Russian Doll Recap: Sweet Surrender

Russian Doll

A Warm Body
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

Russian Doll

A Warm Body
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Good morning and welcome back to the fuckpile! In this series that has fast become my most favorite lit-crit play-putty, “fuckpile” is a word with both textual and subtextual meaning. Having miraculously made it to sunup without croaking again/yet, Nadia wakes up on her friends’ blue-velvet chesterfield to once more (as she did in the previous episode) feast her eyes on the party’s orgiastic leftovers, passed out helter-skelter on the floor. Similarly, our antiheroine’s life is in disarray — a metaphorical and metaphysical fuckpile, if you will — as she’s still without a plausible motive for why she remains stuck in a time loop with no end in sight.

Not to worry, though. After Nadia’s run-in with the rando urinating in the bathroom (Her: “Has anything weird happened to you in this bathroom?” Him: “This. This is a little weird.”), she realizes there’s another way to determine what in the fuckpile is going on. “Fucking clues abound,” she muses as she gazes around the loo. Process of elimination kicks in: If it’s not the drugs that have put her in this altered state (because it turns out she’s taken ketamine before), and if it’s not her mental health or lack thereof (because, well, “a bunch of mama’s boys don’t get to decide I’m crazy”), then it’s her surroundings that have somehow manifested this absurdist scenario: “It’s the fucking yeshiva.”

Nadia bounds outside for further fucking clues — although, finding herself hilariously unwilling to put foot to murderous step (a scene that would seem certifiably “crazy” to the uninformed onlooker), she goes “downzy wownzy” the fire escape instead. After the little old lady with the “lovely cart” ignores her request for information about the history of the building, she heads back upstairs (sorry, up-fire escape) to pester Lizzy and Max about it. (Side note: I love that Lizzy is trying to convince Max to get into podcasts. So relatable!)

“Have you ever noticed that there’s an inscription over the door that is incredibly highly creepy? What does it mean?” Nadia asks. Lizzy asks back with surprise, “Don’t you know? You’re Jewishy.” “Not by choice,” Nads insists. “Religion is dumb as fuck. It’s racist, it’s sexist, there’s no money in it… anymore.”

Nadia quickly proves at least part of her proclamation right — it’s sexist! — when she hoofs it over to the synagogue that once ran the yeshiva and is prohibited from seeing the rabbi because she’s just “some single woman off the street,” as she’s dubbed by the smug secretary she encounters, Shiphrah. (That’s comedic writer/actress Tami Sagher; you’ve seen her in a bunch of other stuff and she’s also listed in the credits as a consultant on this show.) Nadia calls John and asks him to pose as her husband so he can pose the questions she’s dying (ha!) to ask the rabbi: Any history of hauntings in the building? Supernatural events? The dead coming back to life?

This may be the funniest episode of Russian Doll yet. Plop a “Jewishy” Noo Yawker like Nadia/Natasha Lyonne into a synagogue and — hey-o! — Borscht belt comedy fucking abounds. Such as:

Nadia: “Hey, Shabbat shalom!”
Shifra: “It’s not Shabbat.”
Nadia: “Fine by me!”


John, to Shiphrah: “Just so you know, I’m not Jewish, but I am circumcised.”
Nadia: “Eh, fifty-fifty!”

In the same sitcom-y vein, when John finally enters the rabbi’s inner sanctum (hey-o!), it only takes a beat before he’s veered hopelessly off-book from Nadia’s prescribed questions to bemoan the twisted state of their love affair. “Nadia is a distraction,” the rabbi tells him. “Embracing the abyss is the only way forward… Turn away from the physical world and toward the spiritual one. There is wisdom inaccessible through the intellect. You can only reach it by surrendering, being nothing.”

John receives the rabbi’s counsel as proxy for Nadia; this is likewise her guidance to follow. Surrender is the only way forward for her if she wants things to change — if she wants resurrection.

In the meantime, what insight does Nadia receive from Shiphrah’s protecting-dead-people prayer? “Angels are all around us.” P.S. In the Bible, Shiphrah disobeys the Pharaoh’s orders to kill all newborn Hebrew boys. Despite all the friction between them, Shiphrah is rooting for Nadia; she’s on Team Life, Team Redemption, Team Resurrection — whatever you want to call it. That, or she’s just really appreciative of the mango Nadia brought her.

If surrender is the way forward, then how? Surrender to what, to who? Nadia tries, for a moment, surrendering to John. “I blew up my life, and that’s not on you. But if you could acknowledge that it happened, that would be great,” John implores her outside the synagogue after she refuses to tell him what this slapsticky scheme of hers is really about. “It happened, John,” she admits about their affair. “I know it happened.” She finally gives him what he wants from her — validation, and then back at her place, sex. (Sex that’s presumably a bit more passionate than the “transactional” blow job she promised him for playing along with her rabbi ruse.)

It doesn’t last, though. She can’t fulfill John’s desire for a real relationship because she can’t surrender to him fully. “I miss you,” he says plaintively. “Great, people miss people,” she replies patronizingly. When he presses her — “Why it is so offensive to you to consider me as a real option?” — the only answer she can muster is a facetious one. “You know what? Sure. why not? I want to be with you, John, for the rest of my life,” she chides him. “If it makes you happy, we’re together forever.”

Seething, John finally tells her the rabbi’s advice. “He goes, ‘You’re using her as a distraction from the abyss.’ But he’s wrong,” John says, “because you are the abyss.” A visibly shaken Nadia informs him, “I promise you just feel that way right now.” “No,” he spits back. “I promise I feel that way all the fucking time.”

The abyss crack clearly bothers Nadia, maybe because, if she’s the abyss, then there’s certainly no way forward for her; there’s only endless down.

But once she’s back in Tompkins Square Park again, drunk and looking for Oatmeal, she finds it easy to surrender to that homeless guy — whose name, we learn, is Horse. (He’s a man named Horse… a Horseman of the Apocalypse?) She says yes immediately when he tells her he wants to cut her hair; when she muses that he might use his styling shears to murder her, and he says he won’t, she offers, “You can change your mind.”

Resurrection begins! Horse cuts her hair and tell her, “This is the new you.” (Unfortunately, nothing’s ever that easy; Nads looks at herself in the mirror and decides, “I look like my mom.”) Nadia couldn’t budge an inch for John, but she goes the extra mile for Horse. Literally: After attempting to spend the night with him in the park and freezing to death (dark!), she hoofs it to the homeless shelter (hellur! The Salvation Army!) so she can guard his shoes and prevent them from being swiped. (I checked on Google Maps and the Salvation Army headquarters on West 14th Street is 1.4 miles away from 7B.) With Horse, she’s selfless, she’s protective, she makes sacrifices for someone else for the very first time. (I gotta also say: Doing good deeds for strangers just because? Very Groundhog Day.)

And what does the universe grant her for her sacrifice? Only the MOST INSANE TWIST ENDING WITH THE MOST DELICIOUS IRONIC SYMBOLISM GAHHHH!! The Salvation Army elevator malfunctions and begins to plummet. Nadia does not freak out. She is emotionally embracing a more-or-less literal abyss! And as she does, suddenly there is a way forward. The way forward for her is Alan. The guy in the elevator who “dies all the time.”

Russian Doll Recap: Sweet Surrender