Russian Dolls and Multiple Timelines Explained

I think I finally figured out a little something about how this world works.

Since it was Groundhog day yesterday, I decided to give Netflix’s new show, “Russian Doll”, a go. I was pulled in an I must say I really liked it! It’s like a mix-up of Rick and Morty and Happy Death Day, and, of course, Groundhog day. But instead of the main character trying to stabilize timelines or trying to figure out who the killer is, the plot of this series is about dealing with trauma, unresolved issues and hangups and surviving a terrible breakup.

The Story


Nadia is the protagonist of the show. She’s a chain-smoking Software engineer who is forced to relive her 36th birthday over and over again.

This is a big birthday for Nadia as she has finally reached a point in which she is older than her mother ever was but doesn’t mean that the character has much more time than her deceased parent.

Two minutes ago, I turned 36.
Staring down the barrel of my own mortality always beats fun.

Nadia is repeatedly killed over and over and sent back to square one and similar to the video games that the character creates, she must navigate the right path to make it to the next point in the journey.

Nadia is given the choice to retread the path she’s walked on before with an Ex, go in a different direction with a new flame and fix her mistakes all whilst trying to find her cat Oatmeal.

Eventually she bumps into a man named Alan who like her is reliving the exact same day over and over again. Whilst Nadia is spiralling into a pit of despair, Alan is actually rejoicing in the time loop because he knows what to expect.

The two are complete opposites but their shared experience brings them together and makes them both come to the realisation that in order to escape the loop they must first confront their past traumas and use them to empower themselves.

Nadia must confront the psychological damage that was dealt to her by her mother and Alan must Deal with the fact that he actually initially died due to suicide and both characters must right these wrongs in order to progress. The show states that we must break the endless loops of our lives in order to progress outside of our own trappings.

Nadia discovers Alan completely wasted and on the brink of killing himself whereas Alan finds Nadia just about to get hit by a car, similar to how she died in the first episode.


What I liked the show

There was a point in it where Nadia reaches breaking point. Whatever she does, she keeps dying. Down the stairs, chocking on a chiken bone, burnt in a gas explosion, shot down, etc. She goes on a drinking binge very similar to the intro of BoJack Horseman where she goes blackout drunk. If nothing we do really matters, why struggle at all?

Through the iterations, we get to meet the other people, get to know them. We can tell Nadia has really good friends, she is a bit of an ass-hole, she does speak her mind and she is not opposed to one-night stands.
Mike, the college professor, is definitely a mega-ass-hole, bedding as many women as he can while still married.
The hobo appears initially as a decent guy who had a rough time in life but at the end has no qualms about robbing a dead-drunk Alan, taking all he’s got.

I also liked the message of the show – if you can do something today, do it, don’t delay it because you might not have the chance to do it tomorrow. Alan runs off to tell his mom that his girlfriend said yes to the marriage proposal only because he knew he wouldn’t be alive the next day and he wanted to see his mom happy.

♪ Tomorrow’s tomorrow
Tonight is tonight
You better listen
Because I’m telling you right
Don’t put off till tomorrow
What you can do tonight

You get a feeling
A feeling won’t wait
Why take a chance
On losing something real great?
Don’t put off till tomorrow ♪

Liked the discussions about the continuity of time – a recurring subject which comes back with an example in the ending episode.

My new theory is that it’s an incredibly dense gravitational field that’s gaining consciousness and is now deliberately fucking with us.
Kind of the black hole meets They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Yeah, my bathroom doesn’t have a black hole, so…
This isn’t gonna be very fun if you keep rejecting my theories.
You rejected mine.
Yeah, because it was morally simplistic and narcissistic.
I mean, the universe is moral, but it shares your views on morality.

We’ll try your way.

Once Alan and Natasha figure out how to break the cycle, they exist in different timelines where they meet each other’s version with no memory of their past. They manage to talk each other out of the mess that was currently going on in their past lives and under the bridge, their timelines merge and they are both happy. Good ending.

