Can I give this episode of Russian Doll six stars? It’s the one that made me fall in love, the one that grabbed me by the feels and refused to let go long after Alan’s wrenching rooftop confession. Nadia thrills me, she makes me laugh, but Alan moves me. His forlornness is as poignant as her prickly stubbornness is endearing. It’s almost as if you could put them together and create one, perfect person.
I still don’t believe that Nadia and Alan really are somehow the same person, but damn if all signs aren’t pointing to that conclusion, or at least that they’re some sort of yin-and-yang twinsies. Consider:
1. The title card at the start of this episode is pink. At the start of episode 4, the first full Alan episode, the words “Russian Doll” appeared in white instead of their customary red. Now they’re pink — a mix of Nadia’s red and Alan’s white.
2. Nadia’s so suspicious that they’re the same person, she stabs Alan to make sure they’re not. (Alas, her experiment suggests they’re not.)
3. As Alan points out, their relationship vis-a-vis the video game she designed is symbiotic. “You designed it, I played it.”
4. Alan divulges at Ruth’s house that “people thinking I’m crazy is one of my biggest fears” — just like Nadia.
5. They’re both deathly allergic to bees!
6. In the end, Nadia tells Alan about existing in metaphysical purgatory, “I do not want to do this alone.”
Of course, Nadia also repeatedly makes the case that she is meant to be alone, to be a singular, isolated entity. “Our lives depending on each other for, like, eternity, that’s my own worst personal nightmare,” she brusquely informs Alan at the start of the episode, right after she’s dubbed his neat-freak apartment her idea of hell. “It’s not you. I don’t want to be attached to anyone.” And neither does her video-game avatar. Says Alan, in the most pregnant statement of the show so far, “You created an impossible game with a single character who has to solve everything on her own. It’s stupid.” (The game is also, as Nadia informs us, based on Tatum O’Neal’s character in Paper Moon — who’s as surly as Nadia and likewise lost her mom at a young age.)
With Alan and Nadia now acting out a shared, Odd Couple existence, they also have a shared to-do list: Figure out what Alan’s first death was, because it’s the only one he can’t recall. “Your first death could be what started this whole thing,” Nadia explains. “It’s the only unknown factor we have … We gotta trigger your memory.” She takes him to see Ruth and her EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) machine, which she was briefly shown using with a patient a few episodes back. (EMDR is believed to help patients deal with traumatic memories.) As always happens when Nadia and Ruth get together, they end up talking about Nadia’s mother. “Don’t get me started on the mirrors,” Ruth says. “One day, she shattered them and when I came to take Nadia to school, the mirrors were gone and there was glass everywhere.” “Why mirrors?” Alan asks. “Reflection, proof of existence, another pair of eyes,” answers Ruth. “That’s why therapists are important. Without them, we are very unreliable narrators of our own stories.”
First off, thank you for my new favorite bumper-sticker slogan for why everyone should go see a shrink. (I mean, “Therapy: Because We Are Very Unreliable Narrators of Our Own Stories” is kinda verbose and hifalutin for a bumper sticker, but maybe it’d make a good tweet someday.) Second, let’s jump to what happens at episode’s end: The mirrors all disappear. Nadia resets after choking on a chicken bone and there’s no longer a mirror above the bathroom sink, which this-timeline Max calls an artistic decision on her part, a “statement on narcissism.” (Also, let’s not forget that Alan slammed and shattered a mirror in Mike’s office a couple episodes ago.)
If mirrors are proof of existence, does that mean Nadia and Alan technically no longer exist? If there are no longer any mirrors from here on out, does that mean we should anticipate that Russian Doll will start employing unreliable-narrator tropes?
Or is it that Alan and Nadia no longer need mirrors because each now reflects the other back to them, twinsies-style? Are they now each other’s “another pair of eyes?” After all, Nadia winds up more or less bearing witness to Alan’s fateful Beatrice-breakup night. “What if I go through your night and we recreate what you did that first time?” she suggests after Ruth’s therapy doesn’t pan out. Hooray for that suggestion, because it means we get to see Nadia straight-up destroy Beatrice to her face. “Where’d you get this art from? Is it, like, all from Urban Outfitters?” Nadia trolls her about her apartment decor. (Seriously, I know this is trite to point out, but how insanely unrealistic are the apartments on this show? Beatrice is a grad student/Ph.D. candidate and her apartment has a full-ass separate dining room and a fireplace.) “I actually think that Alan over here is way out of your league,” Nadia continues. “This guy right here can maintain erections like few men I’ve known.”
