. I’m one of those people, though, because I survived my attempts. And at least for me, there came a moment both times—when I pushed through the fog of sadness and pained and could actually examine what I had done—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 didn’t actually want to die. I didn’t want to cease living. I just wanted the pain to stop. 

I’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. I’m still in it. Hell, the weird part is now the whole world is in it??? One of the biggest things I’ve been dealing with the past year is loneliness and isolation, and… well, let’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 “Reflection” hit so very hard. Why did Alan forget this death? Because it was too traumatic? Because he couldn’t accept it? Because he needs to forgive himself? Perhaps it is all of the above. 

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 “Reflection” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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