In Case You're Still Confused, Here's How The Time Loops Work In Russian Doll

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers for Russian Doll season 1 ahead.
If you've ever opened up a Russian doll, you know it's impossible to crack open just the first one. You've got to keep going and going until you reach the littlest Matryoshka at the centre. That same impulse is why I couldn't stop watching the new series until I finished the whole thing, rushing to get to the centre of why Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying in Russian Doll.
Did we actually get there? Anyone who has not watched all eight episodes, please stop reading as we discuss the possible answer. Trust me. You do not want to spoil this fantastic show for yourself.
How Does Nadia Die?
I tried to keep track of all of Nadia's deaths at first, trying to look for similarities that might hint at what was happening. There's the cab hitting her, a fall into the East River, two falls down a sidewalk cellar gate, four falls down the stairs, an ambulance crash, a faulty elevator, a cold night in the park, a couple of gas explosions, and then... I kind of lost track. Halfway through the show you realise there's not much these deaths have in common other than the fact that they're all accidental and they're all making me really paranoid about how easy it is to die in New York City.
This Is Not A Video Game
Like the game developer she is, Nadia initially thinks she can make it through her first day as a 36-year-old by physically avoiding the hazards that killed her in the first place. Where once she was careless and frenetic in her movements, she starts to be careful. She takes the fire escape, looks both ways before crossing the street, calls 3-1-1 to report Ruth's (Elizabeth Ashley) gas leak. All she needs to do is take the right path and she can stay alive, right?
But when she meets Alan (Charlie Barnett) and they realise that their deaths are happening simultaneously, they know there's something more to this.
This Is Not A Straight-Up Moral Thing
Though Nadia rejects Alan's theory that they're in purgatory, she does seem to be trying to gain points, Good Place-style. She guards Horse's (Brendan Sexton III) shoes at the shelter. She tries to be nicer to ex-boyfriend John (Yul Vazquez) and to give his daughter her favourite book. None of this seems to work.
Maybe that's because she inadvertently made Alan become more nihilistic. Before meeting her, he'd been trying to solve his dying problem by doing everything perfectly, keeping a tighter and tighter control of everything. One slight step out of the routine makes him discover girlfriend Beatrice (Dascha Polanco) was cheating on him, though, and now all bets are off.
At some point, Nadia sees what we've all been noticing — that all the fruit is rotting on the outside, and then animals and people are disappearing in their reboots. She believes that's because time is relative, and though she and Alan have a "bug" in their system, the other timelines might still be moving forward.
"We've been experiencing time differently in these loops, but this [orange] tells us that linear time... still exists," she explains.
The bug, she thinks, is the fact that she didn't help him the first time she saw him in the deli. So maybe if they return to that scene, they can get back to linear time. I don't know that this makes complete sense to me, but I'm willing to go with it.
But First, The Mirrors
Before they can get back to this deli interaction, however, Nadia keeps seeing herself as a girl, which kills her instantly. These rapid deaths are wreaking serious havoc on the timelines, making all of the mirrors and eventually all of their friends disappear. So maybe the bug isn't just the fact that Nadia didn't help Alan. Maybe it's that she hadn't ever forgiven herself for abandoning her mentally unstable mother (Chloë Sevigny), which Nadia thinks is what killed her. And Alan hasn't forgiven himself for being depressed or Beatrice for not wanting to stay with him through his depression.
"Are you ready to let her die?" little Nadia asks her adult self, choking on broken mirrors. "This is the day we get free."
A Box Of Timelines
Being at peace with themselves is the key to bringing stability back to their timelines, as all the people and pets and mirrors return for the next reboot. But there's just one more glitch: Because they're on the original timeline, they haven't met each other. So the timelines split, with only Nadia being conscious of everything that's happened in one version and only Alan being conscious of it in the second. Against all odds, though, they follow through with their plans and help each other avoid those initial deaths.
"All we really have in this life is each other and our need to look out for each other. There’s a fragility to life,” Lyonne explained of the finale.
Does that mean they'll live happily ever after now — or at least get to live? Co-creator Leslye Headland told The Hollywood Reporter that they pitched three seasons of Russian Doll to Netflix, and that Netflix said, "Great, the more of that the better."
So, sorry, Nadia and Alan, but we really hope you die again soon.

More from TV

R29 Original Series