Natasha Lyonne on the 'Universal Truth' of Russian Doll Season 2

The star and co-creator, as well as actors Charlie Barnett and Chloë Sevigny, spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about pushing past generational trauma.

by | April 19, 2022 | Comments

If the first season of Netflix hit Russian Doll was meant to be an allegory for personal trauma and how it can really screw up your life and those you love, the second season takes things further and borrows from the phrase popular among therapists everywhere: “If it’s not one thing, it’s a mother.”

Season 2 of Russian Doll again focuses on star and co-creator Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia and her fellow time-looper Alan (Charlie Barnett) who have remained on good terms after they saved each other from repeating the same day of their lives over and over again for all eternity. But this season isn’t so much about them dealing with their own decisions, as it is giving them a chance to explore just how they got to here.

“I was curious about the origin story of how you end up with these two characters who find themselves both so different and, yet, so aligned,” Lyonne told Rotten Tomatoes, saying that, this season, both leads are asking themselves “What is the truth about who I am and who I think I am?” and “What does that mean for my ability, or inability, to be high-functioning in the world and have a meaningful life?”

Russian Doll. Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in episode 201 of Russian Doll. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

For Nadia, that means learning that New York City’s No. 6 subway car will send her barreling into the East Village in 1982 (the year she was born); thus, allowing her a glimpse into the worlds of her mentally ill mother Nora (Chloë Sevigny) and her surrogate mother Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), as well as other bits of her family’s origin story that involved productions shooting in Budapest. As far as developing the eras for this season, Lyonne points to the krugerrand coin that Nadia wears as a necklace in both seasons because it “retroactively established the timeline of events [since] that coin was minted during the ’60s and so on.”

“There’s a line that Ruth has in the fourth episode [of this season], where she says, ‘Trauma is a topographical map written on the child and takes a lifetime to heal,'” said Lyonne, herself a descent of Holocaust survivors. “Obviously, the stories of Alan and Nadia are hyper-specific and exist in the world of this high-concept, sci-fi show. And yet, there’s a universal truth to that.

“No matter how much we want to transcend those realities of our family of origin, in ways they come with us and distort our experience,” said Lyonne, who also wrote four of the seven episodes and directed three of them.

Russian Doll. Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in episode 201 of Russian Doll. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

The second season of the series was delayed due to COVID, which in a way actually helps prove Lyonne’s point.

“Globally, the world itself carries its own charge to it,” she said. “We’re always seeing these new events and having to respond to them and there’s not really that much space to bring that reality into our daily lives. Even though we’re, in a way, time-traveling all the time.”

Russian Doll. Chloe Sevigny as Nora in episode 201 of Russian Doll. Cr. Vanessa Clifton/Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Vanessa Clifton/Netflix)

Sevigny, a long-time and close friend of Lyonne’s, says that she was broached with the seeds of season 2 soon after the success of the first and that “it’s always personal for Natasha.”

“I think she was thinking about the narratives that she’s been told her whole life through her family and how that affected her as a person and how it made her who she is today and where she is today,” Sevigny said.

Of Nora and her complicated relationship with her daughter, Sevigny said her character “is a little selfish, but she’s also struggling with mental illness” and that “there are a lot of tender moments between the two characters that were actually my favorite moments to play.”

Very little is said about Nadia’s dad and Sevigny said, “We actually didn’t even get into that.” (Perhaps something to explore in a third season?)

Russian Doll. Charlie Barnett as Alan Zaveri in episode 204 of Russian Doll. Cr. András D. Hadjú/Netflix © 2022

(Photo by András D. Hadjú/Netflix)

Although this series does cover some heavy and depressing topics, Barnett said this doesn’t have to be take takeaway.

“Those stories that are passed down to us from trauma, they influence so much of your future and where you want to push yourself and where you need to push yourself,” he said.

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