And liked how both Nadia and Alan worked out their issues during their constant re-incarnations. Nadia had unresolved issues about her childhood and her mother.

What was her diagnosis? Like, what the fuck was wrong with her?
Do not confuse your mother with her damage.

Why… Why mirrors?
Reflection. Proof of existence. Another pair of eyes.
See, that’s why therapists are important. Without them, we are very unreliable narrators of our own stories.

Alan went through all the stages of grief over a breakup – confronting the girlfriend, beating the new guy, trying to talk her out of it, realising it wasn’t meant to be, drunk sex with Natasha and finally forming a proper friendship and a bond with another human being. He went from being a shadow to being a person.

You know, people can’t even pick me out of a line up ’cause… they don’t remember me. I’m a shadow, man. I think I’m a shadow now, too.


You told me every time I asked you what was wrong, and you said, “Nothing.” Every time I touched you, you gently pulled away. No matter how much we think we’re fooling people, our bodies… they can’t keep lying the way that our minds can.  Mine stopped lying a long time ago. For years, I’ve just been… I’ve just been hollow. You know, I thought if I… if I… if I worked hard enough, if I… if I… kept putting the time in, and if I kept my head down, you know, did everything right, I… this aching, gnawing feeling of being an absolute failure would just… would just go away. And now I’m stuck with a body that is broken and in a world that is literally falling apart. And a mind that… A mind that wants to kill me.

As Alan ends things with Beatrice, he’s definitely on the path to healing. He will find a new love (blonde chick from the end scenes) and start anew, leaving his past and his old self behind (much like Natasha left her hair behind in one episode, symbolically cutting down her past).

The Ending Explained

Many people have been expressing confusion about the show ending. But it’s pretty clear – they even talked about it in an earlier episode.


[Alan] So the loops started because we didn’t help the other person.
[Nadia] I think so.
I knew we were being punished.
[Nadia] Easy there, Mr. Rogers. This is not good or bad. It’s just a bug. It’s like if a program keeps crashing, you know? The crashing is just a symptom of a bug in the code. If the deaths are us crashing, then that moment is the bug that we need to go and fix.

[Alan] But if we were supposed to help each other and we didn’t… how is that not a moral issue?
[Nadia] What do time and morality have in common?
Relativity. They’re both relative to your experience.

[Alan] I need a visual aid.
[Nadia] All right, so our universe has three spatial dimensions, so it’s hard for us to picture a four-dimensional world. But, you know, computers do it all the time.
Now lucky for you, I have the capacity to think like a computer.
[Alan] What’s this?

[Nadia] Oh. It’s a rotten orange. In a two-dimensional world, it’s a circle. In a three-dimensional world, it’s a sphere. But in a four-dimensional world…
It’s still ripe. Time is relative to your experience. We’ve been experiencing time differently in these loops. But this, this tells us that somewhere time, linear time, as we used to understand it, still exists. So the moment in the deli when we first interacted… Still exists.
[Alan] So we should go back to the deli.
[Nadia] To that same moment. And we rewrite our first interaction.
Just like you would fix a flaw in a code.
Then we run a unit test.

[Alan] Is that a term that people should know or…
[Nadia] Basically, we run a little program and we see if the bug is triggered.
[Alan] And how do we know if it’s triggered?
[Nadia] We die.
[Alan] Then… we go right back to the deli… and we try it again.
You’re pretty smart.

Nadia and Alan realise at the end of the first season that their failure to help each other on the same night is what trapped them in their respective timelines. In order to break free of the loop, Nadia prevents Alan from killing himself, and Alan saves her from being struck by a cab. The two quickly befriend each other in both timelines, and the season wraps with the pair joining a parade of eccentrics led by Horse as they merrily march through the streets, suggesting that the unlikely friends finally achieved a semblance of happiness with each other.

According to Headland, that hopeful ending wasn’t so much intentional as it was simply the best choice for the show.

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