Japan’s athletes thrilled the crowd by waving Russian flags. Soon after, Russia’s Olympians marched out to close the parade as spectators flicked on red, white and blue lighted medals to create a sparkling, stadium-wide embrace.

The athletes properly introduced, we’re back to the land of childhood, as giant Sochi mascots—the hare, polar bear and snow leopard–skate, snowboard and ski onto Fisht Stadium. Then it’s back to the movies—the only plausible le vehicle for recounting the building of Russia. Centuries whiz by faster than we can process the images.

Now comes a glittering Russian “troika,” or carriage pulled by three horses abreast, sailing into the stadium. It pulls the sun. Somehow we descend to the undersea world, as a giant whale appears. This isn’t the first whale to be used as a metaphor, is it?

But what does it mean?

Our Lyubov returns, clipped to a harness and flying again. She enters a snow globe of St Basil’s Catherdral, as snowflakes fall onto spectators’ heads and reporters’ computers.