“Life is like a box of timelines, you feel me?” Netflix heroine Nadia (Orange Is The New Black's Natasha Lyonne) rasps at the beginning of Russian Doll's season 1 finale, eighth episode “Ariadne.” In that moment, Nadia has no idea how true that statement is. The video game designer finds out five minutes later, when she realizes the timeline she shared with new friend Alan (perfect leading man Charlie Barnett) has split. By figuring out their original mistake — not helping each other on the doomed night of Nadia’s birthday party — the duo has fixed the “bug” that started the never ending loops of Russian Doll. Now Nadia and Alan have separate second chances.
While both halves of Russian Doll’s core pair remember their “No Exit meets Groundhog Day” limbo, as co-creator-star-episode director Natasha Lyonne describes the situation to Refinery29, Alan and Nadia's corresponding pal doesn't in the new split timelines. They're strangers. Still, Nadia must save a suicidally depressed Alan from his most dangerous thoughts, and Alan has to keep a self-destructive Nadia from getting hit by a cab.
Their timeline-jumping journey to accomplish that very difficult task illuminates the heart of Russian Doll. After speaking with Lyonne, it becomes clear that no matter the twists and turns that pop up in “Ariadne,” the ultimate point of the finale, and the series as a whole, is to push viewers to understand connection is always more powerful than isolation. Even when it's hard.
That’s why if you want to understand “Ariadne,” you should really listen to a single lyric in The Damned’s rollicking track “Alone Again Or,” which closes out the season: “I heard a funny thing … that I could be in love with almost anyone.”
“Part of that lyric is this idea that when we expose our brokenness to one another, there’s something that really sets us free in that,” Lyonne tells Refinery29 in between editing the upcoming finale season of Orange Is The New Black. “Each person has a beauty within them that is maybe bogged down by the traumas of everyone’s own life.”
Lyonne’s explanation certainly plays out over the course of Russian Doll. Once Alan enters Nadia’s life in third episode “A Warm Body,” they are both forced to show their darkest parts to a relative stranger. Alan reveals all of his neurosis and the sad fact that he started the loop dying by suicide. Nadia explains how her childhood self — who was raised by a mentally unstable mother (Chloë Sevigny) — is literally haunting her. Because of that dark adolescence, Nadia grew into a “nothing means anything to me” adult, as Lyonne says of her character.
All of that changes when Nadia and Alan face their personal monsters with the support of the other. “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 explains as the inspiration for her characters' transformation. “In a deeper sense, we really are bound together in this thing [called life].”
I certainly don’t think we’re saying, ‘He saved her.’ What we’re saying is, ‘They saved each other.’
Russian Doll’s leads understand this fact at a molecular level by the finale, which is what restarts the timeline. This time around, when Alan sees Nadia heading down the path that will result in her death-by-cab, he pulls out all the stops to get his friend to leave her cursed evening with the awful Mike (Jeremy Bobb). She eventually does. On Nadia’s side, she follows a suicidal Alan until she finds an opportunity to take him home and put him to sleep. When Alan escapes the safety of his bed, she stops him from harming himself and promises he’ll never be alone. He agrees to leave the roof.
These two conclusions create a split screen, leading both versions of Nadia and Alan to end up in Tompkins Square Park as long-running Russian Doll bit player Horse (Brendan Sexton III) kicks off a parade of joyous misfits. Both Nadias, now genuinely connected to the world, grab a torch and visually merge together, dissolving the split screen. Nadia confidently marches into the great unknown with a smiling Alan behind her. For what it’s worth, the Nadia we see in the last frame of the season is the one who didn’t experience loops (peep Alan’s scarf).
“The idea is on some sort of quantum level, that’s the one we’re seeing: where we started on this kinda-hero’s journey,” Lyonne says of the timeline that ends Russian Doll. “It’s also a jumping off question of ‘What we would we be seeing next if the story continued?’ I certainly don’t think we’re saying, ‘He saved her.’ What we’re saying is, ‘They saved each other.’”
So although we’re watching the world where Alan stops Nadia from dying, the flipped plane of existence also continues on somewhere. Both possibilities are equally real and important.
With a final scene so intensely thoughtful, it's no wonder Lyonne's parting words on the finale are so humane. “When we dismiss each other as people and choose to pretend others aren’t impacted by our actions or don’t reach out to each other, we’re all at a risk of not making it,” Lyonne reminds us. “As soon as any of us, in whichever direction, lean in instead, there’s a better hope that we all have a chance.”
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.