‘Baby Reindeer’ Review: Difficult To Watch But Impossible To Look Away From

Thirsty for JUICE content? Quench your cravings on our Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp

**Trigger Warning: Stalking, sexual assault.**

(source: Netflix)


When word of Baby Reindeer first started making its rounds on Twitter, I boldly assumed (without even watching the trailer) it was a show about a whimsical baby reindeer who plops itself into a lonely, unsuspecting man’s life. The title itself conjured images of snow-lined streets, Christmas lights, and a feel-good story arc. Evidently, I was wrong. This isn’t a quirky comedy.

Uneducated assumptions aside, Netflix’s Baby Reindeer is far from feel-good. It teases you with small sprinklings of hope, only to drag you back to the dark underbelly of the story.

A chance encounter may result with chilling consequences

The limited series is based on a play, also written by Richard Gadd. (source: Netflix)

Adapted from the one-man play of the same name, Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer starts us off in a London police station, where bartender Donny Dunn (played by Gadd) attempts to file a police report against a woman stalking him. When asked to present evidence, Donny shows the officer a random email from his stalker that reads, “I jusst had an egg.” — That wasn’t a typo on my part.

“I wouldn’t say that’s… particularly threatening,” the confused officer remarks.

The email may seem blunt and a little comical with its typo (expect more in other emails), but it’s clear that something more sinister is at work here. It’s also clear that the comic relief merely acts as a buffer for the deeply unsettling premise of the show.

(source: Netflix)

But how did Donny even meet his stalker? While working at a London pub, the tired Donny — a struggling comedian — winds up meeting Martha (Jessica Gunning), a would-be patron who shows up to the establishment in a sorry state. He shows some kindness and empathy by offering her a cup of tea on the house. That’s when Martha, who clearly needs professional help, gets dangerously attached.

“I have a sneaky feeling you might be the death of me,” she whispers at the end of Episode 1.

What started out as a wholesome chance encounter quickly deteriorates into a chilling game of hide and seek, with Donny trying his best not to acknowledge Martha’s advances. She wholeheartedly believes that the two are in a legitimate romantic relationship — a pitiful fantasy she cooked up for herself after their first encounter.

Jessica Gunning’s ‘Martha’ is equal parts terrifying and pitiful. (source: Netflix)

Why doesn’t Donny do anything about it? You see, he’s not as self-aware as you might think. A man with zero self-respect, he lives with his ex-girlfriend’s mother and is too ashamed to speak publicly about Teri (Nava Mau), the trans woman he’s dating. But that isn’t even all of it. He’s also struggling to come to grips with his own sexuality, his “value” as a man, and lingering sexual trauma.

When someone like Martha constantly showers him with compliments, it naturally makes him want to keep her around.

Not easy to watch, even more difficult to digest

(source: Netflix)

Baby Reindeer has this tendency to make you want to hide in the deepest, darkest hole you can find. You’ll understand what this means when you watch the show. There isn’t a single episode that doesn’t make you feel at least a little bit uncomfortable.

But you don’t have to go very far to feel the discomfort. Donny’s standup acts, for example, are often extremely awkward to watch — a true testament to his mediocre comedy career. Making this worse is the constant appearance of Martha at his shows. She has absolutely no problem shouting at him from the audience and causing a scene.

Even scarier is that it all feels so plausible; so real. It makes you shudder in fear and shared embarrassment. When you dive deeper into Donny’s backstory, you’ll begin to understand why he’s the way he is, and why he seems to willingly subject himself to this torture.

Donny and Teri’s (Nava Mau) relationship provides a sense of temporary comfort. (source: Netflix)

Martha, on the other hand, is a whole different monster altogether. Claiming to be a lawyer who lives in a palatial home, her entire life revolves around Donny. Sending constant emails updating him about her day(s), she leaves no breathing room whatsoever. She’s also very possessive, viewing other women in his life as people who need to be taken out.

Again, they’re not in anything minutely resembling a romantic relationship, but she makes it her duty to weed out all competition, usually via harassment on social media. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Tom Goodman-Hill plays ‘Darrien’, Donny’s supposed mentor in the standup industry. (source: Netflix)

While Martha is equal parts terrifying and pitiful, she only makes up one disturbing aspect of the show. If one thing’s certain, Baby Reindeer forces you to look through the lens of a troubled man dealing with the traumatic and life-altering effects of sexual assault committed by another man.

This backstory is told through a series of flashbacks that occur in multiple episodes, and makes sense of Donny’s behaviour in the story’s present timeline. It involves multiple encounters with his then mentor, Darrien (played by Tom Goodman-Hill). Donny has an immense amount of respect and adoration for Darrien. He also believes that Darrien is his one-way ticket to success and fame as a comic standup.

(source: Netflix)

But with the power that Donny gives Darrien, his journey to stardom is also accompanied by manipulation, gaslighting, and disturbing occurrences of sexual assault. It’s a remarkably candid and heartbreaking look at sexual assault from a man’s point of view, flipping the usual gender biases around.

No clear happy ending

I wish I could say that Baby Reindeer has a clear-cut happy ending. But much like Gadd’s real-life experience being stalked — yes, the show is based on a true story — it takes years to form a conclusion to such traumatic experiences.

Baby Reindeer is rightfully off-kilter in its storytelling, because real life is messy. It’s grimy, disorganised, and doesn’t wait for anyone to collect their thoughts and get their sh*t together.

Click here to watch Baby Reindeer on Netflix.

Juice WhatsApp banner