I can’t write about The OA without some spoilers. The cosmic brainchild of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij is a matryoshka nesting doll of reveals that lead to more questions and curve balls, and for the purposes of a review I have to let a few cats out of proverbial bags to make my points clear.
Readers beware: if you want to go into the show fresh, best leave my insights for after viewing.
The OA features Marling as the lead character, a wiry thin light haired woman fished out of the river after an apparent suicide attempt. She’s reunited with her family after seven years of what they thought was her kidnapping. We learn the woman’s name is Prairie and before her disappearance she was blind, however, when reunited with her mother and father — her sight is restored.
Prairie’s homecoming to a small cul-de-sac isn’t quite as joyous as her folks might have thought. Her shoulders are adorned with bizarre scars, she won’t tell anyone — including the FBI — where she’s been for almost a decade, and is desperate to get in touch with someone named Homer. She insists her name isn’t “Prairie” but rather, she is the show’s namesake, The OA. Her friends just call her OA.
And friends she has. Through a series of events she invites five of the town’s misfits to engage in a story time hour in an abandoned construction site wherein The OA reveals where she’s been during her disappearance — and what she needs to do next. Patrick Gibson plays Steve the sometimes violent 16-year-old boy who’s unable to express his feelings without the use of his fists; Brandon Perea plays French a top-tier student who might have too much in his plate, Phyllis Smith plays high school teacher Betty looking to make sense of a recent family death, Ian Alexander is Buck a transgender boy looking to his way, and Jesse Alexander is a mop headed boy dealing with the loss of his parents. One can revel in the undeniable connection these characters make, and it’s thoroughly engaging to see how they all interact with one another. The show’s cast is an array of talented performers who breathe life into the three-dimensional (and sometimes multi-dimensional) characters they play.
The OA is part sci-fi, part fantasy, and a whole lot of mystery. One has to applaud the array of tendrils and intertwining stories infused in this haunting and beautifully shot supernatural odyssey story. Inner demons, redeeming angels, interpretative dance moves, and the power of the human heart all bind the show’s hippy dippy “the universe is all connected” underlying thesis of the show. However, as much as The OA draws us into an unfolding complex tale, we are haunted by the phantasms of cohesive narrative. Ambiguity is a tricky ingredient in any plot, and while some will appreciate the unanswered questions at seasons end happy to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, others will be frustrated to no end at how the show leaves its viewers without definite closure.
In other words, there are some elements in the show that just don’t make any fucking sense. I won’t touch on the biggies, as they’re apparent enough and after you watch you’ll know what they are, but I got some bones to pick with The OA (aforementioned spoilers ahead).
My main beef is with “Prairie’s” past. Firstly, when Prairie is still Nina and living with her aunt in what appears to be a brothel, Nancy (Alice Krige) and husband Abel (Scott Wilson) come to buy a baby (apparently?) instead of, you know, using an adoption agency like normal people — why does nobody think this is sketchy as fuck? Nina’s aunt is like “this child must be kept secret” and Nancy and Abel are like “Okie dokie” let’s purchase this human being without really knowing where she comes from and rename her Prairie after her blind eyes and act as though she hasn’t had a life before this moment. Oh yeah, and they all leave that infant boy they were originally going to buy alone in the fucking attic. These people are goddamn monsters.
It looks like the writers try at one point to make Nancy more likeable with a speech she gives her adopted daughter sharing a story about how she remembered when the young girl learned to walk, and how when Nancy watched this young girl run and bump her head this is when she knew this was her daughter. Prairie’s tumble hurt her too. Awwwww — EXCEPT NO. Nancy adopted this girl when she was seven. She could already walk. This is a big oversight with all involved.
Speaking of buying people, one of the show’s major connections I loved the most was between Steve and Betty. But there comes a time where young Steve is going to be shipped off to some kind of military scared straight camp where it’s technically legal for parents to have their children restrained against their will. There’s an exchange of money for his freedom too and now Betty owns him? Because his parents don’t send him back to the military camp?
These logistical inconsistencies are so frustrating because the premise of The OA has some very fertile and compelling elements. However, if you’re going to have a show that deals in the open-ended not-all-qs-to-as type of genre, you better get the tiny details down pat.
All of this to say, The OA is beguiling, yet ultimately frustrating viewing experience leaving the viewer with more questions than answers in a infuriating, rather than exhilarating, way.