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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

Russian Doll Thrall

A TV Love Letter to Your Mom


Spoilers for: Russian Doll season two. It slaps, so do watch that first, sweet birthday baby.

"Nothing in this world is easy except pissing in the shower." -Ruthie
Ruthie's Russian Doll reminder for life (or, feminist time travel) inspires me to write a love letter this Mother's Day to my own pithy momma.

Dear Mom,

You made me in your image. You didn't mean to. That's just the way time passes when women are together.

You made me amazing with commas, fearless in pursuit of expressing myself, and fundamentally kind to strangers. Sometimes I talk with my eyes closed. I always have little patience for bullshit. That's you too. Thank you. I love you. Happy Mother's Day! But Yeesh. Mom. I mean. There's no escaping it. I see you. I am you. You were me. I'll be you.

You dig? Not clear yet? Oh shit, this may take a while.

Ellen, can I call you, Ellen? Ah, I see. Mom. Mother, I think you'd really love Russian Doll season two. It's so much more than Natasha Lyonne's sci-fi tragicomic romp for Netflix. It made me value the minimal timey-wimey chaos enacted upon our fused lives as daughter and mother. This televisual Matryoshka really made me appreciate you. Here's why:

The layers of femme ensemble are gold.

I know you love a strong female lead, mama. Takes one to know one. Try a kinetic multigenerational trio, with a few extra sheroes tossed in for free!

We know it takes a village of queens to raise one bad bitch. It's no different for Nadia (Natasha Lyonne). She is raised by an unwell, panicked, selfish mama, Nora (played with unhinged tenderness by Chloë Sevigny). Drug-addled and reckless, Nora rides through her pregnancy with lil' Nadia. Eeek. Nora's biggest mistake? Losing her family's gold to her thieving junkie boyfriend. Vera (Nadia's grandmother, played by the electric Irén Bordán) will never forgive her daughter this golden betrayal. The loss of the sacred family Krugerrand gold (Coins absconded from a Nazi-besieged Budapest!) etches an untenable "if only" onto the heart of this family and rips open a passageway in time, whereby a 6 train in 2022 New York City enables Nadia to traipse through the past in her mother's, and then, in her grandmother's, past body. Pretty simple concept, obviously. Don't ask. Just go with it.

Other banger performances by ladies on this season of Russian Doll:

-Greta Lee returns boldly as Maxine, whose absurdist quips and endless "yes ands" propel Nadia on her gold hunt. Lizzy (a heart-wrenchingly loving performance by Rebecca Henderson) also inspires joy in her return to the story.

-All forms of Ruthie rock hard. Elizabeth Ashley sings with gravelly perfection in her role as original, aged Ruth, and I likewise adore the clipped compassion of Annie Murphy as Young Ruth. More Annie Murphy everywhere please.

Wry, disappointing, brave women defend, break, and build one another across memory. We live together in the stories we tell, so we never really walk alone.

Mom, I'm in love with Alan.

Mom, he's so cute. Mom, he's so sad. But Mom, don't worry. You can trust him. He's one of the good guys. He's so scarily inert, his self-hatred reminds me to love myself. Watching Alan (Charlie Barnett) time travel with Nadia (also by way of the train) to his own grandmother's past and fail to help her hot boyfriend escape 1960's East Berlin hurts. Alan's depressive inertia hurts and haunts us all. I'm accepting no notes on this tv crush. It pays to love to hate to love yourself. Alan's worth the head spin.

It doesn't have to make sense. And that makes sense.

So here's the deal, Mommy. You're going to be watching the first couple of episodes (and you'll actually also feel this same way when you watch season one) and you'll couldn't-help-but-wonder:

"What the fuck is going on?"

You'll assume the worst--that you're riding a time loop to nowhere, lost in a fog of cigarette smoke (You'll hate that Nadia smokes, but push past it, if you can.). Don't fear. Embrace the chaos. Dive into narrative entropy, and somewhere around episode four, you'll be hit by an exhilarating yen to access hidden parts of yourself. You'll approach pain with curiosity. You'll rearrange defeat as opportunity, and in failure, find love. You taught me that.

Maybe, I taught myself to let go like that as a baby, when I held myself in my own grown adult lady arms--always me, always you, never us apart. Russian Doll season two reminded me of that impossible reality. I can't even fight it, mom, I'm already you.

Happy Mother's Day, sweet, sharp, smart storyteller mom. In rewriting our stories upon each other's skin, we learn our own potential. Thanks for loving me. And Natasha Lyonne, thanks for a smashing second season of mind-bending feminist tv.

Which TV moments give you all the mom feels?

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