The second season of Russian Doll drops on Netflix this Wednesday, April 20.
It’s a trippy train ride through time as Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and her counterpart Alan (Charlie Barnett) find their lives upended yet again by a rift in the space-time continuum.
While it may not live up to the tightly-wound brilliance of its freshman season, there’s still a lot to love.
After the success of Russian Doll Season 1, fans questioned whether a second season would even be necessary. Nadia and Alan’s story resolved so perfectly. What more could there be left to tell?
Lyonne’s Nadia is as vulgar and laissez-faire as ever. Our anti-heroine goes on another wild journey, both internally and externally. Are things radically different by the end? Maybe yes, maybe no, but her perception certainly shifts.
It’s about Nadia’s growth as a person, a yearning for connection to her past, and acceptance of what made her who she is. It starts slow and then goes in places you would not expect.
This is time travel at its messiest. The rules of this universe are chaotic enough to keep the audience on their toes.
Nadia is not your average time traveler, but her atypicality is part of what makes Russian Doll so appealing. It’s fascinating to see how she approaches these unique circumstances and what she makes of her situation.
It helps that Lyonne is charismatic as hell and has fantastic chemistry with just about anyone with whom she shares the screen — be it her beloved godmother Ruth (the always reliable Elizabeth Ashley), quirky Maxine (the effervescent Greta Lee), or her beleaguered partner-in-time, Alan.
Barnett does well as Lyonne’s foil/tether. He finds several moments of pure joy, which is a welcome shift for his character, who is still neurotic and paranoid.
Alan approaches his “gift” with more caution than Nadia for fear of losing something precious to him.
The cinematography and the production design are once again impeccably realized.
The first season won Emmys for both, and this season is no different. It’s so inventively and gorgeously shot, from the time-traveling sequences to the vastly different eras and locations.
The attention to detail is captivating and all-consuming.
Highlights include an extremely messy, hallucinogenic drug trip; and the final episode, in which Nadia has to contend with the ramifications of a gutsy and potentially universe-altering decision.
Lyonne (who also serves as showrunner) knows how to direct herself as well, resulting in a heart-breaking, harrowing, disassociative knockout of a performance. The use of bizarre camera angles heightens the tension and uneasiness.
Many of the effects throughout the season are practical, choosing to use camera tricks and movie magic rather than relying too heavily on CGI.
It’s a wise choice that pays off. The Michel Gondry-like surrealism makes the wacky proceedings feel more visceral and gritty.
What’s truly surprising about this season is that it fits the theme of the Russian nesting doll (or “Matryoshka,” not coincidentally the name of the final episode) even more acutely than the first season.
It’s hard to explain without giving too much away. The nature of the journey, the internal layers, and the answers that somehow simultaneously expand and contract are all brilliantly realized.
It all ends up tying back to family and how the people we love (and who love us) shape our identities.
Make no mistake, this Russian Doll is not a comedy series, though Lyonne and Nadia are gifted at finding the humor in every situation. It is solidly a dark, sci-fi drama.
It reflects again on what it means for a human to be immortal, but this time in a much more empathetic, heart-aching way.
While the storytelling is compelling and dense, it’s not as tight as Season 1, which was impossible not to binge.
Season 2 deserves a more measured approach. It should be chewed and digested instead of scarfed down.
Take your time with these seven episodes to fully absorb the rich layers of the story — you’ll be glad you did.
Try to avoid spoilers, too, to treat yourself to the many “A-ha!” moments that the writers have dished out.
All seven episodes drop this Wednesday. Until then, you can watch the trailer here: