Netflix’s new original series, “The OA,” is unlike anything else on television these days. It’s one part supernatural drama, one part science fiction thriller, one part fantasy horror and one part paranormal mystery. But that’s exactly what makes “The OA” so addictive – it will completely play with your mind and emotions. You need to be watching it right now because the show will challenge your assumptions about life and death, the sacred and the profane, and the mutability of truth.
A genre that defies explanation
Is it a drama? A mystery? Nobody really can say. Netflix calls it a “mystery drama,” but that doesn’t take into account how big a role the occult plays in this new show. Entertainment site E! even went so far as to post a blog and video about the show under the headline “WTF is ‘The OA’?”
Part of the reason why nobody can say for sure what genre this is stems from the fact that the narrator – Prairie Johnson (aka “The OA”) – turns out not to be so reliable after all. The show only has 8 episodes, but in at least half of them, you won’t be sure if she’s actually telling the truth about what happened to her.
And, let’s face it, her story borders on the insane. Blind and adopted, she goes disappearing for seven years before returning with the ability to see again and lots of unexplained scars on her back. And she calls herself “The OA” (which we learn later means “Original Angel”). She won’t tell the FBI or her adoptive parents what happened to her – she will only tell a group of five local kids, and her story gets weirder and spookier with each new episode.
A storytelling format that pulls you in
What makes “The OA” so addictive is that it’s often challenging to tell what’s going on, since the show makes elaborate use of a non-linear storytelling format. As Prairie Johnson/The OA (played by Brit Marling) tells her story, she begins to unwind all the events over the past 7 years that led to the present situation.
She says that she was tricked by an evil scientist known as Hap, who convinced her to take part in near-death experiences to see what happens to the human soul when a body dies. That’s because, when she was young, she had a near-death experience when she almost drowned. Oh, and Hap has apparently captured three other people, whom he is also subjugating to these near-death experiences. (Not to give too much away here, but if you have a fear of drowning, you’re going to be completely freaked out)
But that’s what happened over the past 7 years. We’re also shown what’s happening in the present day. There’s an FBI agent who is trying to figure out what really happened, as well as a group of five local kids trying to piece together all the parts of the OA’s past life. Who’s lying and who’s telling the truth?
There are some crazy conspiracy theories on YouTube. Some people are convinced that the person claiming to be an FBI agent is not really an FBI agent! (Mind blown) And there’s a scene in the show – when the OA’s friends discover a trove of books – that suggests that maybe the OA was just making all this up, as some sort of elaborate creative writing hoax.
Brit Marling as “The OA”
Brit Marling is one of the co-creators of the series (together with Zal Batmangli), and she also plays the starring role of “The OA.” She’s the unreliable narrator, who frames the whole story for the TV audience. The only problem is, we don’t really know who she is, or what she is trying to do. And why won’t she talk to the FBI?
There’s a lot to unpack here, and Brit Marling is fabulous in this role. She spins an unbelievable story – including her previous life as the child of a wealthy Russian oligarch, her kidnapping at the hands of an evil psychopath-slash-scientist, and her new mission in the world. She’s convinced that there are other missing persons that she must save.
That’s because “The OA” stands for “Original Angel,” and she’s convinced that she has a purpose on this earth as an angel to save people. She even has a series of dance moves – known as The Movements – that, if performed correctly, can accomplish miraculous things. There’s a certain element of the occult here, which is what makes these movements so hard to figure out – are they real or just a bit of made-up pretense by a very psychologically damaged girl?
Which brings us to the best reason to watch “The OA” – the ending (Episode 8 of Season 1). It’s here that we learn one of the true powers of The Movements is to stop a school shooting incident. This ending has spawned a whole sub-genre of YouTube videos, trying to piece together what just happened.
Some critics complain that the ending is deeply unsatisfying, and that The Movements are a bit ridiculous. (OK, even Brit Marling in an interview admits that they do look a little silly). But that ignores the larger arc of the show – it’s in the final episode that we realize how much we missed in the previous seven episodes.
We know for a fact that something definitely happened to the OA, because she can see now and she once was blind. That’s definitely confirmed. But the show raises a lot of questions, like: Would we recognize an angel if one lived amongst us? And what really happens when we die?
The best shows are always the ones that you want to watch again and again, to uncover all the little details you might have missed along the way. And “The OA” is definitely one of those shows. It’s not clear whether Netflix is planning another season of this show, but if it is, it’s all but certain that you’re going to have a lot of fans looking very closely to see if everything they thought about “The OA” was really true or not. And that’s going to be an unbelievable experience you’ll want to share with your friends.