‘Russian Doll’ Season 2 Ending Explained: Who Lived, Who Died and What It All Means

·8-min read

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Season 2 of “Russian Doll.” Proceed with caution.

“If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?” That line, famously uttered by another curly-haired redhead, sums up the dilemma that Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) faces at the close of “Russian Doll” Season 2. Unlike her fellow “time prisoner” Alan (Charlie Barnett), who’s seen enough movies to know that meddling with the past is never a good idea, Nadia can’t resist the opportunity to right the wrongs her family experienced. When that doesn’t work, she takes the even more dangerous leap of trying to rewrite her own life story, inadvertently collapsing space and time in the process.

The unlikely duo’s latest time troubles begin four years after Season 1 when Nadia discovers that the 6 train at Astor Place is a portal into the past. Specifically, it’s a portal into the pasts of their parents or grandparents at a critical juncture. But it’s not just their lives they inhabit while time-traveling; it’s also their bodies. In 1980s New York, Nadia becomes her mother Lenora (Chloё Sevigny), pregnant with an unborn Nadia and freshly robbed of her family fortune by a sleazy boyfriend (Sharlto Copley). Another train ride takes her all the way back to 1944 Budapest, where Nadia as her grandmother Vera (Irén Bordán) must recover her stash of gold Krugerrands from the Nazis and hide them for her family to retrieve after the war. Meanwhile, Alan’s train sends him into 1962 East Berlin as his grandmother Agnes (Carolyn Michelle Smith), who is helping her friends escape to the other side of the Berlin Wall.

Pretty soon, it becomes clear that keeping one foot in the past and the other in the present – each timeline moving forward on parallel tracks – is untenable. The real trouble begins when Nadia (as Nora) gives birth to herself, creating two Nadias. Chasing a second chance at a happy childhood, Nadia brings her baby self back into the present, tearing a big hole in the fabric of the universal order.

Realizing that something is deeply amiss, Nadia and Alan go looking for each other. Somehow, they find themselves back where it all started: at Nadia’s birthday party four years ago. That’s where the season finale picks up.

It’s time for a breakdown of Episode 7: all the metaphysical gymnastics, possible character deaths and interpretations of the final sequence.

“I Broke Time”

When Nadia rolls up to her time loop of a birthday party with a baby version of herself in her arms, Alan is understandably freaked out. Stubborn Nadia refuses to return Baby Nadia to the train from whence she came, explaining that she can give herself the childhood she never had. She isn’t fazed when they inexplicably open a door and find an old Jewish classroom behind it, nor when the students spill into the party and start twerking to the music.

It’s only when her godmother Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley) arrives at the party that Nadia begins to grasp what she has done. In the previous episode, the moment Nadia sneaks Baby Nadia onto the 6 train, her phone blows up with texts and calls from her friends. It’s her birthday, and Ruth is in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. When they arrive at the hospital, reality (and everyone there) splits into multiple versions: there is Ruth from two weeks ago, when she was being treated for minor injuries from a fender bender, and Ruth now, on her deathbed.

Nadia can’t accept that she’s spent two weeks hanging out with a past version of Ruth (Annie Murphy), abandoning the present version in her hour of need. It finally hits her when an endless parade of Ruths begin climbing the stairs to Nadia’s birthday party, and she decides to return Baby Nadia to her own timeline.

Enter the Void

Unfortunately, the 6 train is nowhere to be found. They run into Nadia’s old friend Horse (Brendan Sexton III), who leads them to a stalled train car packed with her friends and relatives, all wearing black. It suddenly dawns on Nadia that they are headed to Ruth’s funeral one month later, meaning that not only has Nadia missed the last weeks of her life, but also her death. When she insists on going to the funeral, Alan rightly tells her that they don’t belong in this timeline, and staying there would only muddle things further.

Standing on the third rail, Alan, Nadia and Baby Nadia are trying to figure out a new plan when suddenly two trains speed toward them from opposite directions.

There’s a flash of white before they find themselves falling through empty space and into separate watery underground chambers called the “Void.” Baby Nadia comes falling out of the sky seconds later. As Nadia wades through the water, she comes across the bag of Krugerrands – one last chance to redeem her family’s legacy. But Nadia can’t hold the heavy bag of coins and her baby self – her past and her future – at the same time, and symbolically lets the bag sink under the water. That choice speaks to what Nadia has learned: that trying to correct the past is an exercise in futility and a dangerous distraction from living life to the fullest.

Meanwhile, Alan has an unexpected reunion with his grandmother Agnes, at her present age. She tells him that she helped her lover Lenny escape to the other side of the Berlin Wall and never saw him again. That’s a relief to Alan, who had intended on intervening with the escape plan but arrived too late to stop it. It’s a validation of his belief that given the opportunity to change history, one should do nothing differently. The question burdening him now is how to live with himself after he tried to kill himself four years ago and ultimately got a second chance at life thanks to the time loop. His grandmother comforts him and then sends him onward.

The Ma (and Grandma) in the Mirror

Before she can return to her life, Nadia must make peace with the same conclusion. Her version of the Void takes her back to the 6 train, where the only other passengers are ‘80s Nora, 10-year-old Nadia, young and old Ruthie, and young and old Vera. After Nadia hands Baby Nadia back to her mother, Nora asks her if she would have chosen a different mom. “I didn’t choose you the first time, but I guess that’s just how the story goes, huh Mom?” Nadia replies. Her answer conveys the clarity she’s gained: there’s no such thing as a “Coney Island,” an “if only” moment that could have changed the trajectory of her life if it had or hadn’t happened. Theoretically, there’s an alternate reality for every choice we make, but that doesn’t mean they’re worth dwelling on. It’s taken an infinite amount of choices and moments to bring Nadia to where she is now, and the now is all that matters because it is the only realm of time where we actually have some control, however small.

With that, everyone walks by her into the next car, seemingly not recognizing grown-up Nadia. She emerges at Astor Place to find that it’s 7 p.m. on April 30, just in time for Ruth’s post-funeral gathering at her best friend Maxine’s (Greta Lee) house. Passing by her family, friends and Alan, she goes into the bathroom where it all started and stares at her reflection in the mirror.

Are Nadia and Alan dead?

Although Nadia and Alan appear to have died the moment they get hit by the trains, the Void isn’t the afterlife. As Agnes tells Alan, it’s “an empty pocket of space leftover from a job that was never completed… [there’s] so much empty space beneath the city we’ve forgotten about.”

Instead, the Void is a wormhole that Nadia likely opened when she broke the space-time continuum, a metaphysical rest stop on the way back to her own timeline.

Where was Nadia when Ruth was dying?

At the beginning of the season, it’s established that time passes by in equal measure in the past and present. If Nadia takes the train to the 1980s and spends two days there, then two days will have passed in 2022. That’s why every time Nadia returns to the present she always has dozens of missed calls and texts.

When Ruth became fatally ill, Nadia was busy trying to recover the Krugerrands and giving birth to herself. Ruth died around the time Nadia visited her in the hospital, but it’s impossible to know exactly when because multiple timelines had collapsed and gotten scrambled at that point.

The funeral took place during the month that transpired between Nadia’s birthday, March 30 and April 30, which she presumably lost to the Void.

Will there be a “Russian Doll” Season 3?

Though Netflix has yet to confirm it, Lyonne has said before that she and co-creators Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland pitched it as a three-series show and still envision it that way. “Maybe it’s only two seasons. Maybe it’s four seasons. Right now, it feels quite clearly that it is those three,” she recently told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Russian Doll” Season 2 is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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