Rebirth has always captured public imagination and artistic license. Be it the Buddhist belief in reincarnation or the Victorian’s fixation with seances, we’ve always been transfixed with what happens to the dead after they die. Where does the energy go? Can a person come back to life?
Imagine if you died. Imagine if you died, and then miraculously came back to life, to the very moment you’d die at. Then imagine dying again. Once this process has happened a minimum of 100 times, you’d be experiencing the complex situation the protagonist in Netflix’s Russian Doll finds herself in.
After dying at a party (no spoilers, happens in the first 15 mins of episode one) Nadia Vulvokov finds herself magically alive again, back to square one sniffing cocaine in the bathroom. After an uncomfortable confrontation with déjà vu, she tries to avoid her death of being hit by a car only to find that she falls off a bridge instead.
This process repeats for the next four or so episodes. Nadia finds herself negotiating friends, therapists and her Jewish faith to try and figure out why she keeps dying and why, instead of finding peace, she paradoxically keeps coming back to life. The confusion continues until about half-way through the eight-episode series, when she meets Alan, who’s seemingly dealing with the same twisted fate. Together, they try to decipher why this is happening to them. And unsurprisingly, it all comes down to the usual variety: childhood trauma, struggles with faith, an incapability to love or be loved.
Nadia finds herself negotiating friends, therapists and her Jewish faith to try and figure out why she keeps dying.
I must admit, the first few episodes had me extremely unsure of whether I enjoyed the series or not. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I work on the beauty section rather than the TV section of The Courier and probably missed the subtleties and intricacies of those initial moments. But after I’d wrapped my head around what might be going on, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Whilst it is intricate and subtle, it can be enjoyed as surface level sci-fi at the very least.
But for those with a broader TV palate than myself, it’s remarkable in its commentary on several issues. It handles depression and mental health issues sensitively, thoughtfully and intelligently, offering a subtle commentary on the way we treat those suffering. It also tackles addiction, looking unapologetically but also poignantly at the issues that arise from it, and how this shapes addicts and those around them. Less obviously, it offers a considered but provoking commentary on the Jewish faith, its teaching and scriptures and the mental trauma of the Holocaust which is still pertinent to even third-generation descendants of the survivors.
Despite this, it’s rather shockingly not a total downer. Moments of humour are constantly intertwined with the more serious stuff, with a stellar performance from Natasha Lyonne as Nadia. It also presents optimism – despite the nihilism of never-ending death – and is almost prophetic in nature, offering interpretations that range from great sci-fi thrill to mimicking religious scripture. Russian Doll is a thought-provoking, funny and well-executed watch.