Struggling to understand what the hell is going on with Nadia’s disintegrating world in Russian Doll? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
*Spoilers for Netflix’s Russian Doll season 1 episode 7 to follow*
There’s a moment in episode seven where game developer Nadia (played by Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne) tries to explain – with the help of an orange – why she and new pal Alan are stuck in a loop that sees them re-living the same day over and over again.
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It comes as parts of their world are beginning to disappear and/or disintegrate – people and objects are disappearing, plants are wilting, fruit is rotting – and they are realising that they have to do something in order to restore order to their world.
Nadia’s speech involves an orange that is ripe on the inside, rotten on the outside, and it’s one of the most concise explanations of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that you’re likely to find.
In other words, it’s a bit of a doozy, even after a couple of re-watches.
Thankfully, co-creator Leslye Headland broke down the meaning of the speech to RadioTimes,com, and explained some of its implications for the show.
What is Nadia’s ‘four-dimensional orange’ speech in Russian Doll all about?
In her explanation, Nadia likens the loops that they are experiencing to a glitch in a computer, set off when they missed the opportunity to save each other’s lives after meeting at a deli on the night of her (real) birthday.
She reckons that if they go and re-write the moment, they can get themselves back to their original timeline, which they are currently drifting further and further away from (as evidenced by the rotting fruit and disappearing people).
But first, she needs to explain the relativity of time to Alan (and us viewers) so he can get to grips with the plan.
Check out the speech in full below.
It’s like if a programme keeps crashing: the crashing is just a symptom of a bug in the code. If the deaths are us crashing, then that bug is the moment that we need to go and fix.
What do time and morality have in common? Relativity. They’re both relative to your experience. I need a visual aid…
So, our universe has three spatial dimensions, so it’s hard for us to picture a four-dimensional world – but computers do it all the time.
Lucky for you, I have the capacity to think like a computer.
*Picks up a rotten orange*
In a two-dimensional world it’s a circle. In a three-dimensional world it’s a sphere, but in a four-dimensional world…
*She cuts it open and its still ripe on the inside*
Time is relative to your experience: we’ve been experiencing time differently in these loops, but this, this tells us that somewhere, linear time as we used to understand it still exists. So the moment in the deli when we first interacted still exists.
So we should go back to the deli, to that same moment, and we re-write that first interaction, just like we would fix the flaw in a code.
Headland explains that the speech came about as she sought to find a way of explaining Einstein’s theory in a simple enough way so that viewers would begin to understand what was going on.
“I was trying to figure out how to describe the Theory of Relativity in a really fast way,” Headland says. “There’s this great movie by Nicholas Roeg called Insignificance, where Marilyn Monroe [played by Theresa Russell] explains it to Albert Einstein [played by Michael Emil] in five minutes.
“I only had 30 seconds,” she adds.
“The idea is that time – as they understood it, before they got knocked off into that time loop – still exists somewhere. It’s something that is probably scientifically provable, but I’m giving a very fast Sparknotes version. I kept watching that scene in Roeg’s film thinking, ‘I don’t know how to explain this quickly to the audience so that they understand.'”
How does Einstein’s Theory of Relativity help to understand Russian Doll?
The key takeaway is that Einstein’s theory proves there is no such thing as absolute time: that events occurring at one speed for one observer could be happening at a completely different speed for another. Everything is moving ‘relative’ to everything else.
To explain this in the show, Headland used the orange as a “visual cheat” to make clear that the ‘original timeline’ – the one Nadia knew before she became stuck in a loop – still exists.
“For me, the way that I see Alan and Nadia is that, with each loop, they move further and further away from that initial timeline, that initial experience that we would understand as being ‘our timeline’: the timeline that we’re in as we’re watching the show,” she says.
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“So what I thought was, we’ve established that the living things are either disappearing like the animals, the flowers are wilting and the fruit is rotting. But for the audience sitting here possibly watching this all in four hours, it has only been four hours.
“So, is there a way to visually show the audience that the time that you’re ‘in’ audience is still existing? For you, all of your oranges are still ripe. It’s a visual cheat that hopefully gives enough exposition that you feel like you can keep watching, but at the same time doesn’t eat up 13 minutes.”
Basically: the core duo are going through the death loop because they set off a bug in the coding of the universe which sent them spiralling away from their original timeline.
The ripe inside of the orange represents that original timeline (the one that we as viewers are ‘in’ as we’re watching), and shows that it still exists somewhere – meaning they have the opportunity to return to it.
Russian Doll is streaming now on Netflix