A trippy, emotional trip through time

Natasha Lyonne and her team of writers give their all in this unique time travel series to tell an engaging story
A still from Russian Doll. ( File Photo)
A still from Russian Doll. ( File Photo)

Almost all time travel films or series have warned us to not meddle with time, but the temptation to see a character take the hand off the wheel is real. Russian Doll season 2 is the closest one can come to satiate that temptation. After a riveting first season that explored the idea of a time loop, writer-creator Natasha Lyonne and Co have gone berserk with the idea of time travel.

Four years after the events of the first season and just a week before her 40th birthday, Nadia (Natasha) discovers a wormhole in the 6 Lexington Avenue Local subway train route in New York that takes her back to 1982, a week before her birth. Nadia soon realises that she’s in the body of her pregnant mother Nora (Chloe Sevigny), and embarks on a journey to resolve the blunders of her past. Simultaneously, Alan (Charlie Barnett) also takes a different subway train that transports him to East Berlin in 1962, where he lives in the body of his grandmother Agnes (Carolyn Michelle Smith).

From the second episode, the two narratives branch out quite wonderfully, into two distinct worlds. Nadia discovers more about her mother and her Hungarian Jewish past. She strives to ensure that her mother doesn’t lose the precious gold coins (called Krugerrands) that were passed on as family heirlooms post the Second World War. Alan is pushed to the wall to make a tough decision: whether or not to let his grandmother’s date, Lenny, cross the Berlin Wall in a tunnel that was designed by Agnes herself. It only gets more bizarre from here, when Nadia ends up travelling further back in time, tracing the origins of the heirloom.

Season 2 is more emotionally vigorous compared to the first. Through the wormhole, the two lead characters not only travel to one of the darkest periods of human history but also the darkest corners of their own minds. In one of the episodes, Nadia has to face her mother’s Schizophrenia at a mental institution and the scene stands out as the best. Lacing these intense moments with subtle humour seems to be Lyonne’s go-to trick to not let the gloominess overwhelm us.

For instance, when her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) looks at a dead man’s memorial plaque and asks why they all get such plaques, Nadia’s reply is: “Where are all the memorials for us living women?” Witty dialogues and engaging screenwriting have been Russian Doll’s USP, and this continues in the second season. Carefully constructed characters are another major boon. It’s brilliant how Alan and Nadia are written as opposites of each other. For one, Nadia behaves like the moronic teen in horror movies who chooses to go back to a haunted house. With no respect for something as transcendent as spacetime, Nadia marches on with her self-centred, devil-may-care plan of acquiring her ancestral’ wealth. Alan is the careful time traveller who reminds Nadia of what the characters in time travel films usually say about changing the past. Interestingly, these two distinct characters also eventually realise how similar they are to their ancestors.

The stories of Alan and Nadia are at once, stories of how far and deep the pangs of the Second World War have seeped. Secondly, these can be viewed as narratives that explore the idea that the present is a cumulation of all actions of the past. On a deeper level, this season speaks about two individuals with connected yet different pasts, who embark on a journey within to not only complete themselves but also to realise the solace they find in the company of each other.

The clarity in this character writing, however, doesn’t extend to some additional characters, like the younger version of Ruth (Annie Murphy). Another major issue is how inadequate the redemption that the two brilliant lead characters get is. Further, a few moments that are aimed to shock us, fail due to their predictability.

If anything, this second season of the series is a testimony that this genre continues to be a never-diminishing plethora of innovative stories. I mean, at one point, Schrodinger’s cat meets some inexplicable temporal paradox in this series. Lyonne and her team of writers have certainly amped up the game by many levels and one can only imagine how mind-bending the third season would turn out to be.

Series: Russian Doll Season 2
Creators: Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Chloe Sevigny, Carolyn Michelle Smith
Streaming on: Netflix

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The New Indian Express