Don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment: 2022 was a mother of a year for Chloë Sevigny. During a three-week period in March and April, Sevigny pulled double duty in Hulu’s The Girl From Plainville and Russian Doll Season 2 on Netflix. In both Plainville and Russian Doll, the former indie It Girl plays mothers confronting trauma and mental illness, and Sevigny helped each show level-up by turning out different, but equally devastating performances.
The Girl From Plainville, a dramatized take on what became known as the “texting-suicide case,” stars Sevigny as Lynn Roy, the mother of Conrad “Coco” Roy (played by Colton Ryan). Sevigny purposely did not reach out to Roy before she signed on to the show — “I felt like maybe if I spoke to her... it would hurt my performance more than help,” she told Variety — but you wouldn’t know it from her textured work: She fully embodies the role of a mother attempting to prevent a tragedy, and later, interrogating her part in it.
In the wake of Coco’s death, Lynn’s grief manifests as self-blame, and with each passing episode, Sevigny teases out her character’s tangled feelings bit by bit, until finally, in Episode 6, “Talking Is Healing,” she breaks down. Summoning up all her courage, Lynn watches a video Coco made about suffering social anxiety and depression, despite having a “great mom” and a loving home life. Even with her hand partially covering her face, Lynn’s anguish is palpable: All she wants is to be a mother to her sensitive, thoughtful son, but she’s been robbed of that opportunity. She can watch his videos and seek out answers about his relationship with Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning), but she knows there’s no going back.
And yet, Sevigny brings a lightheartedness to the show. In flashback sequences, Lynn playfully nags Coco about his music choices and joins him in gawking at a man wearing an itty-bitty Speedo at the beach. It’s a testament to Sevigny’s ability that these silly moments never feel out of place or detract from the larger narrative; instead, they make the mother-son relationship at the heart of The Girl From Plainville feel even more real. Family dynamics are rarely entirely dour or frivolous — the reality exists somewhere in between, and in these carefree moments, Sevigny and Ryan invite the viewer to peel back the many layers of their complicated, loving relationship.
While Lynn Roy wants so desperately to be a mother again, Sevigny’s character in Russian Doll, Nora Vulvokov, is hardly able to be one. Nora appeared in just one episode in Season 1, but the comedy’s sophomore outing expands her role considerably, as Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) travels back in time and finds herself trapped in the body of her pregnant mother. Nadia sets out to stop Nora from making a life-altering mistake, but over the course of the seven-episode season, she takes a page out of Lynn’s book and comes to realize that her family’s history cannot be rewritten, no matter how far back in time she goes.
Just as Nadia and Nora share a body, Sevigny and Lyonne share the motherhood role in Russian Doll Season 2. Though Lyonne appears more on screen, Sevigny holds her own in scenes where she must recreate her co-star’s frenetic mannerisms and speech pattern, an impressive feat considering Lyonne’s reputation as an actor in a class of her own. Still, even in moments when she’s inhabiting Lyonne’s persona, Sevigny, herself a new mother at the time of filming, imbues the character with a certain tenderness. This isn’t a term that often comes to mind in relation to Russian Doll, but it becomes a key element of the season, as it’s not until she steps into her mother’s body — and her mother embraces her presence — that Nadia is able to empathize with Nora’s plight as a woman with schizophrenia.
The similarities between The Girl From Plainville’s Lynn Roy and Russian Doll’s Nora Vulvukov begin and end at motherhood, but in Sevigny, one can find an additional thread of connection. Lynn and Nora may be defined by their relationships to other people, but Sevigny ensures that they’re dynamic enough to exist on their own as messy, flawed women who love their children in their own way. If only their stories weren’t so tragic.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: Chloe Sevigny, Hulu, Netflix, The Girl From Plainville, Russian Doll, Colton Ryan, Natasha Lyonne