Netflix's Russian Doll: Easter Eggs, Theories, And Things You Probably Missed
At first glance, the new Netflix show Russian Doll seems like a replay of the comedy classic Groundhog Day, in which a character finds themselves repeating the same day again and again. It's a concept that Tom Cruise's sci-fi movie Tomorrow Never Dies and the horror comedy Happy Death Day have also mined comprehensively, leading to the question--what can this latest TV version add?
Luckily, Russian Doll is absolutely its own thing. While early episodes use the gimmick of main character Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) dying over and over for dark, drug-fuelled laughs, it quickly becomes clear that the show has deeper intentions. Once Nadia discovers that she is joined in a strange fatal bond with a man called Alan, who also dies every day and wakes up in the same place, it becomes a show about fate, morality, and redemption.
Like another recent Netflix hit--the brilliant Maniac--Russian Doll is a multi-layered series that demands several viewings. The complex, looping narrative structure ensures that we see the same events played over and over with variations, and there are callbacks to earlier (and later) events scattered throughout. And while the show isn't exactly open-ended--there is certainly a resolution to Nadia and Alan's story--it still leaves plenty of questions. As a result, there are also numerous theories about the timeloops and the different levels of reality. Lyonne has spoken about the possibility of a second season, so many of these questions may yet be answered. But until that happens, here's some of the biggest Easter Eggs, callbacks, and theories to be found in Russian Doll Season 1.
1.The world's getting smaller
Every time Nadia and Alan wake up in their respective bathrooms, their world has changed a little. While their lives have not moved on, things are slowly disappearing, as their world gets smaller. At first Alan's fish is no longer with us, then we see flowers wilt and fruit rot as the days go by. Finally, furniture and people start disappearing. It's a subtle device that plays out across the whole series, at first in the background, and finally as a main plot point as Nadia scrambles to keep her friends from ceasing to exist.
2. Where's Alan?
We see Alan several times before he is properly introduced into the story at the end of Episode 3. As well as his drunken shopping at the bodega in Episode 1, he is seen twice in Episode 3--first in the distance walking across Tompkins Square Park, and later passing Nadia as she is looking for Horse in the square.
3. Oatmeal and Horse
There's definitely something strange going on with Nadia's missing cat Oatmeal. It is the hunt for Oatmeal that causes Nadia's first two deaths, and when she finds her in the second loop, the cat literally disappears from her arms as she is petting him. Is Oatmeal moving between dimensions? One theory suggests that Oatmeal and Horse are connected and are perhaps even the same "person," criss-crossing the different realities. Like Horse, the cat is only ever seen in the park, wanders the night with no real home, and seems to have an uncommonly close bond when Nadia first finds them together. Horse is also leading the final parade, that sees the "healed" versions of Alan and Nadia reunited.
4. Game On
The fact that Nadia is a video game developer is a lot more than just a bit of background character detail. There are multiple references to the both the games she helped build and the nature of gaming throughout, that help shed some light on her and Alan's plight. At times it seems like they are trapped in a game, constantly dying and restarting from the same position. Alan used to play one of the early games that Nadia worked on and complains to her that it was impossible to finish as the main character was always killed at the same point. Nadia even compares their situation to a glitch in the code that needs to be rewritten before the "game" can continue.
5. The Losing Number
In Episode 2, the tedious customer at the bodega is seen choosing lottery tickets, and at the last minute changes the last number from 21 to 22. There are a total of 22 deaths in Russian Doll.
6. Falling Down
What controls the point at which Nadia and Alan die in each loop? While most of their deaths occur much later in the day--sometimes even on the next day--for several early loops in a row Nadia dies falling down the stairwell while trying to leave Max's apartment, within minutes of "waking" at the party each time. Nadia presumes it's something to do with the stairwell itself. However, since it's later established that both characters die at the same time no matter where they are, there is a theory that it is because Alan (who Nadia is yet to meet) is continuing to kill himself as soon as he wakes, triggering Nadia's sudden deaths. Perhaps Alan's first few deaths were, in fact, suicides, before he realised they were futile.
The name of Nadia's family friend, psychiatrist, and surrogate mom has a double meaning. Not only is Natasha Lyonne's real-life aunt named Ruth, but Ruth is also the name of one of Emily's aunts in Emily of New Moon, the Lucy Maud Montgomery novel that Nadia was obsessed with as a child. As an aside, in real-life actress Elizabeth Ashley was married to actor George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The A-Team) and a picture of them together in the 1950s can be spotted in Ruth's House.
8. The Multiverse
For most of the season we are led to believe that the different universes that Nadia and Alan occupy exist in parallel--all occurring at once but entirely separate. In the final scene the two join Horse's parade, seemingly in two timelines. But as the split-screen merges, we see two women pass Nadia through the crowd--we see them fleetingly from behind, but they are clearly "other" Nadias. Could all exist within the same multiverse, with much more overlap than we previously believed?
The final episode is titled "Ariadne." In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos, who helped Theseus survive in the Minotaur's labyrinth. Both Alan and Nadia are trapped in their own mazes and ultimately act as each other's Ariadne, helping each to escape the mistakes of their first deaths. Back in Episode 1, we see a poster next to Nadia's computer with the title "The Legend Ariadne"--and later we learn this is the name of the video game from which the characters cannot escape. And it might just a be a spooky coincidence, but Ariadne is also an anagram of "re-Nadia."
10. Repeating Figures
The idea that the different levels of reality are blending into each other is supported by the fact that the actors who play the drunken bankers in Episode 1 appear again as the developers at Nadia's code meeting and as the ambulance men taking her to hospital. In all cases, they are playing men who direct hostility towards Nadia. As her world shrinks, the same people are occupying different, yet similar, roles in her life.
11. The Parade
Whether it's a multiverse or a series of separate realities, we see that "healed" Nadia and Alan are reunited at the end. We can tell from their clothes that these are the final versions--Alan is wearing the scarf given to him at Max's party, while Nadia is wearing the black jacket and white blouse that she wears while trying to save Alan from his first suicide.
12. Not the first death?
There are several clues suggesting that the first death we see for each character--Nadia being hit by the car and Alan's suicide--were not in fact their first. It's noticeable that the first time we see Nadia restart the loop, she is disoriented and presumes the things she is experiencing are simply deja vu. Could the first episode actually start after she is has already been killed at least once? She recognizes Horse when she steps out of Max's apartment, despite not yet being killed--is Horse is a memory from an earlier loop? This idea would also support the stairwell death theory mentioned earlier, in which Alan spends his first few loops trying to kill himself, before he becomes fully aware of his situation.
13. Dead All Along
What if the endlessly repeating loops are not an alternate reality but a form of purgatory? Alan and Nadia died once that first time and the glitch that keeps repeating their experience stops them from moving to on the next stage. In some religions, including Catholicism and more relatively Judaism, purgatory is defined as a stage between life and death where "purification" occurs. By the end of the show, having "saved" each other, Alan and Nadia are reunited at Horse's parade--a happy, joyous afterlife. This is a theory that Nadia herself suggests to Alan at one point.