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Station to Station -| Review Score – 3/5
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Schrodinger’s Ruth -| Review Score – 4/5
Matryoshka -| Review Score – 3.5/5
When Russian Doll dropped on Netflix back in 2019, it brought with it a smartly written and nicely contained time loop story. It wasn’t particularly difficult to understand and its story had just the right blend of humour and mystery to keep things ticking across its 8 episode run-time.
After a lengthy 3 year hiatus, Russian Doll is back and its bigger, badder and more messy than ever before. In a way, this second season is both better and worse than what’s come before, with a much more poignant theme around grief and family running through these 7 episodes. However, this also comes at the expense of a wasted subplot involving Alan, less clarity around the new time travel rules and – surprisingly – a bit of filler too.
The second season picks up four years after the events that gripped season 1. Nadia has indeed broken the time loop and she’s living a relatively calm life. Although she’s still on high alert around her birthday, things have settled down a lot. Alan still has his own routine too, dead-set on finding “the one” after a barrage of uninspiring dates with different women.
On the eve of her 40th birthday, Nadia hops aboard a train home but discovers, to her shock, that this is no ordinary train. No, this is a time traveling train that whisks her back to 1982 and into the period her mother, Nora, occupied. As past and present begin to collide together, Nadia is left with trying to pick up the pieces of her own life, along with her mother’s, in a bid to try and return to normality. Will she do it? Or will Nadia get stuck in another nightmarish loop?
The story this year involves everything from Nazis and existential crises through to time loops, smartly layered twists and a couple of head-scratching jumps in logic. Now, some of this can be blamed squarely on the general rules surrounding time travel this season which are… convoluted.
We’re not told this until late on (but there’s not really much in the way of spoilers here to say this) but it would appear that Nadia is actually able to control the flow of time through this specific train. How? Why? Well, it’s never really explained. You’re just expected to run with it.
However, things soon take a bizarre turn and audiences are expected to just run with it as the show completely abandons reason thanks to an extra layer of convolution. I’m being really careful not to spoil any of this but for many, it’s going to be one of those stories where you need to switch your brain off a bit to enjoy.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have too many grumbles about this (time travel stories are hard enough to get right as it is) but given how simple and effective season 1’s rules were, it’s disappointing to find season 2 stumble and get into a bit of a muddle. Thankfully, Nadia’s journey is well defined and rather easy to follow which does overshadow some of the issues. Sure, it descends a bit into “fetch quest” territory – including an utterly pointless trip across to Hungary – but Natasha Lyonne’s charisma and quick wits are enough to paper over any lulls in the action.
Less forgiving however, is how Alan is handled this year. He’s given a pretty pointless subplot that never really goes anywhere. Aside from a nice twist involving his character during episode 2, there’s absolutely no point in him even being here. In fact, if you cut all of his scenes out of this season, you’d end up with the exact same story, perhaps save for a few moments in the final episode.
This is a real shame too because season 1 handled these two characters so well but here, Alan feels like an afterthought rather than an active part of the story.
Russian Doll does go some way to quell that disappointment through some fantastic visuals and trippy effects. The show does a brilliant job bringing all of this together into some psychedelic, hedonistic montages late on, with episode 6 in particular showcasing some excellent cinematography, including some trippy camera work.
While there is fun to be had with Russian Doll this year, it doesn’t compare to 2019’s iteration. With skewed time travel rules and an utterly pointless subplot for Alan, Russian Doll feels like the Nadia show but there’s not quite enough pizzazz to keep the whole crowd gripped until the end of the ensemble.
Verdict - 7/10