What happens to Donald Dunn at the end of Baby Reindeer? The fate of the protagonist explored

Baby Reindeer (Image via netflix.com)
Baby Reindeer (Image via netflix.com)

The finale of Baby Reindeer left audiences devastated and heartbroken, by presenting the twisted reality of human desperation, loneliness and the punishing effects of past trauma on someone's life, through Martha's voicemail to Donald.

The show starring Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning presents the heartbreaking story of a bartender and aspiring comedian Donald Dunn, who is stalked and sexually assaulted by an obsessive lover named Martha.

Baby Reindeer is based on Gadd's autobiographical one-man show of the same name and deals with the tricky subjects of identity, shame and validation.

The series is as uncomfortable for the viewers to watch, as it's for the protagonist to live. His entanglement with Martha is absolutely haunting. She's criminally emotionless, yet incredibly emotional, and turns Donald's life into a hellish nightmare.

However, by the end, the show humanizes her character, showing the larger similarity between the protagonist and the antagonist, leaving audiences with greater and more relevant questions about the nature of society.

Spoilers for Baby Reindeer ahead.


Exploring the devastating ending of Baby Reindeer

Donny and Martha (Image via netflix.com)
Donny and Martha (Image via netflix.com)

In the final scene of Baby Reindeer, a distressed Donny sits on a bar counter, weeping. The bartender, feeling sorry for Donny, gives him a drink, on the house, in a mirror of Donny's first encounter with Martha four years back.

Donald initially enjoyed the attention and the feeling of importance that Martha provided. However, the ordeal initiates years of mental and physical abuse and sexual assault.

One might assume that Donald's recklessness in inviting an unstable person into his personal space led to the impending horror and drama. But that's exactly where the series shines.

Donny has a dark secret. He was once manipulated and raped by a man he trusted, and that horrific experience broke him. Ever since he was grappling with his sexuality and desperately wanted to reclaim his masculinity, something that Martha's obsessive attention offered.

In the last episode, Donny tells his secret to his parents, which escalates to a heartbreaking reveal of his father's sexual abuse by a priest in childhood. Later, Martha is arrested and sentenced to nine months in prison and five years of probation.

However, the most uncomfortable scene of the series comes in the form of a conversation between Doony and his rapist Darrien, who politely chats with him, with no acknowledgment or remorse for his past actions. Darrien offers him a writing job. Donny suffers a panic attack after coming out of Darrien's house.

Stopping at the pub, Donny, who is struggling to adjust to a world without Martha's constant presence, listens to a voicemail where Martha explains why she calls him Baby Reindeer.


Why did Martha call Donald Baby Reindeer?

Still from the show (Image via netflix.com)
Still from the show (Image via netflix.com)

For four years, Martha went on to send Donny 41,071 emails, 350 hours of voicemail, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages and 106 pages of letters. She would often refer to him as Baby Reindeer.

In the finale, the viewers get to know the saddening story behind that peculiar name. In the final voicemail, Martha reveals that he reminds her of a stuffed animal she would hug when her parents would fight, which was the only positive memory from her childhood.

This confession rips Donny apart, as he realizes that she's deeply pained by trauma, not much different from him/

"I felt sorry for her. That's the first feeling I felt. It's a patronizing, arrogant feeling, feeling sorry for someone you just laid eyes on. But I did. I felt sorry for her," - Donald Dunn, talking about Martha.

The most compelling aspects of Baby Reindeer are its exploration of trauma, loneliness, power dynamics and the complexities of victimhood.

As Donny grapples with feelings of vulnerability and fear, he also confronts the societal expectations and stereotypes that often surround victims of stalking and harassment.


Final Thoughts

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In Baby Reindeer, creator, writer and performer Richard Gadd achieves the rare feat of telling his deeply devastating story on screen and making it incredibly important and relevant by refraining from demonizing the stalker.

He presents the story with utmost sincerity and weaves a purposeful narrative that would initiate some important conversations around sexual assault and mental health.

Weronika Tofilska and Josephine Bornebusch direct the series which boasts an ensemble of talented actors alongside Gadd and Gunning, including Nava Mau, Tom Goodman-Hill, Shalom Brune-Franklin and Danny Kirrane.

Baby Reindeer premiered on Netflix on 11 April 2024.

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