Image: Ed Miller/Netflix

Unravelling the Disturbing Tale of Baby Reindeer

Prior to reading this article, it is important to note that the show Baby Reindeer covers some triggering topics, such as, stalking, mental illness, drug use and sexual assault. These themes will be touched upon briefly in my review. I recommend consulting any warnings listed before viewing.

Richard Gadd’s smash-hit, and highly bingeable series, Baby Reindeer, follows the story of the troubled stand-up comedian Donny (Richard Gadd), who unexpectedly becomes the victim of stalking. Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning), after arriving at the pub that Donny works in, becomes intensely attached to Donny after he offers her an ill-fated cup of tea. However, this psychological, darkly humorous exploration of the reality of stalking becomes even more extreme, because Richard Gadd is biographically playing himself. 

One of the most nuanced and conflicting portrayals of stalking and mental illness that I have ever seen

The Scottish Comedian adapted this bleak tale from an hour-long play performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, which Logan depicts as a ‘cathartic triumph’. The quirky but arguably cute name Baby Reindeer, originates from his stalker’s nickname for him, and becomes a repeated reminder of Gadd’s personal suffering.

The character of Martha Scott, played spectacularly by Jessica Gunning, is one of the most nuanced and conflicting portrayals of stalking and mental illness that I have ever seen. Behind her flirting, obnoxiously loud laugh, and the 40,000 emails it is revealed she sent Donny, it is hard not to have some sense of sympathy for her. Watchers of the show will never forget her misspelt “Sent from my iPhone” messages. Scott’s façade as a high-flying, socialite lawyer is exposed as a lie, with her real lifestyle of deceit being  revealed throughout the course of the show – be warned, it’s rather shocking!

Not only does Gadd’s depiction of stalking tell the story of Martha Scott, it also delves into some of the comedian’s deeper personal issues. Donny’s unexpected sympathy towards Martha, the root cause of his stalking hell, is painted as an outgrowth of his own personal challenges. Donny is dating the vivacious and bold Teri (Nava Mau), an American transgender woman who shows pride in her identity, a contrast to Donny’s troubled demeanour. Donny struggles in his relationship with Teri as a consequence of his past. He is a victim of sexual assault, a fact shockingly revealed in the show’s fourth episode. These issues, whilst not revealed initially, clearly shape Gadd’s acting, turning his portrayal of Donny into a deeply nuanced and emotional performance. 

The whole fiasco surrounding the revealing of Martha Scott seems to take away from both Gadd’s wishes, and the true goal of the show

As previously mentioned, the story of Baby Reindeer is based on Gadd’s real life, but this also includes the real-life story of Martha Scott. Sleuths on social media have made it their mission to find the real Martha Scott, even after Gadd posted a message on his Instagram story to stop speculation surrounding the show. Despite these warnings, the recently discovered ‘real Baby Reindeer stalker’, Fiona Harvey, has spoken in detail to the press, giving authority to the Daily Record to name her, stating she did not do jail time and is ‘not crazy’.

In my opinion, the whole fiasco surrounding the revealing of Martha Scott seems to take away from both Gadd’s wishes, and the true goal of the show to raise awareness for mental health problems. Gunning, who plays Martha Scott, has publicly stated “It’s a real, real shame” that fans have taken this approach towards the show, suggesting that they should consider the true meaning behind the show and protect those involved.

I have my regrets with Baby Reindeer, mainly that I watched it in its entirety on the day of its release. I wish I had truly savoured the incredible cinematography, the suspenseful and nuanced plot, and the potentially award-winning acting performances. I highly recommend Baby Reindeer for anyone who is a fan of thriller dramas mixed with dark comedy and an exploration of some highly intricate themes. However, as mentioned earlier, make sure to consult any warnings prior to watching, as many scenes are graphically depicted.

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