This weekend I inadvertently binge watched the entire first season of Netflix’s newest original series, The OA. You know the familiar scenario- it’s Saturday morning, you casually check out an episode, it leaves off on a cliffhanger, so you do the whole “just one more” bit, and before you know it you’re four deep, can’t remember your name or where you’re supposed to be and figure at this point the best thing to do now it just power through it. TONS OF SPOILERS AHEAD, if you haven’t watched the show all the way through, click through to the NON SPOILERS write up. And now… spoilers abound!
The morning after finishing this series, I’m still on the fence as to how I feel about it. For every question answered along the way, three more took its place. It’s basically the resident Netflix Hydra. Nearly an hour into the first episode, the story turns from possibly abducted blind girl returns home to her small midwestern town with restored sight and mysterious scars to a Russian fairy tale. The opening credits coming in at this point was a nice touch – I was effectively mind-fucked. Inner dialogue something along the lines of “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON, WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BEEN WATCHING FOR DAMN NEAR AN HOUR, IS THIS THE REAL STORY NOW?” So Prairie is not really Prairie and she wasn’t born blind. Two questions answered. Spring forth one million unanswered questions (how the hell did she end up in the midwest? Who are the parents we’ve met? What the hell is going on here anyway? Is this going to pull a Lost on us, or will all be answered in the end?!). Intrigued. Onto episodes two, three, four, five….
And now onto… the movements. Halfway through the series we come to learn the key to everything lies in the “five movements”. The movements are retrieved during near death experiences (NDE) by Prairie and her fellow captives. After death they each experience another dimension and choose to come back to life, during this process the movements are revealed to them and they come back to share what they’ve learned with the others. When they combine these movements and perform them together, they believe they will open up a dimensional portal, allowing for their escape. Now, these movements have taken a lot of flack, the creators of the show have defended this portion of the narrative. Yes, the movements may look silly and make you feel mildly uncomfortable. Portions of the movements even look like the latest NorCal hip-hop dance craze. I’ve personally taken to hissing at my girlfriend whilst my hands are extended towards her inspired by the show. But for me personally the movements really felt more aligned with some sort of ancient yoga/energy sequences than it did “interpretive dance” which it has been referred to quite a few times, (not by the creators). So for the most part I was able to be on board with this piece of the narrative, within the show’s mythology, I thought of it as more some ancient primal key to tap into alternate realities.
The finale – So. Many. Questions. Is Prairie a delusional liar, using the group of five midwestern kids and a teenager to help her work through whatever trauma she actually suffered over the course of the last 7 years? Who the hell was the school shooter and where the hell did he come from? Not that I think this is any better, but it seems it would have almost made more sense if Steve had been the shooter and somehow they were able to create an alternate future where the shooting didn’t happen. The future is “dark” and Steve is referred to multiple times as potentially being a “murderer”. Or at least if the school shooter had been brought in as a character at some point so it didn’t feel so entirely out of left field, that may have helped. Why does the school shooter not shoot down the five as they perform the movements around him? The movements take time to work, maybe I need to watch the scene again but it doesn’t seem like the shooter is immobilized by special powers emitting from the five. Maybe he’s just so stunned he doesn’t know what the hell to do with himself? Luckily the cafeteria dude rushes his ass and tackles him to the ground.
After taking a bullet to the chest, Prairie is loaded into an ambulance and the next we see of her she’s in a white space, and the last words we’re left with are “Homer?”.
Is she dead? Is she delusional and dead? Is it all true, and the performance of the movements opened up the portal and sent her through as planned and now she’s reunited with the NDE captives in another dimension? No idea. Though I’m an optimist and I prefer the latter of the explanations.
I read an argument against a season two, and the main argument the writer had was that Prairie or The OA had no real character arc. The character arcs took place in the “real world” for the students and the teacher who assembled into an unlikely ragtag family of sorts. I disagree with this, though. While I may partially agree with the argument that Season Two isn’t a necessity, I do no agree that The OA did not undergo a major character arc. First of all, she started out as Nina, then became Prairie. Her sole driving purpose in life was to reunite with her father, concealing her identity and eventually running away in order to find him. When she chooses to sacrifice an eternity with her father she gives up her lifelong mission, her single sole driving force in the story thus far, in favor of what she deems to be the “greater good”, returning to Homer and the other captives so that they may collectively escape Hap. She also becomes the OA. While she may have always been The OA, she now comes to embrace it and everything it means. She comes to embody it. As far as her family relationships: initially she refuses to share any part of her story with her parents, but after French sort of puts her in her place with regards to how she feels towards her adoptive parents, she lets them in on her story. In the end, she becomes an unreliable narrator – French finds a stack of books hiding beneath her bed which would provide enough research fuel to spin the elaborate stories she has relayed to the group during their sessions in the abandoned model home. Does this mean everything has been a lie and Prairie is delusional? What’s the deal with the FBI counselor and why the hell was he randomly in Prairie’s house? We don’t freakin’ know.
If there is a season two, and all the mythology we’ve been fed throughout the series is true within the show’s universe – I imagine the story would need to take place in this other dimension that Prairie has been sent to, following her journey with the other NDE captives.
This is certainly a multi-layered piece and it dives deep into the metaphysical and touches upon quite a few interesting themes. A quick online search for “The OA”, makes it abundantly clear fans of the show are torn. Phrases like “controversial ending” and numerous articles of the creators “defending” certain plot elements are abound. So much of this show’s power is in the mystery, and I think if anything, they sure as hell used that effectively. It feels like the show’s creators set out to create something profound. Sci-fi with a message, and I can’t say they totally missed the mark. The fact that I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about it all the morning after says something in itself. It got me thinking, it’s still on my mind, and it made me feel enough that I’m still sorting out what those feelings are after sleeping on it. I can’t help but wonder if the creators are reading the online backlash and thinking, “they just don’t get it”. There are still many questions, but I think for what they were attempting, and for the sheer intrigue each episode instills – it is worth watching. It’s different and the weaving together of key plot points, myth, and reality is done very well for the most part. This is new and it’s weird and kind of great because of that. Much like the title character. Binge on.