Review: Russian Doll, Season 2 at Strange Horizons

My review of the second season of Russian Doll appears today at Strange Horizons. As I write in the review, Russian Doll is almost more interesting for how it reflects the vicissitudes of the streaming era, and Netflix's wavering fortunes over the last few years, than for the story it tells. Its second season joins several other shows that should by all rights have been one-and-done, but which were brought back due to enthusiastic audience response and platforms desperate for content, only to be met by a resounding shrug from audiences who had already moved on. The season itself, meanwhile, lacks the tight plotting and evocative central McGuffin of the first season, but it still has significant charms, even if these often come down getting to spend more time with the characters, and in the situations, that were so delightful last season.

Russian Doll's first season felt almost like a precision instrument (a precision that contrasted nicely with Nadia's chaotic nature), first introducing a familiar time loop premise, then complicating it (for example by revealing that Nadia is looping in concert with another man, Alan (Charlie Barnett)), then delving into the darkness of both main characters, before finally ending on a life-affirming, primal cry of human connection. The second season, in contrast, feels like it's piling things on top of one another almost at random.

Time travel does whatever Nadia needs it to do in the moment. Sometimes it feels like a metaphor for her anxieties. Other times, she perpetuates the very history that she was trying to prevent, in a way that might not have happened if she hadn't been there. A powerful mid-season arc sees Nora's mental illness bleeding into Nadia's psyche, the slide from eccentric to fully unhinged occurring with terrifying ease. But it also feels like a convenient plot development, a way of keeping the story going at a point where a Nadia in full possession of her faculties would have obviously put a stop to it.

Comments

S Johnson said…
The scene they inserted where Nadia hints the Russians weren't any better than Nazis stood out. The insistence that a Ghanaian would of course be a committed enemy of East Germany did too.

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