Article By: Alice-Ginevra Micheli
One week before the release of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s new show, Netflix delivered an enticing and oh-so-short trailer that outlined a haunting new series centered around a blind girl who is found after seven years with her sight restored.
That alone had me intrigued, but it still took me a while to actually sit down and watch it. I’d heard musings here and there about how it was for fans of Stranger Things and Westworld, and that it dealt with issues little explored. This only enticed me more, and when I finally consumed it, I couldn’t stop, being drawn into the story and its characters with every episode. Ultimately, at the end of the season I felt satisfied, like I normally do after watching something of reasonably high quality. However, the fascinating aspect of this case is the fact that for the next two weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I would dream its episodes, contemplate its characteristics and obsess over its philosophy and unanswered questions.
To call this series a slow burn is a bit of an understatement, with the first episode clocking in at a hefty 71 minutes, it’s only once you’ve reached the end do you start to comprehend what you’ve signed up for. It begins by exploring Marling’s character, Prairie/ The OA, as she is found by her parents and adjusts to being back home. At the same time we are introduced to a handful of other characters that make up the rest of our main cast. The rest of the series takes place in flashbacks to her time as an abductee as well as the present day, gradually knitting together the story until it reaches a very intense and explosive ending.
This is a story that explores metaphysical philosophies, near death experiences, and relationships. Now, when I say relationships, I don’t mean romantic entanglements (although those are referenced), I mean the connection that people have and the different forms they can take. This involves everything from an abductee’s relationship with her captor to the nuances of understanding someone who is completely different to you on the surface. That is where its true beauty lies, and no matter who you are, I think you’d be able to find someone on this show to both relate to and come to understand.
This is only emphasized by the strong performances delivered by its cast, boasting such actors as Jason Isaacs, Phyllis Smith Riz Ahmed and Marling herself. The one I want to single out is that of Emory Cohen who, coming off his praised role in Brooklyn, plays a fellow abductee of Prairie named Homer. Although one part of a big idea, his character is magnetic, demanding your attention when he’s on screen and leaving an imprint on your mind when he isn’t. As stated previously, the rest of the cast are also very engaging, subtly exploring a whole range of issues from depression, to identifying as transgender. They are the main reason this show works and I hope, if there is to be a season 2, that these nuances are explored all the further.
Another component I want to briefly comment on is its music, composed by Batmanglij’s brother Rostam, it’s at once haunting and beautiful, pulling you further into the show and it’s mysteries with each sustained note.
The most polarizing element of this show, however, is definitely its subject matter and overall thematic impression. You have to prepare yourself to be played with by the showrunners both emotionally and psychologically, as well as remain open to being introduced to some spiritually difficult ideas. Personally, it played right into my wheelhouse, making me question my preconceived ideas of certain metaphysical constructions as well as introducing new and interesting theories., I recognize, however that this show could cause certain audiences to walk away more frustrated and angry than satisfied and intrigued. This is also not helped by its relatively open ending, both allowing for further stories and seasons, as well causing a small scream of exasperation to unknowingly escape you.
Overall, The OA is not for everyone. It’s at once beautiful and traumatizing, philosophical and seemingly pretentious, resulting in a show that will leave some people wanting more, theorizing about possible answers, and others annoyed at the time they’ve wasted. I mentioned at the start that it’s been related to such shows as Stranger Things and Westworld, and I would agree that like these it’s something that is different to anything that has been done before. However, I would more so say that this is a Netflix Original that honestly doesn’t have a satisfactory comparison. It’s a mixture of a lot of genres: mystery, fantasy, science-fiction and thriller, creating a viewing experience that is unlikely to be matched in both subject matter and narrative.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then I don’t think you’d find yourself happy at the end of this show, and therefore can’t recommend it to you. Otherwise, if you’re up for something unique and at times difficult to comprehend, something to challenge your preconceived views on everything, then give The OA a chance to open your world.