If the first season of Russian Doll was classed as mind-bending, you'd have to invent a whole new word to describe the second, in which the universe sends Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) down an even more visceral path.
No longer are we dealing with a simple time-loop, but rather a subway train capable of putting Nadia in the shoes of both her mother and her grandmother, living life as they did in the 1980s and '40s respectively.
With this new gift, Nadia hopes to correct the trauma that reverberates across all three generations of women in her family, going to extreme lengths to do so, which threaten to upend the very concept of linear time itself.
The heady concepts and artistic flair of Russian Doll leave it open to several interpretations – which is exactly what the creative team intended – but we can draw some firm conclusions from what we see in the dramatic finale: Matryoshka.
Russian Doll season 2 ending explained
What happens in the hospital?
In the penultimate episode of season 2, Nadia takes drastic action by kidnapping her infant self – who she gave birth to while trapped in her mother's body – and bringing her to the present day via mystical subway train. After multiple failed attempts to change her traumatic past, she feels her last remaining option is to give the baby the stable upbringing she never had.
Alas, she soon discovers that the universe is not as willing to be "f**ked with" as she is, with the present day collapsing into chaos due to the contradiction she has caused. The effects of her actions are at their most stark in the hospital, where Nadia's friends warn her that her guardian and therapist Ruth Brenner is in critical condition.
However, when she arrives, she comes across several versions of her cherished friend at various stages of her treatment: the initial appointment when nothing was thought to be wrong; a later overnight stay when further tests are run; and lastly, Ruth mere days before she succumbs to a blood clot in her lung. It's a sobering reminder that, during her various trips to the past, she has missed priceless time with the person who has always been there for her.
When she can no longer find Ruth on the ward, she heads to the morgue for a conclusive answer to her fate, but instead finds multiple versions of her own dead body – leftover from her many demises in the loopy first season.
Why does Nadia change her mind?
While she acknowledges that her actions have all but torn apart the fabric of reality, Nadia is initially resistant to Alan's demand for her to return her infant self back to the appropriate point in time. In the end, it is once again Ruth that brings her to her senses.
After taking refuge at the 36th birthday party which served as the primary setting of her first time-hopping adventure, Nadia is initially delighted to see her guardian arrive in relatively good health. However, she is unsettled to see a seemingly endless line of Ruths following up the stairs, making it quite apparent that this version of reality is not a genuine existence for her.
This recalls the title to episode 6 – Schrödinger's Ruth – referencing the famous thought experiment which theorises a cat that can be considered simultaneously dead and alive when its fate is linked to a tentative event. For better or worse, Nadia realises she has to face what the future really holds for both Ruth and herself.
Does Horse know about Nadia's time travel?
After racing back to the subway train platform, Nadia and Alan are disturbed by the concept that their time-hopping transport may never arrive. It is then that they spot who appears to be a maintenance worker and chase him down, with Nadia shocked to discover that it is none other than Horse – the homeless man she became acquainted with during her first loops.
For some mysterious reason, he is able to take them to the missing train (for a fee) and drops some clues along the way suggesting he might know more about time travel than it would initially seem. There's a lot of information to unpack so we have a whole separate Russian Doll page dedicated to our Horse theories.
Why does nothing change?
After the crushing revelation that she is not present for Ruth's death, Nadia is forcibly removed from the stalled train carriage by Alan before it can get moving. Moments later, she explains to him the concept of a Coney Island, which was introduced to her by no-good Chez in the season 2 opener. To him, it is the idea of one event in an individual's life which, if it either happened or didn't happen, would make everything alright.
Nadia has spent the entire season trying to alter the so-called Coney Islands that have plagued her family across generations – whether that's the theft of her grandmother's wealth by the Nazis, the later loss of it by her mother, Nora, or her own unstable upbringing that left her with a great deal of emotional trauma. Yet each and every time, these efforts have been in vain, as the universe has found some way to stick to its original course.
While she initially viewed her time-travelling train as an opportunity to correct the wrongs that have befallen her family, it is ultimately a catalyst to reach acceptance for the things that she can't change. This is represented in the final thing she says to her mother as she hands back her infant self: "I didn’t choose you the first time, but I guess that’s just how the story goes, huh, mom?"