How far will you go if you stumble upon a chance to change your past for the better? For people who have trauma as their generational inheritance, the answer comes easily and simply: as far back as it takes to make things right. Russian Doll season 2 is a portrayal of this journey. While it retains its sci-fi rollercoaster-ride mania from the first season, at its core, the second season is a study of the inheritance of trauma and a woman's quest to make things right.
Nadia, on her 40th birthday, boards her homebound train only to end up in a different era where people perceive her as her mother, Nora. Nadia walks around the city, meets her mother's then-boyfriend, gets involved in robbing an elder woman's house and returns to the boyfriend's place. Here, Nadia realizes that they had just robbed her own grandmother and in the bag that carried the stolen goods were Krugerrands — solid gold coins that her Holocaust survivor grandmother had acquired as assets.
Nadia then remembers how Nora, while being pregnant with her, had stolen those gold coins which had, in turn, messed up all their lives. This gives her the idea that if she can somehow return the stolen Krugerrands, things would turn out differently for her; that she would finally have the mother she deserved, a normal childhood and freedom from the trauma that had scarred her so brutally.
Thus begins the journey of a woman trying to rewrite her past. She moves through eras — sometimes making the choices as her grandmother and sometimes as her mother. But after a point, she realizes no matter what she does, the Krugerrands are going to get stolen by her mother, if not now then a few years later. Despite this, Nadia is unable to let go of this opportunity and in a desperate attempt to give herself a better childhood, kidnaps her just-born self. The entire timeline gets messed up before she realizes that she has to put the baby back in the past and let things be as they have been.
An interesting bit is that even as Nadia kidnaps her just-born self and decides to become her own mother, the viewers, somewhere, recognise that she will still mess up, maybe not in the way Nora did but in her own unique ways. As Alan tells her, "We are the products of things we cannot change", Nadia is, in many ways, a product of unresolved trauma which would inevitably show up in the way she raises the child.
On the train to return the baby, everyone, including Nadia's own adolescent self smiles with relief. The knowledge that she had already lived through the past (and had even revisited it) bolstered her: things could not get any worse than what they already were.
Nadia's journey in and out of the past shows how it is children who often bear the most generational trauma. As Ruthie, Nadia's only responsible guardian, tells her, "Trauma is a topographical map written on the child, and it takes a lifetime to read." Nora had to survive her Holocaust survivor mother Veera. To do this she developed coping mechanisms that weren't healthy (as coping mechanisms often aren't for trauma-surviving individuals). Nora became a rebel and her paranoid schizophrenia only made things worse. Back in the past, Nadia witnesses her mother in her own element and even though she cannot change anything, she develops a better understanding of Nora and her actions.
This season of Russian Doll is a fantastically dark and truthful exploration of a damaged daydream: what if I could change it all? In the end, Nadia does all she could and realises that the only recourse is to accept the life she had been given. Trauma shapes one in ways that are unimaginable but the experience may lead to doors we never knew existed. This doesn't take away the trauma or make it acceptable but it can make it more bearable and fathomable. And for the extremely chaotic ride that life is, finding such a door can be enough for a lifetime.