“Russian Doll” Season 1 was a Netflix show that had a fresh twist on the central premise of “Groundhog Day,” in which Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) dies over and over again, reliving the same day, until she finds out how to break the cycle, which she did in Season 1.
Season 2 has the unfortunate dilemma of fully explaining what went on in Season 1, while upping the ante in a way that doesn’t repeat the hijinks of the first season. As such, the central premise of this season focuses on a magical New York MTA subway car that brings Natasha and fellow time-loop veteran Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) back in time, through the bodies of their ancestors.
As such, Nadia initially goes back to 1982 in the form of her mother, Lenora (Chloë Sevigny), who has yet to lose the family’s golden krugerrands that were supposed to be her inheritance. Her mother is pregnant with herself, but is dating a con man named Chezare “Chez” Carrera (Sharlto Copley), whom Nadia suspects stole the krugerrands. As you can imagine, this part gets pretty weird.
Meanwhile, Alan travels back as his grandmother, Agnes (Carolyn Michelle Smith), to East Berlin in 1982, where she was studying to become an engineer as a foreign student from Ghana. She is dating a fellow student named Lenny (Sandor Funtek), who is determined to cross over to West Berlin via a tunnel Agnes designed. Alan, knowing that the Soviet Union would fall anyways in 1989, tries to urge him to wait, but finds that he is unable to change the past.
What I love the most about this season is how it illustrates the passage of time and the day-to-day struggles of each character’s ancestors, and how their lives directly affected events in the current day, both by intentional and unintentional action. Nadia eventually goes back to 1944 as her grandmother, Vera Peschauer (Ilona McCrea), in order to relive the first instance of her family losing the krugerrands, and its clear that Vera’s experiences fleeing from the Nazis and subsequently having to rebuild her life in America had a massive toll on her, that she passed down to her daughter, and through her, to Nadia.
This season, however, lacks structure like Season 1 had, with the time travel mechanic accomplishing little in terms of telling a cohesive story, other than giving Nadia and Alan a much better understanding and appreciation of their ancestors.
Lyonne and Barnett deliver strong performances again as our leads, though their stories are much less connected than in Season 1. There are great individual scenes and moments in Season 2 where Lyonne and Barnett shine, but it fails to add up to a satisfying whole, most likely because Lyonne, who took over as showrunner this season, is hoping to bait Netflix and viewers into a Season 3.
Season 2 is still nowhere near a bad season of television; it’s just doesn’t quite stick the landing.
“Russian Doll” Season 2 gets a 7.5/10