Wednesday, April 20, 2022

REVIEW: 'Russian Doll' - A Journey Into the Past Reveals New Depths to Nadia's Understanding of Her Family in 'Nowhen'

Netflix's Russian Doll - Episode 2.01 "Nowhen"

Nadia's 40th birthday is a few days away, and she's planning to celebrate it quietly with Alan. Then something really strange happens.

"Nowhen" was written by Natasha Lyonne and directed by Natasha Lyonne

It was only a few months after the first season was released that Netflix ordered another. And yet, it has been three years for the audience before the second season has become available to stream. The story essentially picks up in real-time. The plot of the first season was set on Nadia's 36th birthday. And now, the new story takes place on the eve of her 40th birthday. It's striking how similar the setup actually is. Maxine is planning a party. Nadia and Ruth still serve as caretakers for each other no matter what they need. Nadia and Alan are still friends. The latter pairing always spends this time of year together in fear they will get stuck in a time loop of death again. That trauma has never completely gone away even though they've had the opportunity to move on with their lives. They saved each other. The universe decided to make them experience time differently. They had to work through the process in the hopes of avoiding getting removed from the timeline altogether. Their stories and lives have value. They had to reach out with humanity and empathy to ensure these stories continue to burn brightly. It was all perceived as a grand resolution to their problems. With a new season, it's clear there is much more to the story. In fact, the central plot has to do with Nadia's mother and the family heirlooms she gave away. Nadia's college fund was completely lost. That amount of money has always stayed with Nadia. It was the key betrayal that defined everything else in her relationship with her mother. And now, she is living her life as her mother. It's the universe finding a new way to make her suffer. This is a fate much worse than death. She now gets to roam New York City in the 1980s as Nora. All it takes is a train ride that can transport her to the past. Of course, it's also easy for her to return to 2022. It's not the show suddenly flinging Nadia into a new story and leaving her stranded. She has the opportunity to regroup and lean on her friends who understand the complexity of what this venture must mean. If it's happening to her, then it will be happening to Alan as well. Their journeys played out parallel to each other before. They were deeply connected. That may not necessarily be true with this new story. The framing still presents as such. The first experience for Nadia is disorienting. She comes home and tells Alan about it. From that moment on, they are terrified of what it'll mean whenever they step onto a train. It could just take them to the destination they desire. It could also take them to a new time altogether that demands attention for some reason.

Nadia may believe she is given the opportunity to correct the central sin of the past. Living in her mother's shoes allows her to lead with the insight of what this action will create. She can ensure these cherished items can remain in the family. They are prized possessions meant to link the generations together. It's about so much more than Nadia's college fund. That financial worth was the value she always projected onto these coins. As such, she may be truly linked to her mother who saw them as something to sell so she could afford something else. Nadia has known the story of what happened broadly. But now, she is forced to experience every single detail. The timeline doesn't reset either. When she returns to the past, some time has elapsed. She made sense of the clues that awaited her. She has to be certain in her convictions. She isn't because she doesn't understand the totality of her mother's life in this moment. She can't share the experience of being pregnant. She is certainly open with her love and willing to abuse her body with any substance no matter the consequences. The characters have those similarities. However, they are distinct individuals. Nadia's choices won't line up perfectly with her mother's. The timeline may not easily be changed. That was the outcome from the first season. Nadia and Alan depended on each other. However, they had to accept lives without the person by their side helping figure out why the time loop was happening in the first place. They had to surrender themselves to the power of the universe. Nadia doesn't even question it anymore. It's strange when she steps onto a train and notices all of the 80s details on display. She walks into a whole new world. It's one that is familiar to her. She can say how the neighborhood develops. Plenty of people have lineages that can be traced across those forty years. If Nadia doesn't know, she has access to learn. She isn't the only person on this journey though. Alan sets off on his own too. That becomes apparent even though the narrative doesn't immediately present the why of it all. Right now, it's solely about the intrigue. These characters have been brought together because of the insane things that happen to them. It all has a purpose. They just have to work to figure it out. They can't ignore the journey either. They have to be along for the ride. That willingness has to be known and appreciated. And now, the season can move into high gear with the various twists it has planned for how the past actually informs the present for this current generation.