Russian doll season 2 picks up the story four years after its first time-looped season. Nadia, prisoner in time after being hit by a taxi on the night of her 36th birthdayand anniversary (season 1), is now on the verge of 40 years. Her birthday is a few weeks away, at the end of March, when she boards a 6 train, leaving Lenox Hill Hospital where her adoptive guardian and surrogate mother, Ruth, received treatment following a car accident and of what we assume to be some degenerative disease.
Nadia gets on the train at 77and street from the Upper East Side, heading downtown to Astor Place, about nine stops south. (It may seem unnecessarily specific, but the geography of the New York City subway becomes important to Season 2’s sci-fi concept.)
She gets off the train at Astor, having been transported to 1982 and transubstantiated into her pregnant mother’s body.
Understanding the second season’s ending requires understanding Nadia’s relationship with her birth mother, Nora, and surrogate mother, Ruth. It’s a season dedicated to motherhood, much like season 1.
Much of Season 1 involves Nadia coming to terms with her mother’s absence and the inherited trauma of her mental illness and death. Season 2 takes this acceptance a step further, asking Nadia to forgive her mother – and even chose her mother over any cosmic alternative. (Nadia will often say throughout the season how she wished she could have been raised differently, that if only she had a different upbringing, maybe her current misfortune would be resolved.)
In one of the final scenes, when she meets her mother on the train, her mother is no longer pregnant, Nadia instead holding the baby, herself, her mother asks if Nadia would still choose the same life, if Nadia would always choose her as her mother – and Nadia says “yes”, giving the baby to her mother herself. The scene seems to represent a definitive acceptance of Nadia’s past; she no longer wants to change events, nor does she believe that changing events will change her current state. It also comes at a time when Nadia has to return to the present (literally and emotionally), where her surrogate, Ruth, is about to die.
Nadia spent much of the second season searching for her mother’s lost gold coins – believing that finding them (and, in doing so, fixing the past) is how she can fix the future, both for herself and for Ruth. When she chooses to leave the gold coins in the flooded time void, she chooses to leave the past in the past. Only then is she able to return to the present – physically and psychologically – and deal with the inevitability of Ruth’s death, an event she now knows she can no longer affect. .
Of course, when she returns, Ruth is already dead, a result that seems to make Nadia’s journey a failure. By spending so much time in the past, she was unable to see Ruth at the very end, proving that her preoccupation with gold coins had far-reaching consequences, which time travel could not reverse. But when Nadia and Alan show up at the wake, she seems happy. So maybe she did go back in time and we only see the wake? Who knows.
Anyway, these are some thematic explanations for the end. Here are some questions we still have.
Where did the gold go?
When Nadia decides to take herself (as a newborn) back to the future, she shatters time. She and Alan slowly enter a collapsing realm of time where nothing seems to matter, where doppelgangers upon doppelgangers roam the streets and litter the morgues. They are eventually separated and dropped off at a flooded train station, which seems to represent a temporal void – an area totally out of time. Here, Nadia finds the gold coins that her mother (or rather, Nadia, inhabiting her mother) lost on the train in 1982.
So, are the gold coins literally lost in the void after being left on train 6? Maybe it’s just a joke, like the MTA lost and found.
So, like, how does time travel work in Russian doll?
We know that Nadia is able to take the train multiple stops back to 1982, but it’s unclear how only she is able to do this and why the other passengers on the train don’t experience this time jump as well. It is also unclear how she arrives in 1968 using the same passage – does she stay longer on the train, even though she still arrives at Astor Place, the same stop as in 1982? Or how she arrives in 1944 and in a totally different place. Does she just stay… even longer?
A simple answer is that none of this actually happens; Nadia experiences these phenomena mentally and not physically. In the first season, Nadia takes ketamine just before her first “death”. In Season 2, she and Maxine take drugs again, this time DMT.
It is also possible that these experiences are the result of some type of mental disorder; we know that Nadia’s mother suffered from schizophrenia, and perhaps Nadia, too, experiences these time distortions due to her own illness.
The best answer to time travel, however, is simply: don’t think about it.
What’s wrong with the horse?
Horse appears to have initiated the time jump by shouting on the platform the first time Nadia boards the time-traveling 6 train. He also appears in Collapse of Time to guide Nadia and Alan to the temporal void, reprising his role as a Virgil-like guide in the first season.
We might assume that the horse is somehow the key to understanding the two seasons of Russian doll– that he is in a way a timekeeper and an orchestrator of Nadia’s experiments.
We may just have to wait for a future season to confirm.
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