The Charm of Time-Loop Stories

Who does not want a second chance in life? If any of us could go back to a moment or day in our lives that was assigned an enormous purpose that we bungled away somehow, we would all do it. If we mess up that second chance, too, we would love a third, fourth, fifth, and perhaps more. If time-loop stories like Groundhog Day, Palm springsand Russian Doll have proven, we do need a few redos in life. That is before we can figure out and embrace the idea that we messed up and need to make a change.

The people we meet, lose, or cling to along the way, the ones we can not say goodbye to in time, and the ones we walk away from too soon in fear of presumed rejection all leave us wondering. Imagine if we could simulate endless possibilities just like in video games. We would not have to ponder upon the ‘what could’ve beens’ and’ what should’ve been’s anymore. We could repeat our mistakes a few times before we found the bug in the source code that needed to be booted out.


Meanwhile, we could also embrace the five philosophical stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (not particularly in that order) – while allowing some hilarity to ensue in the midst of the pure madness that is life stuck in a time-loop. Russian Doll explores just that as two people find each other again and again through the trials of life and time. As they meet, they are no longer two separate lost souls, reliving their multiple deaths for eternity, but comrades finding meaning in the outward pointlessness of their existence.

Time Loops & Coolness

Russian Doll season 1 Charlie Barnett Natasha Lyonne

The 2019 Netflix series Russian Doll is created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler. The 8-part series follows Orange Is The New Black alum Lyonne’s Nadia Vulvokov, a game developer who mysteriously keeps dying on the night of her birthday. After the frightening first few runs and reruns of her death by various horrifying means, Nadia picks up on the irony of this whole ordeal happening on her 36th birthday specifically. She lost her mother (played by the multifaceted Chloë Sevigny) at the age of 36, a momentous event in her life she has not yet reconciled with even in adulthood.

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Like so many of us, she is carrying her childhood wound, raw and unhealed still, as she moves through a life marked by chaos and numbness masked in the charade of “coolness.” Because come what heartbreak may, Nadia is the epitome of chill. She goes through life’s many pitfalls by brushing off their scarring significance, all the while looking sleek as hell. Nadia is bruised by life, but she is brash, dead or alive. The swagger in her footsteps, body language, even when she smokes or does drugs that may be laced with other drugs, tells us how little she cares about things. She is above the mundane realities of life that can bog us down. “Sh * t happens, but we move on in style,” would be her motto if she was uncool enough to have mottos.

Russian Doll season 1 Natasha Lyonne Door

But we all know coolness is ultimately a facade, and it all crumbles when Nadia finds herself in an endless loop of death. Until she discovers a sliver of hope, a way to debug the broken sequence she is stuck in when she stumbles into Alan Zaveri (played by another Orange Is The New Black castmate, Charlie Barnett) in a lift who is unfazed by impending death. He is stuck in the same loop as Nadia!

Unlike Bill Murray’s Phil in Groundhog Day or Cristin Milioti’s Sarah and Andy Samberg’s Nyles in Palm springs, Nadia and Alan do not have the luxury to laze around or pick up new life skills along the way. They have to team up and figure out a way to get out of this loop, an endeavor that eventually leads them to bifurcated timelines where they help each other’s unevolved selves survive their misery. “Life was too painful, or they were too fragile, but either way you slice it, they just could not hack it. And then, one night, something miraculous happened. They made it through alive,” Nadia muses as we inch towards an absolution for both these characters. But it does not quite come.

A Video Game for Gods and Demons?

Russian Doll

The first season ends on a cathartic high but leaves many questions unanswered. Where are Nadia and Alan now? Will their evolved selves find their way to each other again? If the season 2 teaser is anything to go by, Nadia’s tribulations are not over yet. As Alan is an integral part of her journey, he will return.

Some theories pointed toward Groundhog Day being about purgatory. The 11th episode of the third season of the popular TV show Supernatural, “Mystery Spot,” also explores this theme of purgatory where Sam and Dean are being punished and toyed with by Loki, the god of mischief. While this is still a possibility in Russian Doll, that Nadia is indeed stuck in a purgatory of some kind, it can also be a nod to the conspiracy theory that life is a simulation, that we are all a part of some matrix. Or is it a video game for Gods and Demons?

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Apart from skipping on regular emotional tropes to drive the story forward, Lyonne told Thrillist how she might bring back and push on the video game narrative style this season, “In this video game sense, it presents a question of do they in fact enter a whole new sort of scenario in that moment that they kind of completed that round? ”

We have seen Netflix play with the video game narrative style with shows like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. the Reverend. In a way, the Hunger Games series also explores a life and death scenario through simulated game arenas made possible. Hopefully we will have our answers soon as Russian Doll is all set to return on Netflix on April 20, 2022. So mark the date on your calendar or simply set a reminder on the app!

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