SPOLER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Ariadne,” the Season 1 finale of “Russian Doll.”
It’s been more than three years since the first season of “Russian Doll” launched on Netflix, and as such, even the most die-hard fans of the Natasha Lyonne time-loop dramedy need to forgive themselves if they don’t remember exactly how the first-season ending played out. But it is important we get that straight now if you want to enjoy Season 2 right when it launches Wednesday.
So here to clear up what she considers a “misnomer” about the conclusion to “Russian Doll” Season 1, which had a lot of threads to follow in its closing moments, for Variety is star and co-creator Lyonne herself.
As a refresher, the finale, titled “Ariadne,” followed two different versions of Nadia (Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett), where in each pairing, only one of them remembers each other and the entire time-loop fiasco they had been experiencing. As viewers, we’re able to follow this with the help of a split screen, and the fact the original Alan is wearing a red scarf on his side, and none on the other, and original Nadia is in a white shirt on her side, and a black on the other. By the episodes end, the main Nadia and Alan have helped the alternative versions of their newfound friend in some meaningful way. This leads to the dissolution of the split screen during a parade both pairs walk into, with only red-scarf Alan and white-shirt Nadia in the combined shot. When the split screen is gone, you also see two other versions of Nadia walk past her in the other direction.
For some viewers, all of this led them to believe that both versions of Alan and Nadia fused into one prime person in one timeline, while others thought we were looking at the prime versions of both characters and the alternate versions were together in a timeline we weren’t seeing, and still others took it to mean only the split screen was gone and we were just following one of the split pairs and had abandoned the other.
“It’s their present. So you’re actually looking at both the Alpha Nadia and Alan — but that doesn’t mean the Beta Nadia and Alan are not there,” Lyonne said. “But I do think people experienced it as an actual split, that you’re looking at Alpha Nadia with Beta Alan.”
At the same time, the showrunner says “the whole thing is subjective,” as much of “Russian Doll” is, “because it’s a question of, who is the actual Alpha, anyway?”
“At various points, for example, there was a scene where you had Nadia coming across that parade itself,” Lyonne said. “There was this idea we were kicking around in the room that, when you see the Nadia with the other two Nadias at the end of Episode 108, were we like, well what happened to those other Nadias? You could have done one just about the three Nadias. And there were very hard sci-fi ideas of Nadia emerging from her own grave and ending up in an empty white space, almost like an ‘Under the Skin’ kind of universe.”
“Long story short, you are well set up, obviously, for a true multiverse show, which was a big idea behind the pitches of, where did this iteration of Alan go?” Lyonne said. “Where did this iteration of Nadia go? Where did Beta Alan go? Where did Beta Nadia go? And you could certainly do a season of that.”
But that’s not what “Russian Doll” Season 2 is, according to Lyonne, who executive produces alongside co-creators Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland. Set four years after Nadia and Alan escaped mortality’s time loop together, “Russian Doll” Season 2 will instead find Nadia and Alan delving deeper into their pasts through an unexpected time portal.
“We had definitely been playing with a lot of different ideas, but ultimately really wanted to stick with character journey,” Lyonne said. “Rather than doing all this backwards exposition to tie together the intervening three and a half years, the idea is, whatever iteration of it it is, Alpha Nadia and Alpha Alan are here and now, being faced with the question of, now that I’m not dying, how do I start living? When you strip away the fat of a lot of this high-concept sci-fi stuff, that really is at the heart of the question from a character standpoint this year.”
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