Netflix’s Baby Reindeer is Totally Transformed by its Stunning Episode 4

That's when a good show becomes great. Spoilers.

Richard Gadd as Donny in Netflix Baby Reindeer
Photo: Ed Miller/Netflix

Warning: contains spoilers for Baby Reindeer episodes 1-4 and discussion of sexual assault.

Baby Reindeer opens with aspiring comedian Donny Dunn going to the police about his stalker. How long has it been going on, he’s asked. “Six months?” the officer says. “Why’d it take you so long to report it?”

Over the first three instalments of this dramatized true story, you’ll frustratedly ask the same question. And then in episode four, you’ll get the fullest, most thornily honest answer – in what must be one of the finest TV episodes of recent years.

Before episode four, Donny (series creator Richard Gadd, playing a version of himself) is a maddeningly closed box. When a visibly unstable woman he serves at the pub one day starts to tail his every move and email him obsessively, he doesn’t pull up the shutters; he makes space for her. Despite knowing that Martha (Jessica Gunning) has previous criminal convictions for stalking, Donny even accepts her Facebook friend request.   

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In the first three episodes, we watch Donny make so many wrong calls and take so many missteps with Martha that Baby Reindeer starts to feel like cringe TV. It’s involving but deeply uncomfortable viewing. Donny’s reluctance to report Martha’s behaviour and his failure to attempt to set boundaries with her even after she sexually assaults him by unwanted groping, is bewildering. He’s clearly at risk and she clearly needs help. So why is he letting this continue?

Once episode four has done its work, the cruelty of that question is made clear. ‘Why let it continue?’ turns out to be something Donny asks himself ceaselessly and not just about Martha, but about a defining episode in his past that has derailed his sense of self. Five years earlier, Donny was groomed, drugged and raped by a leading figure in the comedy industry. It was the culmination of a series of drugged sexual assaults by his rapist to which Donny did not and, being unconscious, could not consent to, but to which he repeatedly returned, apparently by choice.

Baby Reindeer’s depiction of rape is among the most honest and insightful in TV drama on the subject, and in the context of this cool, approachable, male-led Netflix series, one that’s likely to do a world of good. It’s no overstatement to say that telling this story so fully and so insightfully from the perspective of a male survivor may well save lives.

The myth that rape is a crime committed only by strangers at knifepoint in dark alleys has been usefully chipped away at in drama in recent years. What Baby Reindeer captures so truthfully is the dehumanising and destabilising aftermath of being abused. The first time Donny is drugged and sexually assaulted, his rapist makes no acknowledgement of the act he’s just committed. He glosses straight over it to offer a barely conscious Donny a drink, which he blurrily accepts. This happens again, and again, and again. An unacknowledged assault is followed by a genial, pally exchange, all silently underpinned by the power dynamic of a successful industry figure and the young comic he’s promising a shot at the big time. The rapist controls Donny with a repeating cycle of flattery, coldness, praise and abuse – accompanied by powerful class-A drugs – that leaves Donny without his bearings. Afterwards, his sense of self is a write-off. Is he talented? Is he loveable? Is he responsible? Is he anything?

All of that is voiced far better by episode four’s exposing and raw voiceover, which answers Baby Reindeer’s initial question of why it took so long for Donny to report Martha: “I couldn’t stand the irony of reporting her but not him. To admit to her was to admit to him, and I hadn’t admitted him to anyone yet.”

This exposing and truthful episode is the pivot on which Baby Reindeer turns, transforming a good show into a great one. Episode four is like a light switching on behind an X-Ray scan of Donny’s mind, illuminating its previously dark paths, connections and areas of damage. The remaining three episodes build on the knowledge it delivers to form an honest, sharply written drama that transforms pain into understanding, and suffering, very likely, into help.

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Baby Reindeer is streaming now on Netflix. Visit for information on how to get help if you’ve been affected by sexual violence.