The OA: Thoughts and Theories

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Source: Netflix

In December Netflix dropped another new original series to cap off a year that saw such critical hits like; Stranger Things, The Crown, The Get Down and Luke Cage. That show was The OA and appeared with very little fanfare, but ended up being a show that ended up capturing the imaginations of theorycrafters with its ambiguous story and bizarre premise. Now before we get into the nitty gritty of this you should watch the show to completion because I will be talking spoilers and theories about the ending. 

The OA is a eight episode series created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, Marling also plays the main character of Prairie or The OA if you prefer. The premise is that after being missing for seven years, and presumably being in captivity Prairie is found after jumping off a bridge. The big shocker here is that at some point during the years in captivity she has been cured of her blindness. After returning home she refuses to tell anyone what has happened to her apart from five volunteers who have agreed to help her find the other people that were imprisoned with her. 

The show is split into two stories one being the past with Prairie being in captivity, how she got in this situation and her life in captivity. The other is her telling her story to her rag tag gang of recruits and there lives and challenges in the present day. The story of her captivity is that after having a near death experience in childhood she lost her sight and many years later she gets captured be this crazy scientist that is experimenting with "NDE" survivors by killing them over and over again to find out if there is an afterlife. Also there is a sub-story of her being Russian who moved to america to escape violence leaving her father behind, and ends up being bought in an illegal adoption. As these experiments and escape attempts continue some of the captives learn a magical force called The Movements that give them the power to heal and travel over large distances, the exact power of these movements is kept quite ambiguous. 

While in the present day revolves around Prairie telling her story to her recruits while teaching them The Movements so she can reunite with the other captives. The present day also deals with a series of B stories about the gang and Prairie trying to adjust to freedom and finding help with a counselor.

Source: Netflix

One of the odd things about the show (apart from the story of course) is the runtime, at some points and episode will be over an hour while the next will be closer to 30 minutes. This variety in length I assume is an bonus of being a Netflix original, allowing the creators to have the length as a result of the story rather then being squeezed into a TV friendly length. I tend to feel that this can be detrimental to the show at points slowing down the pace in a way that makes it hard to retain viewers especially in the first 3 episodes (these are also some of the longest). Being a high concept show it is understandable that if the show can get away with spending a long time explaining the nuance of the mythos that you would want that. However as I was watching it, the explanations and revelations of the first few episode failed to grab me. I feel that the combination of the pacing and the abstract nature of some revelations aren't quite as shocking as I think they were intended (i.e. Homer being a captive, Hap being allergic to tomatoes after buying the ingredients for the stew himself, etc). However if you make it past the slow start, at episode 4 the show really gets a fire lit under it. 

In Episodes 4 - 8 we see a motif of struggles as the captives struggle to learn the movements by having multiple NDE's, and the present day gang struggle with real life troubles. All the present day characters tend to be grossly underrepresented and generally pushed aside by the captive story line. Two characters especially are explored  very briefly - the trans boy and the stoner without parents - making it very hard to care about them even though they have interesting backstories.

I wont talk about every shocking moment in the series but the final episode has more twists then a curly wurly. The first of the moments that shocked me was the revelation that we may have been listening - and taking as truth - a unreliable narrator. This shock comes as a box of books is discovered under Prairie's bed, leading us to believable that she has researched aspects of the story to make up a believable lie to tell the others. This hits us as the audience like it would the characters because we put our time and mental investment into a story that may be a lie. I love this and truly was a shock when first watching the episode; this is an example of a plot point making a real impact because even if the emotion it evokes was negative it forces you to feel the full force of what just happened.

Source: Netflix

The finale of the episode and the series threw everything on its head again, with a seemingly random event that is abstract from the main plot. A school shooting with all the present day gang in attendance to. The mass murder attempt is thwarted by the 5 plus Prairie doing the movements confusing the shooter for long enough to be tackled by another bystander. The scene not only is extremely emotionally impacting because the content is so jarring and puts these characters that we've grown attached to into a extreme situation; but it also spins around the whole story on its head again.

Now for some theories, I have read a few different theories about what is happening in The OA and after thinking about it for a while the one that makes the most sense to me is that Prairie is telling the truth. After the books are found by French under her bed he is caught in Prairie's house by the FBI psychologist that she has been talking to. Now lets say that these books have been planted by the FBI to obscure The Movements, when you think about it this makes sense. First of all why was the psychologist in the house, maybe to plant the books? Secondly surely Prairie cant read english after being brought up blind in Russia for all those years.

Source: Netflix

Now, we have been expecting the movements to be a dramatic explosion of cross dimensional power. But what if its more subtle then that, and when it was fully completed during the school shooting the course of the future was altered by these people managing to stop the shooter, so in an abstract and invisible way a version of the future where Prairie was shot and everyone else saved became the status quo even if that was not the intended way it was meant to play out. Like everything was supposed to go down one path but a kink in the road diverted it.

But we just wont know until season 2 manages to shed some light on what happened afterwards.

What do you guys think of The OA?
Do you have any theories on what happened?

~ Gary

1 comment :

  1. Absolutely loved The AO, I was captivated throughout but honestly felt a bit let down by the ending. I loved that they all came together but that whole story for her just to be shot and die.