In Russian Doll, Lyonne is Nadia, a hard-living software engineer who's celebrating her own birthday at her friend Maxine's (Greta Lee) place. There's chicken and a joint laced with cocaine. She goes home with a guy, leaves him to go looking for the missing cat she shares with a bodega, and then gets hit by a cab. But she doesn't die, exactly -- she wakes up in the bathroom at Maxine's, the party raging. She's trapped in a loop and just keeps dying. Midway through the season she meets Alan (Charlie Barnett) in an elevator that's about to crash, and finds out he's in the exact same predicament.
On the surface, they couldn't be more different. While Nadia is a chainsmoker with a laissez-faire attitude toward just about everything, Alan is a buttoned-up planner living perfectly in line. He actually enjoys the experience of revisiting the same day because he knows what to expect, even though it means breaking up with his longtime girlfriend again and again. The introduction of Alan was "necessary" from a plot standpoint, according to Headland. "I don't think we should just tell the same story from just one character's point of view," she says.
As the episodes draw to a close, Nadia and Alan figure out that saving themselves means confronting their trauma. For Nadia, it's dealing with the psychological damage inflicted by her mother (Chloë Sevigny, in flashbacks); for Alan, it's remembering that he actually died by suicide. But as soon as they solve that puzzle, an equally bizarre metaphysical situation unfolds: They're trapped in separate timelines, which means that when they go to meet up, they find the old version of their companion. An enlightened Nadia discovers Alan wasted, planning to kill himself, while a serene Alan encounters Nadia hooking up with the same asshole, destined to get hit by a cab. Thus, the evolved incarnations of Alan and Nadia need to convince the oblivious, reckless versions of each other to save themselves.
"There's a lot of very real reasons in this life where it becomes a tempting concept to stop participating," Lyonne says about the parallels between the two central characters. "I think, especially in putting together these final episodes, it started to crystallize in a way that the show is commenting on just that. From the end of six through the end of eight, it almost becomes a show saying, 'Hey kids, don't take yourselves out. Give yourself a chance.' Emotionally, Nadia and Alan were two characters who were very self-destructive in very different ways, but sort of find this common ground in each other of a reason to continue to show up for life, if not only for themselves then for each other."
Those final conflicts lead to a beautiful, moving resolution when both Alans and Nadias go off with each other. That's when they run into that exuberant procession of people bearing large puppets -- scored by the song "Alone Again Or" by Love -- and walk into the night, Nadia grabbing hold of a torch.