‘Baby Reindeer’ by Richard Gadd: a gripping story about sexual assault and stalking | Analysis

When the new series “Baby Reindeer” was released on Netflix, few could have predicted the whirlwind of emotions it would evoke, including sadness, depression and anxiety. From the trailer you would expect a simple story about a comedian who is stalked by an eccentric woman. However, delving into the series reveals a much deeper exploration of the stalking and sexual abuse one man faces.

As viewers, we are used to series and films in which men attack and stalk women. An example of this is the series ‘You’, with Penn Badgley, in which a man obsessively stalks and even kills women under the guise of ‘love’. However, ‘Baby Reindeer’ takes a different approach by placing a man in the victim’s shoes and offering insight into his emotions and experiences. This unique perspective sets ‘Baby Reindeer’ apart from its counterparts.

The series gets an extra layer of intrigue because it is based on the real-life experiences of Richard Gadd, who both stars in and writes the series. This unique perspective gives viewers a glimpse into Gadd’s mindset during the ordeal of stalking. In the series, Gadd plays Donny, a struggling comedian who works at a pub, whose life takes an unexpected turn when Martha (Jessica Gunning), a convicted stalker, enters his life. Donny is baffled by Martha’s fixation on him, seeing himself as an invisible figure with nothing to offer her. Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the series yet, we don’t recommend reading further.

In the first episodes, Martha reveals herself to be a ruthless stalker, causing chaos in Donny’s life. Despite her actions, Donny expresses empathy for her, attempting to rationalize her behavior to some extent. Meanwhile, Donny begins dating Teri, a trans woman, and struggles with a sense of “shame.”

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that there is more to Donny than meets the eye. His behavior raises questions about why he fails to report Martha’s attacks on both himself and Teri. This is where the series takes an interesting turn. We soon learn that Donny has endured the trauma of being sexually abused by a man, a burden he has carried in silence. He also struggles with questions about his sexual orientation and the social stigma attached to it. Lost in a whirlwind of emotions – depression, sadness and confusion – Donny’s life takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of Martha. She laughs at his jokes, appreciates his presence, and consistently validates him. He recognizes the creepiness of it all, but at the same time he craves these validations to confirm his existence and worth in this world.

In several scenes of the series, we witness Donny being attacked by a man he looks up to, someone who has significant power in his world. Despite being aware of the sexual violation, Donny repeatedly returns to his abuser, resembling the dynamics of Stockholm Syndrome. To Donny, Martha is more than just a stalker; she is a distraction from his tumultuous world, a reprieve from the shame he struggles with. Despite Martha’s stalking and abuse towards him and his loved ones, Donny becomes distracted, but his conscience refuses to fully accept it. When someone experiences trauma, one of the first reactions he or she may feel is denial. This stage often lasts for a period of time as they struggle to come to terms with what happened and how it could have happened. So Donny’s experience with rape or Martha’s stalking is likely viewed through the lens of denial.

As we witness a man completely devastated and unable to even report his abuser, we understand that Donny’s life has been irrevocably changed. Despite his attempts to return to normal, the weight of his past weighs heavily on him, hindering his progress. When all distractions disappear, Donny focuses on Martha, making his life increasingly revolve around her.

The series is masterfully crafted and features exceptional writing and acting. Special thanks go to Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning for their excellent performances on the show. Gadd beautifully captures all the intricacies of Donny’s character, while Gunning’s portrayal of Martha feels incredibly authentic and creates a natural sense of dread in viewers. Martha also has a clear and complex story, albeit one that is often overshadowed by Donny’s story. In many ways, Martha and Donny share similarities: they have both endured trauma and form a bond between them. In a sense, they have both built a cocoon around themselves, residing in separate realities. Donny creates an alternate identity to escape the weight of his true self, while Martha presents herself as a desirable woman who connects with Donny. Their worlds collide, throwing them into chaos as they navigate their intertwined existence.