What's Up With the Bathroom Door on 'Russian Doll'?
We spoke to the Netflix series's production designer to get the full story.
Screengrab via Netflix.
This post contains spoilers for the plot of Russian Doll.
Every reincarnation of Nadia Vulvokov on the new Netflix series Russian Doll begins the same way; Nadia (played to perfection by Natasha Lyonne) stares at herself levelly in a gold-framed mirror, before being interrupted by persistent knocking. As she registers the knock, we absorb the space she's in—it's the platonic ideal of a swankily rehabbed Alphabet City bathroom (in a loft we soon learn was once a yeshiva), tiled in foreboding black with gilded fixtures and seemingly limitless space.
When Nadia casts a frustrated glance at the pounded-upon door, we get our first clue that ceci n'est pas un typical bougie powder room; the door is inlaid with a softly glowing, bluish-purple geode, its light reflected on the black tiles that surround it in a way that's reminiscent of Dan Flavin, or Katie Stout's "haphazardly utopian" work. In the series's pilot episode, we get a long shot of the door before Nadia yanks its gun-shaped handle open to begin her Groundhog Day-esque trip through time and space; that Chekhovian maxim about guns going off comes to mind.
The door is referenced at one point in the episode by Nadia's artists friends Lizzy and Maxine, who bear credit for its design within the show's universe and worry that it's "too vaginal," but Russian Doll production designer Michael Bricker was more inspired by space than by the female body. "I liked the idea of the door being ominous and mysterious, sort of galactic in shape, or bacterial, like an amoeba," Bricker told GARAGE on Monday.
Bricker carefully thought out every aspect of the apartment's architecture prior to shooting, even providing a blueprint of the space to Vulture, but he notes that the door is special because "it's the first sign that you’re entering into an artist’s creative space. When you’re first introduced to Nadia you have no idea what she’s stepping into, but you see this strange Alice in Wonderland door that tells you things will be unexpected once she passes through that threshold."
"As we talked more about the loft space overall, it became more about creating this serious, artistic mystery portal, serious and artistic, and that level of abstraction is why people are so curious about the show," continued Bricker, adding, "Rather than just being a papier-mâché vagina, as it was in the script, the door needed to tee up the audience’s exploration of the fantasy land of this art space where Nadia’s through the rabbit hole." Other art pieces throughout the loft are done in a similar style, because that's how Lizzy and Maxine work, says Bricker.
The construction of the door was somewhat arduous, says Bricker: "It became this cool challenge of, how do we make this glowing creepy thing that fits within the thickness of a door? We used layers of wax paper, I remember sketching the shape out on cardboard. I wanted it to be this thing that was very orienting, but different than the mirror, a little bit ominous; I loved how it reflected the tile so you get this triplicate that’s a visual theme we intentionally planted in places throughout the series, with the dual elevators [where Nadia first meets her fellow reincarnator Alan], the dual doors in front of Alan’s apartment. We did a lot with left and right over the course of the series; Nadia was right, Alan was left, and they’d flip locations over the course of the season."
One of the most evocative scenes of the series comes in the final episode, when the camera pans out and above to show that Nadia and Alan's bathrooms exist next to each other in the strange, disjointed universe that the show occupies, with the fly that continually pesters Alan in his bathroom making its way over to Nadia's. "I had the thought to build the bathrooms back to back and reveal that they’re looking at each other with that sense of duality; she’s on the right, he’s on the left, the fly from his universe comes into hers, which obviously can’t be real, but that’s the magic of the show. The door feels super-relevant to that magic, but also not at all; within the universe of the show, it's just an art piece that Lizzy made."