Back in 2019, Netflix introduced us to Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a woman trapped in a birthday time loop that killed her over and over again.
Now, a few years after time f-ed with Nadia, Nadia’s going to f with time.
Season 2 of Russian Doll picks up nearly four years after Nadia broke free from her personal deadly Groundhog Day. Since then, she’s encountered no further time shenanigans. But that’s about to change as she steps onto the wrong (or is the right?) subway train one evening. When she steps off again, Nadia finds herself transported to the 1980s.
How’s the time-bending plot of Russian Doll season 2?
Honestly, I was surprised when Netflix first announced it would make a second season of Russian Doll. It just seemed like a good stand alone, limited series – not something that would naturally lend itself to continuation. But I’ll give credit where it’s due: season 2 does manage to create a totally new and compelling story about Nadia and time, without reusing the same killer Groundhog Day premise.
Instead of a time loop, Nadia finds herself simultaneously transported and trapped by real time. As she time-travels via subway train, she’s actually moving along her own personal timeline, tracing back to her mother’s roots in the 80s and her grandmother’s in the 40s. This gives us a few different eras to work with, which is always fun. But it’s also a very grounding setup for the season, rooting it in Nadia’s family (and all the complicated history and personal dynamics that brings).
While season 1 saw Nadia try to escape death, season 2 sees her try to escape life – or this life that she knows, at least. She becomes convinced that if she can track down the family fortune stolen by the Nazis during the war, she’ll be able to completely change the life of her mother, and by proxy, her own life too.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the direction of season 2. It managed to feel appropriately related to the original run of Russian Doll while also using its time-bending elements in fun new ways.
What about the season 2 characters?
Season 2 of Russian Doll sees the return of familiar faces from season 1, as well as new additions. The most significant returning characters are Alan (Charlie Barnett), who also finds himself time-displaced by subway train; and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia’s family friend and stand-in mother figure. Nadia’s pal Maxine (Greta Lee) also returns. The season brings back Chloë Sevigny as Nadia’s mother Lenora in the 80s, and introduces Annie Murphy as 80s Ruth.
The character work in season 2 of Russian Doll is a little hit-or-miss. The season strongly revolves around Nadia. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does sometimes feel like the supporting cast roles could have been stronger. For instance, while it’s fun to see Alan after the way his story intersected with Nadia’s in season 1, he doesn’t have much to do in this season. He mostly helps bookend the plot. Similarly, Maxine gets both too much and not enough screen time; her presence doesn’t feel necessary when Nadia goes to Budapest, and her awkward amount of screentime might have felt less odd if the story focused on keeping her Nadia’s tie to Ruth.
The emphasis on Nadia’s relationship to Ruth though was excellent. Their dynamic definitely added heart to the first season, and I enjoyed seeing those threads become the season 2 focus. I loved Murphy as the younger version of Ruth, and getting to see Nadia interact with the woman in different times felt really impactful. (Plus, I love a found family story.) I think season 2 didn’t always have the character balance right, but it did a great job grounding the series in Nadia’s most significant relationship.
How does Russian Doll season 2 compare to the first season?
Russian Doll season 2 improves upon some of the biggest challenges of season 1, but also loses some of its charm. The repetition of Nadia’s time loop death became almost as maddening to viewers as to Nadia herself in season 1; with season 2 juggling a few different timelines, it’s easier to keep the central story compelling.
However, Nadia’s impending demise also put a much-needed ticking clock into play in the show’s first installment. While there’s an added sense of urgency for Nadia to solve things in Nora’s timeline (the urgency being before Nadia herself is born), Nadia’s main story in the present lacks that timeliness.
Yes, we can get behind her desire to take back her family’s possessions from the Nazis, and hopefully improve her familial life along the way. But without a ticking clock to say why Nadia has to solve this mystery right now, the season’s plot (up until the final episodes) misses out on some important tension. Nadia’s journey can be an odd one to follow; she’s simultaneously dogged and unshakeable when coming up with her next lead, and oddly blasé when those leads don’t work out.
Again, I don’t think Russian Doll necessarily needed a second season. But overall the additional story is satisfying enough in its own way to stand alone.
Russian Doll season 2 arrives on Netflix April 20.
For more updates on titles headed to Netflix, check back to THS.