It is a triumphant and hilarious scene and Nadia rightly declares after she and Alan leave, “I really was fucking amazing … I feel like fucking Rocky right now.” They celebrate/continue replaying the worst night of Alan’s life at 7B (we saw him drinking there alone in episode 4), where Nadia orders another round by requesting, “Hey, bartendress, hello, more drunk please.” (Thank you for my new favorite way to order a drink.) Nadia reiterates, “I think I’m meant to be alone,” while Alan re-emphasizes how similar they are: “Not many people can go through what we’re going through.” She then tells him the backstory of her Mom’s pendant. It’s a Krugerrand, a.k.a. South African gold bullion. Nadia’s grandparents invested in 150 of them after surviving the Holocaust, it’s the only one left after Nadia’s mom spent the rest and it’s worth precisely $152,780.86. I’m sure all of those details are just immaterial filler and won’t ever factor into the plot at all.
Things start to go off the rails when Alan asks Nadia what she was doing around midnight on night #1 and she admits she was having sex with Mike. (Outside Beatrice’s door, Nadia had tried to dodge that bullet by emphatically calling Mike “Maxine’s friend.”) “This is not about my first death,” Alan says. “It’s probably because you were fucking that Irish fucking gingerbread fisherman-looking motherfucker.” (Fisherman?) Nadia tries to lighten the mood by joking that “it’s like we all fucked Beatrice… in a kind of a fun, gangbang way,” but then Alan ups the ante by telling Nadia, “I could fuck you better than Mike.” “Let’s have at it,” Nadia suggests. Cut to their deliciously cringe-y attempt to roleplay their way to a satisfying sexual encounter, with Nadia pretending to be Beatrice and declaring, “I’m cheating on you, but you’re gonna fuck me anyway and then you’re gonna marry me,” and Alan — clearly less experienced at dirty talk — grunting, “Yeah, I’m Mike. I’m fat Mike.” After Alan falls asleep, Nadia decides to go find Horse again. Why? I’m not sure why, but he seems to bond with her by saying, “I prefer casual acquaintances over closer relations and strangers above everybody else,” while she seems to challenge the idea that she and Alan are reflections of one another by wondering, “Do you think we need people to be witnesses?” She also gives Horse Alan’s shoes and her Krugerrand, the latter because it’s “too heavy.”
She takes Horse to the bodega, where she notices the moldy fruit (she hadn’t noticed the moldy fruit at Beatrice’s). Horse knocks some items out of the dairy case; Nadia looks at him on the left side of the store, then glances over to see Alan as he was on night #1, knocking stuff off the shelf on the right side of the store. Alan looks back at her for a moment, but then he vanishes; she now only sees Horse in the store. The score at this moment is something we’ve never heard before, what seems to be a single violin sounding high-pitched and creepy.
When Horse knocked things over, did that trigger Nadia’s memory of seeing Alan in the bodega on night #1? Or is she actually seeing Alan right now thanks to some time-worm loophole? Or does she just think she sees Alan because she’s going crazy? My money’s on the middle one, but no matter which, Nadia comes back to her apartment and tells Alan, “Hey Alan, guess what? We saw each other on the night of our first loop.” She then kicks him out for straightening up her stuff and hanging pictures she’d kept under her bed on purpose.
Alan goes home and plays her video game, while Nadia invites Ruth over. “Other people are garbage,” she tells Ruth. “Then forgive them,” Ruth says. Alan, broken as we’ve ever seen him, heads to his roof. Ruth leaves and Nadia chokes to death on a chicken bone.
That’s when she resets to the now-mirrorless bathroom and rushes over to tell Alan the mirrors are gone. He knows. “Me, too,” he says. “I do not want to do this alone,” she says. “I need to tell you something,” he says. “I remembered my first death. I threw myself off the top of the building. I killed myself.” He sobs.
Here’s what I didn’t realize until a good while after: He and Nadia always reset at the same time. He was on his roof, sad and alone, when she choked on the chicken bone. Alan must’ve just killed himself again.