They say New York was the fifth character on Sex and the City, but Natasha Lyonne's hair was the first character on Russian Doll. As Nadia, a gravel-voiced game coder who can't seem to stop dying on the night of her own birthday party, Lyonne sported a fiery, irrepressible tangle of curls, set apart from all of TV's other, far-too-perfect curls by a curtain of wild bangs. It was the season's best TV hair by a long shot.
Russian Doll was a surprise highlight of the TV season: a barbed, funny, philosophical time loop story about the pain and triumph of putting one foot in front of the next. It's Groundhog Day with better hair. As Nadia tries to unravel why she keeps dying and what's bringing her back to life, she wrestles with her own self-destructiveness. She tries to determine if she's worthy of taking up space in the world. But her hair is already taking up space, billowing up and down the same flights of stairs again and again and again. Her hair is big in a way that looks almost haunted, like it's animated by the ghost of something hovering around her.
Hair as big as Nadia's serves dueling purposes: to hide your face and stand out at once. It's a way to be seen for something about you -- something superficial -- rather than for who you are at your most vulnerable. But if Nadia's hair is like her armor, it's also an open wound. In the seventh episode of the season, as the show begins to peel back the layers on Nadia's traumatic relationship with her mentally ill mother, a flashback shows Nadia's mom (Chloë Sevigny) pulling a scrunchy from her young daughter's long red curls. "It's your crowning glory," she says. "Look at that beautiful hair." Years later, Nadia's hair is still styled almost exactly the same.
Plenty of TV shows play up the resemblance between young actors and their grown-up counterparts by keeping their hair the same in flashbacks (movies, too -- look at Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which implied Christine Baranski's Tanya has been rocking a blunt bob with bangs for decades). It's an easy shorthand to make a character familiar to the audience at any age. But Nadia's inability to shake up her hairstyle after so many years feels sadder and more intentional -- on Russian Doll, everything is. Nadia hasn't let go of wanting her mother's support. And, ironically, the only way to disentangle herself from that fraught history would be to expose her face, and herself, more.
Go with me here: Russian Doll and curly bangs are both about surrendering control. Speaking from experience, there's no way to make this particular hairstyle do exactly what you want it to do. ("You're going to have to let it not be perfect," my hairdresser told me before chopping my curls into bangs just months before Russian Doll came out. He was reading me uncomfortably well.) Nadia, an addict, escapes into drugs and alcohol to avoid knotty, emotional problems without easy fixes. But she accepts, in the finale, that she'll never be able to guarantee happiness for herself or anyone else. It's out of her hands.
It may not be a huge leap to get from Natasha Lyonne's hair to Nadia's. Russian Doll's stylists lucked into hair with so much character, it did the hard work for them. But Nadia's hairstyle is still, explicitly, a part of her story, and it fits that story like a glove. She's setting trends even as (or maybe because) she'd hate the idea of being on trend. Right as Nadia's hair inspired audiences to try the style for themselves -- or maybe just gave some of that sweet, sweet representation to those of us who'd already taken the leap -- curly bangs were suddenly everywhere. Sandra Oh, an obvious Best Hair runner-up, made waves at awards shows and on the Killing Eve Season 2 promotional circuit with fun new bangs, kicking her already enviable curls to new levels. Killing Eve is more interested in fashion, but Eve's hair, too, is tangled up in how she relates to the killer she can't stop thinking about. Maybe next season, Eve will get bangs.
Because this is such a competitive category, TV Guide wanted to take this opportunity to shout-out all the runners-up who just barely missed out on the honor of Best Hair: Killing Eve's Sandra Oh, who also was major curly hair goals;Insecure's Issa Rae, who constantly changes things up while always staying flawless; and Dirty John's Connie Britton, who has never heard of the concept of a bad hair day.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)