I Can Appreciate Baby Reindeer for Reasons I Truly Hope Most of Its Viewers Never Have Too.

David B Morris
11 min readJun 6, 2024

And I Can Empathize With Both Leads In A Way Too Many Viewers May Not Be

In a way I was a Baby Reindeer too.

When I wrote a rave for Baby Reindeer two weeks ago I made it clear that, in addition to the brilliance of the writing and performance, I could relate to what Richard Gadd’s nom de plume Donny went through because for much of the past two years I myself was the victim of a deranged stalker who had a similar track record of avoid consequences for their actions. I knew after two episodes the similarities between Donny’s experience and mine and had an idea why he could feel empathy for Martha even going forward. I wanted to get through the entire series before I uttered my final verdict.

Well I finished it today (those of you who know my viewing habits know that watching an entire series in two weeks is my equivalent of binge-watching) and I came away with which much of the same feelings Donny does during his entire experience. And I say just as I did at the start of the series that I feel as much empathy for the stalked Donny as I did the clearly deranged Martha even after everything that the latter put Donny through. Therefore this retrospective will include more personal anecdotes than usual rather than be a mere analysis of the creative aspects of the show — which for the record are superb and incredible to watch.

As everything involving Donny and Martha took on a darker stint as the series progressed I imagined something that must have occurred to Richard Gadd every time he went to the police as things worsened. If you know your Dickens, you are familiar with the infamous line in Oliver Twist in which we are told ‘the law is a ass’. Everyone in the United Kingdom knows that phrase more familiarly than we do in America, and I can tell you with incredible certainty I kept coming back to it as things with my stalker worsened over two years.

Almost everything that Donny had to deal with the police when it came to Martha I had to deal with as my stalker’s behavior grew worse. My stalker never had either my phone number of email address (as I mentioned before they would probably have been unable to recall it for long given their deteriorating mental condition) but I did receive a huge numbers of threatening notes either taped to my door or my mailbox, all of which had a similar deranged quality and frequent misspellings. My stalker had a habit of making sure the police came to my door by making innumerable false complaints to 9–1–1 and I could hear many of them, and they had the common sense to make them anonymous. They also frequently approached me on the street, usually outside my building but sometimes in random encounters and every time they saw me, they would begin the same deranged rant about me being a sick person, guilty of stealing random items from him, saying that they’d lived in the building twenty-three years and they were loved by everyone, and usually ended in some kind of obscene comment about me.

The police would become a regular feature in my day-to-day life over a period of a year, and almost every time they were aware that this was a false complaint. (I’ve mentioned the individual’s mental condition in previous articles so I won’t go over it again.) While most of the time the police were patient with me, the longer this continued the more exasperated I became and there were times they were less than sympathetic as to solutions. There were times, like in the penultimate episode, that the police considered me as bad as this person, which was frustrating and when I asked them to do something they told me that the limits of the law allowed them to do nothing. When I mentioned the threats, they would ask: “How do you know he sent them?” There was no security in my building and they frequently told me that I was the one who had to take the initiative. (Donny is told the same thing in the series finale by a sympathetic cop.) It was just as difficult to get an order of protection filed (it finally happened after I was assaulted by this person in full view of some of my neighbors) and this person was walking the streets the next day and there was no indication the person even thought that they’d done anything wrong. Even after the order of protection was filed, this individual violated it at least eight times over the course of several months. Each time they were back in the apartment within twenty four hours, no matter what the circumstances of this person’s arrest. (Once it took thirty minutes to get this person to open the door and at least half a dozen patrolmen to remove them from the building, shouting loudly and kicking and screaming all the way down. The person was back in the building a few days later.)

It’s worth noting that its easier to understand this person’s condition then it is Martha’s: as I mention this person was suffering from some kind of schizophrenia and he was also going through dementia, which exacerbated it. Donny never gets a clear idea of what’s wrong with Martha by the end of this, but based on what I saw I think Martha was suffering from erotomania. This delusion causes an individual to take simple gestures — like say, allowing a person to give them a Coke on the house — and read into it a mythical romantic relationship. This pretty much describes every single thing Martha does during the show as well as her attitude towards Terri. In Martha’s mind Teri was a buffer preventing the romantic relationship between her and Donny from being completed, which is explains her violent attack on him at the bar.

In Donny’s case, it’s a different story. As we learned in the fourth episode, he was groomed by an older man who offered him the promise of a job if he just kept doing what he said and eventually sexually violated him multiple times. This caused Donny to spiral into self-destructive ways, destroyed any potential personal relationship he had and had him spend much of his life prior to meeting Martha in shame. His relationship with Terri was everything he could hope for but the shame that he felt for himself was so overpowering that he couldn’t be open with her and it destroyed it.

I should also mention I completely relate to the brilliant six minute monologue that Donny has as the comedy special that ends the penultimate episode. Not from the sexual perspective but certainly from an emotional one. After nearly a year of everything that this individual had put me through, I was a raw nerve. Every time my intercom buzzed or my doorbell rang I jumped (it was the pattern for them to do so to harass me multiple times in the course of a day) and I came to dread walking down the stairs of my building just because of the near certainty that they would be there. This individual seemed to do nothing but spend most of the day in the lobby waiting for the mail to be delivered, even on holidays or weekends and every time they saw me, they would either rant at me or just loom threateningly. It has taken a lot of support and therapy to get through all of that and it was incredibly traumatic. Even now there are times I wake up suddenly hearing the buzz of my intercom and the person has been gone from my building for nearly a year.

