Some people are missing the point of "Baby Reindeer"

Online speculation and sleuthing led series director and showrunner Richard Gadd to ask fans to pull back

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published April 24, 2024 5:45PM (EDT)

Richard Gadd as Danny Dunn and Jessica Gunning as Martha Scott in "Baby Reindeer" (Netflix)
Richard Gadd as Danny Dunn and Jessica Gunning as Martha Scott in "Baby Reindeer" (Netflix)

The following contains spoilers for "Baby Reindeer"

If the little voice inside your head has recently taken on a new accent — specifically a rolling Scottish brogue — it's likely that you're not alone. 

That might be the "Baby Reindeer" effect. In Netflix's limited series creator and star Richard Gadd chronicles the emotional account of his real-life experience through his portrayal of Donny Dunn, a floundering comedian living in London who is aggressively pursued by a mentally unwell woman named Martha (Jessica Gunning). 

Through seven succinct episodes, the show teems with emotional content and explores dark themes. Aside from Martha's incessant stalking and sometimes violent behaviors, Donny is repeatedly sexually abused during drug-fueled hangouts by Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill), a television comedy writer who promises to propel his career.

In a digital world consumed by an insatiable desire for knowledge, it's no surprise that Gadd's openness about "Baby Reindeer's" real-life origins might ignite the latent Sherlock Holmes in some of us. I'll be the first to admit that I quickly took to Google after Gadd's cloudless admission in the first episode's opening that "this is a true story," keen to learn more. It's part of why true crime is so popular. We have something palpable and immersive to follow down a rabbit hole, indulging our curiosities just a bit further in the darkness of our rooms, cradled by the dim glow of our phones and the knowledge that, at the very least, we aren't as perverse as whatever we just watched. We simply want to read on.

My searches didn't yield much, which was to be expected. Gadd, who previously told Variety that the show is "emotionally 100% true," ostensibly took an ironclad approach to protect the identities of real individuals involved. Speaking to GQ, Gadd said that "Baby Reindeer" went to “such great lengths to disguise [his stalker] to the point that I don’t think she would recognize herself.”

And yet, since the show dropped earlier this month, conspiracy theories about the "real" Martha and Darrien are unspooled across social media as vigilante fans of the show deluged TikTok and X/Twitter with their flimsy conclusions. More than that, as Cosmopolitan's Kimberely Bond writes, the unsubstantiated online probes served to supply "cheap laughs or for viewers to boast about their stellar detective work for social media clout." Armchair sleuthing went to such extremes, in fact, that British actor, writer, and director Sean Foley was baselessly accused of being the real-life Darrien.

Sure, not all internet sleuthing has negative consequences. Lest we forget "Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer," Netflix's 2019 limited series details how a group of cat lovers banded together online to investigate animal cruelty videos that went viral. Their concerns eventually prompted an international manhunt for a murderer. 

But that's not the case here.

On Monday, Gadd posted to his Instagram story to ask "Baby Reindeer" viewers to cease their amateur detective work. 

“People I love, have worked with, and admire (including Sean Foley) are unfairly getting caught up in speculation,” Gadd wrote. “Please don’t speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.”

While many social media users have played into the potentially harmful hunches, others have voiced genuine concern, pointing toward the irony underlying it all.

"Bring back media literacy," one X/Twitter user wrote. "People are not getting the point of Baby Reindeer, and it’s infuriating. The show is meant to increase your awareness and empathy. Why tf are people using it to bully/stalk and further abuse? This is why people don’t speak out ffs."

"People really need to chill with the #BabyReindeer speculation. It’s potentially damaging to those who are being speculated," wrote another. "Certain identities haven’t been revealed for a reason . . .  leave it!

Of course, as humans, there's an innate desire to know more. But how has a seemingly obvious concern been eclipsed by not only a want of truth, but by a parasocial sense of entitlement? Richard Gadd has already been so incredibly vulnerable with his viewers. He chose to share, if not the hyperspecific minutiae of what he endured, an undeniably raw and accurate emotional portrayal of his experience with being stalked and groomed. 

"I was very keen for Martha to be layered," Gadd recently told Netflix. "To show this side of stalking, that it is a mental illness. And show the fact that there was someone there who was doing a bad thing, who wasn't necessarily a bad person, that just had a lot of trauma in their life that they were going through."

If you've seen "Baby Reindeer," you know Martha's antics are, to put it lightly, extreme. But in carelessly throwing accusations and supremely untenable breadcrumbs into the internet void, people are partaking in a different kind of morally unsound behavior.

Perhaps we should take heed of a statement Gadd shared through Netflix ahead of the show's release, in which he articulates the anxieties, the catharsis and the undoubtedly enormous weight of translating his lived trauma onto the screen for millions of viewers:

"I would be lying if I said I was not back exactly where I was all those years ago in 2019 at the Edinburgh Fringe. Fearing the worst. Praying for the best. Hoping that in amongst all the messy, complicated, f**ked up, themes 'Baby Reindeer' throws at you that people might take notice of its beating heart. "

"Baby Reindeer" is now streaming on Netflix.



By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Baby Reindeer Commentary Grooming Netflix Richard Gadd Sean Foley Sexual Assault Stalking Tv