What You Need To Know: Russian Doll Explained [S1 SPOILER FREE]
You may have seen Russian Doll season 1 on Netflix (2019), but going into Russian Doll season 2 (2022), what do you need to know?
I HATE spoilers. This article is entitled, “What You Need to Know,” because symbolism EXPLAINS A LOT. But also, this is not a spoiler article. So I won’t explain the ending. Instead, I will explain some key symbols in season 1.
There is a lot HIDDEN here.
Let me explain.
To recap the basic premise, in episode 1, Nadia Volvokov (the protagonist, played by Natasha Lyonne) dies; too bad, because it’s her birthday today, and she’s at her own damn party. Anyway, after her death, she wakes up in the bathroom only to die again. And so on. It keeps repeating — with Nadia trying in vain to sidestep her demise — until at the end of episode 2, Nadia Volvokov finally decides she is just going to enjoy her damn birthday party (instead of trying to avoid the inevitable).
There is A LOT more going on in the plot, but I promised you a spoiler-free explanation of Russian Doll. So.
What You Need to Know: Symbolism in Russian Doll Explained
There are a number of clues here. If we can understand these clues, we can unlock the secret code behind Russian Doll’s writing. Let’s look at them.
The Washroom Door is Shaped Like a Vagina
Or, at least, the washroom door is supposed to be shaped like a vagina. Lizzy and Maxine, the couple (are they a couple? they seem to be a dom/sub BDSM pair in an open relationship) who are throwing the party, designed the door.
Maxine (the girl in the leather choker with the ketamine joint) designed the door to look like vaginal, and I guess Lizzy did the actual building. This is all in episode 1.
Anyway, this is important because vaginas are where people are born. At least they were when I last gave it a Google.
Volvokov Goes Back to the Washroom Every Time She Dies
After dying, the protagonist keeps going back to the washroom with the vagina-ish door.
It is Volvokov’s Birthday
Today is Nadia Volvokov’s birthday. People are born on their birthdays.
So basically, Volvokov exits through vagina to the day of her birth, like every baby.
The Door Handle is Shaped Like a Gun
Every time Volvokov leaves the washroom, she has to use the gun to open the door. I actually had to think about this one for a minute. At first, I was perplexed. If the door is a vagina, then is the gun phallic somehow? But that didn’t make any sense. Then I realized — of course — when she clicks the revolver to unlock the door, she is guaranteed to die.
Essentially, every time she pulls the trigger, Volvokov ends her life.
Look out for more analysis as I keep watching! This is a great show, and I can’t believe I haven’t seen it until now in 2022, when Netflix suddenly recommended Russian Doll to me.
In Season 1 Episode 6: Reflection, we learn about the meaning of the mirrors. Why does she keep waking up in front of the mirror, looking at herself? This should have been obvious, but if I’m being honest, I never really thought about the mirror until this episode spelled it out: mirrors represent our ability to be introspective. We can look at ourselves. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say this is a huge theme throughout the entire first season.
By the way, in the same episode, she gives away her gold amulet to someone. Then she says, “I think I’m a shadow.” I wonder if that is some kind of reference to the Laura character in Neil Gaiman’s magical realism novel, American Gods.
In American Gods, the protagonist, whose name is Shadow, gives a gold coin to his deceased wife, Laura. I’m not sure exactly what the connection is, but between the gold amulet and the word “shadow,” something triggered there.