I can’t imagine what it was like for Richard to deal with this because Donny spends the entire experience internalizing it, ignoring it and in the final episode going over every recorded message he’s been sent looking for something to get Martha arrested — until he’s gone down a separate rabbit hole. (I was told to record my encounters with this individual, particularly after the order of protection was filed.) And while I know that Richard Gadd has moved past his experience in real life, I didn’t feel quite as secure about that for Donny at the end of Baby Reindeer.

At the end of the lastepisode, he’s cataloging every conversation he had with her, sorting and filing by degree (I had to do something similar for the police), ends up going to see the comedy writer who groomed him and what occurs seems to me the opposite of closure. Watching the scene Donny seems to show no outrage towards the man who groomed and violated him, again becoming the meek individual we’ve seen before. He accepts the writer’s apology as if it were genuine and his offer of a writing job as if it can make up for all of the abuse he went through. And at the end of the episode, he’s still pouring through Martha’s calls, still trying to understand, still feeling far too much sympathy for the woman who caused so much wreckage in his life, even after she was arrested. The series ends on a note of ambiguity as to whether Donny can finally move past what happened to him, and the only note of hope you get is that he seems to be working on the show that will become Baby Reindeer, the play that the series is based on.

But the thing is I feel the same empathy for Martha at the end of the series that I did at the start, which should have been impossible given how much her behavior has escalated simply by the penultimate episode. And I think this comes from having lived through a similar experience. The more time I had to spend around my stalker, the clearer it became that this person wasn’t making my life a living hell because they had a fixation on making me miserable; it was a combination of their mental condition and the fact that I lived in the apartment below them. The fact that none of this was personal should have been the kind of thing that made me angrier but instead it made me feel more sympathy for them because as events progressed, their dementia worsened to the point that they were unaware of what day it was, what year it was and sometimes even their surroundings. Given the increasing deterioration of their appearance — their clothes were frequently unwashed and their deteriorating personal hygiene — it was clear the system had not only failed me, but them too.

Gadd doesn’t go into it during Baby Reindeer — the show is after all, mainly about Donny — but the system has clearly failed Martha as much as it has Donny. I don’t know enough about either the British legal system or psychiatric one to know if its similar to the American one but at a certain point it should have clear to everyone that Martha could not function. You can see that the few times we go to her apartment and see what a wretched state it’s in; how unable she is to think coherently in almost any setting and in personal interactions, and certainly by the nature of the threats that she repeatedly sends him. The fact that Martha had been convicted of doing this before is a factor — as Donny says she knew how to game the system — but it also speaks volumes to the gaps in it that she was able to repeatedly fall through. At some point well before she and Donny first met, it should have been clear that Martha was a danger to herself or others. Donny’s actions might have stopped the police from noticing how bad it was, but it doesn’t let them off the hook: anyone who spent five minutes with her should have noticed (it was certainly clear to Terri)

The people who are now stalking and shaming Martha on the Internet and in real life, as is so often in the real world, have missed the point of Baby Reindeer entirely. This isn’t a Lifetime Movie where the victim is a doe-eyed innocent and the stalker psychotically evil. Donny, in his own way, is as emotionally damaged by life as Martha is and he recognizes it. It’s clear throughout the series that even at her worst, he never stops entirely feeling sympathy and empathy for her, even though it seems that he absolutely should. Martha is as much a victim as Donny is — not merely from the bad childhood she hints at in the final minutes, but because she is deluded and suffering from the kind of mental issues that need to be treated but are frequently ignored by our society. My stalker should have been under long-term care years before I became what was his final victim of harassment but the medical system failed him and the justice system had to take over. In the final episode that is exactly what happens to Martha to and if you don’t see something sad in it, then you clearly don’t have the kind of empathy that Donny does.

Perhaps unless you’ve lived through an experience like the one I did, you won’t be capable of appreciating everything that Gadd tells us about in Baby Reindeer. I’m not saying you should, of course — I wouldn’t wish either Donny’s experience or mine on my worst enemy or the people I hate the most in this world. But that may be why so many online fans have done what they do with basically every series and have decided to turn Martha into the villain of the piece and Donny the hero. Like all of the best television, its more layered than that and it speaks to so much about our common humanity.

The note of optimism I take away from the series is the fact that, even at the end of his experience, Donny is still capable of feeling emotion and realizing that he and Martha had a common tragedy to them. Given the way that too much of even the best television these days tends to still divide things between conflict and destruction, I find it profound that this situation did not end as Donny feared it would at the end of his monologue in the penultimate episode. We’ve seen so many stories that do end with one or the other person dead — it seems the inevitable resolution of all of them — that there’s something cathartic and moving that Baby Reindeer doesn’t end that way for either of its central characters. Neither of them is anything resembling a good place, but I actually find that refreshing to: life rarely gives us definitive endings about so much of the worst experiences in our lives.

I have spent much of this article dealing with how Baby Reindeer resonated with me emotionally rather than at a technical level, and I don’t think I’ll do so now. After all, I’m going to be dealing with the Emmy nominations in the weeks to come, and Baby Reindeer’s definitely going to be a part for that conversation. So the question is, given everything I’ve told you and everything you’ve heard, can you watch the series and be entertained?

I think you will. Enjoying may be a different story but that’s not exactly a deal-breaker for the people who watched Dahmer last year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t pleasure to be gained from it. Last year Beef managed to tap into a universal emotion even while a told a story through Korean-American perspective and Baby Reindeer takes a different look at some of the same subject matter through a different perspective. We might not have had the same experience that Donny and Martha go through that Ali Wong and Steven Yeun did, but there is the same kind of twisted psychological relationship, dark humor and ambiguous ending. Though I really hope for the sake of everybody involved, there’s no second season for Baby Reindeer. The last thing the creator wants is to have to come up with more material.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.