When I first seen the trailer of this show and realize that this show is about, I really didn’t think i would ever like it. The lifestyle of the protagonists seems disorganized and purposeless. And having the main character reliving the same day over and over again to reveal a grander theme is not a novel setup in the Hollywood. In science fiction, we have Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow; in thriller, we have Christopher Smith’s Triangle; in comedy, we have Groundhog Day and in drama; we have Jake Gyllenhaal’s Source Code. So when we discuss the merits of the this show, we must consider what’s new got brought to the table in this show.
This unique setup of story-telling granted the show a very particular edge in portraying the development of characters, that is the show presents a natural longitudinal comparison of the character between each “reincarnation” or “resurrection”. With the bulk of the background unchanged, it became very easy for the audience to notice the arch of our protagonists’ behavior and personalities through the tiniest changes in their behavior, in some sense, we get to shed layers of disguises of the characters and reveal the truth underneath them — like a Russian Doll. For example, Alan used to kill the fly in his bathroom every time he resurrects, but in the eighth episode, not only didn’t kill the fly, but also has a smile on this face, this forces the audience to compensate: what can this possibly mean?
So who are the dolls in this show? We have Nadia, who is a video game designer in her 30s, who is clearly a drug-head with a very chaotic romantic life and a serious mother issue. And we have Alan who is a young man with mild obsessive-compulsive disorder and a sort of faintheart and wimpy character. I think this show did a very good job exhibiting the course of change in these two characters. Over the show, Nadia became more tuned in with the reality she lives in rather than the numbed up world she had built for herself with alcohol and recreational drugs. She gradually starts to genuinely accept her mother’s influence on her, shaking off this overshadowing mother figure that has been her source of her misery her entire life. And Alan becomes more confidence and starts letting go some of his obsession with absolute order and embracing the unpredictable life.
So what is new in this show? How is this different from the other great movies mentioned in the beginning? I think what is great about this show is the choice of using this unworldly setup to tell a redemption story of an ordinary people, to tell a story of someone everybody can relates to, one of that alien warfare and top secret military operation mojo. What i really like about this show is that it is a realistic depiction of the lives of people with mental health problems, not problems like Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, but depression like Nadia and OCD like Alan. What I mean by realistic is that main-stream media tends to either vilify or romanticise depression and OCD. for example people with depression were either portrayed as solitary genius like Dr.House from “House” or the victim of mistreatment of our society like Clay Jenson from “13 Reasons Why” and the Hollywood classic math genius with OCD stereotype. What I like about this show is that the character it creates can be bitter and cynical like Nadia and somewhat pathetic and woeful as Alan, and these two characters can still find hope and happiness from this dreadful situation they were stuck in. It offers a point of view of life from the perspective of people with mental illness that is dark and depressing, yet not smothering the ember of hope. Changes counts, no matter how small it is. It is not about the grand gestures but believing in the smallest good deeds will eventually bring your life around.
I think it is also very interesting that the writer of the show decides to make both characters resurrects in front of a mirror every time. Mirror is a metaphor for introspection, so resurrecting to the front of a mirror sort of touches on the theme of this show: face the true self and accept your true self. What is also interesting about this design is that the character Nadia is Jewish, and in Jewish mourning culture, mirrors need to be covered because they believe ghosts, although cannot be seen by the naked eye, can be seen through the mirrors. I am not sure if the writers had this in mind when they designed this part of the show, but I think it is a very interesting coincidence either way.
This show also did a very good job in cinematography and scoring. The long takes following Nadia walk through crowds in the party were done very artistically and appropriately. The time-lapse of Nadia binge drinking and smoking after one of her resurrection and the parallel camera angle of Nadia and Alan in episode 8 were perfectly done and fit perfectly with the story telling perspective. The recurring song “Gotta Get Up” brings a positive and warming energy every time it starts playing, reminding our character to get up and start making changes about her life.
Overall, Russian Doll is a very interesting show with a very deep and meaningful theme and brilliant and marvelous acting. Although I really hope some of the death of the main characters have more metaphorical meaning, I can not deny the fact that the writers and the director did a very good job in the story telling of this show and I would definitely recommend anyone who is interested in the topic of depression and mortality to watch this show. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.