Baby Reindeer first premiered on Netflix on April 11, 2024. In the short time since the brief seven-episode mini-series released, the show has garnered massive audience attention, critical acclaim and achieved “certified fresh” status on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, with a 97 percent critic score. The series released with little to no advanced promotion, making it a runaway hit. Baby Reindeer is an adaptation of Richard Gadd’s one man stage show, which is itself based on true experiences, making the harrowing tale even more shocking. Gadd created the series and stars in the leading role as a fictionalized version of himself named Donny Dunn.

The narrative of Baby Reindeer deals with a lot of heavy themes, including stalking, abuse, sexual assault, and more, so trigger warning for anyone interested in reading more about the dark drama. The series concludes on an eery and dour tone, with some threads left open for interpretation, while other elements of the series are completely wrapped up. In order to fully understand the themes and ideas at play in Baby Reindeer, let’s dive in and unpack the narrative. Of course, we’ll be digging into full spoiler territory in this write-up, so be sure to bookmark this page and come back if you haven’t finished watching the show just yet.

What Happens In ‘Baby Reindeer?’

The narrative of Baby Reindeer centers on Donny Dunn, a down-on-his-luck bartender who moonlights as a stand-up comedian. After he offers a bar regular named Martha a free drink, she becomes infatuated with him, showing up at the bar constantly and sending him hundreds of emails and messages per day. Donny is disturbed by her advances, but ultimately accepts them, and even takes her on a coffee date, because the steady stream of compliments and flattery Martha provides strokes Donny’s bruised ego. Before long, Donny tries to politely express that he isn’t interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with Martha, which causes her to have a violent outburst. Donny then learns that she has a police record for stalking other men in the past, but still reciprocates her advances.

Donny’s refusal to let go of Martha even though he doesn’t care for her or even feel safe in her presence offers a real insight into Donny’s unaddressed trauma, which gets explored in the harrowing fourth episode via flashback. In this episode, viewers learn about the sexual abuse Donny suffered years before meeting Martha, and the lasting effect that the abuse had on his psychological wellbeing. Donny’s abuser is a successful comedian and established television writer named Darrien, who agrees to mentor Donny after encouraging him to follow his dreams of working in comedy. While working together in Darrien’s apartment, Darrien repeatedly encourages Donny to experiment with illicit drugs, promising that the substances will improve his workflow and writing habits. Instead, Darrien takes advantage of Donny’s fragile inebriated state, and sexually assaults him, in a highly disturbing series of sequences throughout the episode.

Things Get Even Darker

Donny’s experience with Darrien completely reshapes his view on his own sexuality. Throughout the entirety of Baby Reindeer, Donny feels attracted to men, but fears that these feelings are too closely associated with his abuse, which he has mentally repressed and refused to properly address. He begins a relationship with a transgender woman named Teri, though he keeps their relationship a secret and struggles to express any public affection for her. As Donny navigates the confusing minefield of his budding relationship with Teri, Martha’s stalking intensifies, resulting in her becoming Facebook friends with Donny’s ex girlfriend, his parents, and just about anybody else she can use to dig up additional info on him.

Eventually, Martha’s advances become much more overt, as she begins following Donny home from work and grabbing him inappropriately. Again, despite Martha’s highly inappropriate behavior, Donny can’t help but feel flattered by her advances, as his own shattered self worth makes it impossible for him to reconcile with his abuse. Later in the series, Donny finds that he can’t maintain an erection without thinking about Martha, despite his actual feelings of romance for Teri. After Martha attacks Donny at work, breaking a glass over his head, his self-image is shattered once again, prompting him to bomb on stage at his next stand-up show. As his jokes fail, Donny breaks down on stage and confesses to all the trauma and darkness he has suffered throughout Baby Reindeer‘s narrative thus far, in a true glimpse of how Richard Gadd initially constructed his one-man show.

