Euronews Culture's Stream of the Week: 'Baby Reindeer' - You'll be as obsessed as the characters

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer Copyright Netflix
Copyright Netflix
By Jonny Walfisz
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“I felt sorry for her.”


“That’s the first feeling I felt. It’s a patronising arrogant feeling, feeling sorry for someone you’ve just laid eyes on but I did feel sorry for her,” Donny’s voice-over says as he describes the first time he met Martha, the woman who would go on to ruin his life.

In the opening scenes of new Netflix drama ‘Baby Reindeer’, Martha turns up at Donny’s pub looking bereft and he offers her a cup of tea on the house. It’s a moment Donny will play over in his mind ad infinitum over the rest of the series. 

Why? Martha is a dangerous serial stalker, and Donny’s small act of kindness latches her onto him.

From that one cup of tea, things spiral wildly out of control for Donny. First Martha starts showing up to his work every day. Then, she starts sending him increasingly bizarre emails. Eventually, Donny looks into Martha’s backstory and finds out her criminal history of stalking.

Yet with this revelation, Donny keeps on allowing Martha to creep into his life. He accepts her friend request on Facebook. Invites her out for coffee. He even occasionally flirts with her. All the while, Martha’s actions get increasingly peculiar, verging on dangerous.

While Martha’s actions – that of a woman out of step with reality – are creepy and open up the drama, the hook is Donny’s own participation in his torment. Why would someone allow such a malignant presence into their life so willingly?

Jessica Gunning as Martha
Jessica Gunning as MarthaNetflix

It’s the strange psychology of narrator Donny that makes ‘Baby Reindeer’ truly fascinating. Empathy, guilt, and trauma are all inspected in agonising brutal close-ups.

Without delving too far into spoilers, ‘Baby Reindeer’ is a story about the longstanding effects sexual assault can have on a person and the ways trauma will manifest in their future actions.

Martha’s past always remains somewhat a mystery, but Donny’s past is explained in shockingly clear revelations. In his early years as a wannabe standup-comedian, he was raped by an authority figure, grooming him with the promise of career success.

Living with the dissolution of his self worth, he latches onto Martha as a rare person who seemingly sees something special in him. This isn’t a story of a violent stalker intruding on a life, it’s about how hurt people can feed off each other, bringing only more hurt to the table.

"I felt sorry for her"
"I felt sorry for her"Netflix

What makes ‘Baby Reindeer’ so unique is that this depiction comes from a place very close to home. Donny is played by Richard Gadd, who also wrote the show. It’s based on the amalgamation of two of his Edinburgh Fringe “comedy” shows, the first based on his experience of sexual assault and the second on being stalked.

Crucial details have been changed, but largely this is an autobiographical work of a man whose life was undone over a period of years and the ways in which his own inability to deal with his trauma contributed to his issues.

Gadd’s closeness to the subject matter makes the narrative one of the most insightful works on trauma in recent years, as well as one of the most visceral. It’s haunting to think of him (the actor) performing in scenes that he (the writer) has written to reproduce his (a human being) lowest moments.

Nava Mau
Nava MauNetflix

As a writer and actor, Gadd is phenomenal. The script is taut between momentary hilarity and consistent shocks while Gadd plays himself-ish with pinpoint empathetic precision. As Martha, Jessica Gunning is an astonishing tour-de-force and relative newcomer Nava Mau brings a spellbinding performance as his on-off girlfriend. She’s the stoic warm heart of the whole thing.

We probably don’t need to recommend ‘Baby Reindeer’ to you. Released last week, it shot quickly to the top of Netflix’s charts in the UK and the US. For an adult drama dealing with such shocking themes as honestly as it does, it’s a phenomenal achievement. Even more so given it comes from the humble origins of a Fringe comedian’s one-man shows. 

Given recent news concerning the longevity of the Fringe as a bastion of nascent creativity, ‘Baby Reindeer’ is a stunning endorsement.

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