The Series’ Final Moments

Though Donny’s on-stage confession was more of an impromptu therapy session than a comedy routine, cell phone videos of the set taken by the crowd begin to circulate online. After this, Donny sees a major boost to his career, and even becomes a bit closer with his father after he reveals that he too is a victim of sexual assault. For a while, it seems like Donny’s life is actually improving, until Martha gets a hold of his phone number and continues harassing him, this time with threats of more violence. Donny finally reports Martha to the police after she leaves him a voicemail threatening to stab his parents to death, resulting in Martha going to prison for 9 months. Though Martha’s stalking seemed like it would never end, Donny claims that he never sees or hears from Martha again after her incarceration.

Looking to close the loop on his trauma, Donny goes back to Darrien’s apartment, though he ultimately folds when he sees Darrien, and the two have a polite discussion. Despite having seen the video where Donny describes his assault, Darrien offers him a writing job, causing Donny to have a panic attack. In the show’s final moments, Donny sits at a bar, crying, as a bartender offers him a free drink, the very same incident that kicked off this chain of events months earlier.

‘Baby Reindeer’ Ending Explained

While speaking with Tudum, Baby Reindeer creator and star Richard Gadd explained “I didn’t want it to be a victim narrative. I think there was a version of the show where I hid from my own mistakes a bit, and I offered her this cup of tea and I’m a perfect, nice guy. But I made mistakes. And I think art is quite interesting when you don’t know who you are on the side of. You sort of feel sorry for Martha, but then you feel sorry for Donny, and then you feel sorry for her again, then you hate her and you hate him.”

This is the conflict at the core of the show which makes Baby Reindeer so unique and compelling to watch. In a more traditional stalker narrative, one individual voraciously pursues another, becoming more and more unhinged as the helpless victim does everything they can to escape. Here, the unrequited love is not quite mutual, but never goes fully unreciprocated. Perhaps if Donny had sought therapy to tangle with his trauma, he could have found his own self worth and managed to avoid getting wrapped up in Martha’s misguided flattery. Instead, he finds himself masturbating to images of her and listening to her affirmations via voicemail to fall asleep at night, like some kind of sick and twisted podcast.

Why Is It Called ‘Baby Reindeer?’

Donny’s life is not made easier by the police, who first laugh him off when he expresses that he is being stalked, only to then question why it took him over 6 months to report the stalking in the first place. Victims of sexual abuse are often not taken seriously by authority figures, and men are often made to believe that infractions of this kind can’t happen against them. When the police finally do take action, Donny bungles it, by pursuing a continued arms-length relationship with Martha. Despite her delusions, Martha’s aggrandized view of Donny helps him to envision a world where he isn’t a loser, a failure, and a victim, but an object of desire and affection.

This all becomes shattered when Donny listens to one last voicemail from Martha, where she explains the origin of the pet name “baby reindeer.” In the voicemail, Martha states “I had this wee cuddly toy when I was young. Went with me everywhere. Earliest memory I have, I think, was Christmastime. This old photo of me, sitting with this paper hat on my head and this baby reindeer beside me… Well, you are the spit of that reindeer. The same nose. Same eyes. Same cute wee bum. It means so much to me. You… You mean so much to me.”

With this message, Martha reveals to Donny, as well as the audience, what we’ve truly known all along. Her infatuation with him isn’t derived from his personality or his inherent worth. Martha’s own damaged worldview sees her latching onto people and becoming obsessed based on her own childhood trauma. Donny isn’t her ideal romantic partner, he’s her ideal inanimate companion, to be used as an outlet for clutching onto in times of stress. With this message, Donny seems to finally see the truth, and lets go of his attachment to Martha once and for all.

After The Credits Roll

While we don’t get to see much of what happens to Donny after the events of Baby Reindeer come to an end, we can surmise that he has begun to seek help for his traumatic past, and has likely been taking strides. After all, Richard Gadd wouldn’t be capable of telling this true story without confronting a few of his own demons in the process. Donny’s assurance that he never heard from Martha again after her incarceration implies that the real-life Gadd has ceased contact with his unnamed real-life stalker, and his deal with Netflix is all the evidence we need to know that his career in film and television has continued to blossom.

Now that Baby Reindeer has caused Gadd’s star to rise significantly, there’s no telling what projects he may tackle next. With any luck, Gadd will amass a swath of fans who love him for his work, and not for his resemblance to a stuffed animal they hugged when their parents were fighting.