Welcome back to my weekly review of Series 1 of The OA. This week we had some breaking news that The OA will be returning to our screens on March 16th for Series 2, only then for it to be revealed as an error by Netflix, and Brit Marling tweeting that filming will begin in January 2018. So we may be waiting a little bit longer than we’d hoped. In the meantime I hope that this re-cap and analysis will refresh your memory and get you revved up for what is to come next year!
We arrive straight back into The OA’s tale as she sits in the abandoned house with her new team. She tells them that after the accident her father smuggled her out of Russia for her safety and sent her to a school for blind children in the USA. Nina continued to play the violin and she would speak to her father on the phone every Sunday (when they would save each other), he would listen to her play.
“I could recognise you in the midst of a million violins if you played just one note, maybe three notes, but no more“. This line may be of importance later on. He sits in an empty room, metal walls, perhaps the inside of a boat, or a cell, it is hard to tell for sure but a ship and seagulls can be heard in the distance of wherever he may be. He looks nervous, like he is aware of his fate. He tells Nina that he needs to be careful, find a new home where they will be safe and that this is like a game of hide n’ seek. “You need to stop speaking Russian until we see each other again”. I don’t know, would a father of a newly blinded child try to avoid using that word? I may be reading too deeply into that, but it is human nature to avoid words that you think could offend or upset or make you feel uncomfortable saying to a person with a ‘disability’. So was he giving her secret instructions? Being blind Nina would take in absolutely every word because she would need to. We also need to remember that this story is being told from the point of view of The OA; from her experiences, from what she picked up and clung on to.
She tells the Crestwood Five, “We shed our skins, we plotted the future, I escaped the Voi and he would too. We’d fool everyone together”. Just like her father was giving her clues, is The OA giving them and us clues too? There was a reason why she told them to close their eyes – she wanted them to hear every word she said without interruption from visual clues, facial expressions, or by watching each other. Listen to the sounds.
She relives the moments she was called to the Principal’s office, where she was met by her Russian Aunt. She was told that her father had been killed in a horrible accident (not the usual way to break it to a little girl) and that there was no longer money for her to stay at the school and that she had to leave and go to live with her Aunt. Her life was about to change drastically for the worse. Her Aunt believed that her brother was dead but Nina did not, not after the plans they had made together. So is her father really dead? Did he know his time was coming and his words were meant to comfort and bring hope to his little girl? She had already lost her mother, could he not bear the thought of him leaving her alone?
Her Aunt ran a brothel in her home and the ladies would sit around scantily clad waiting for punters. Nina was not well looked after; her blindness was for the first time a prison and the only sounds she could hear were those of babies crying and the sounds of unloving sex, noises that no little girl should have to wonder about. These babies would come and go, being sold by her Aunt. Nina tends to a crying baby boy up in the attic of the house, she is grubby now and neglected.
It was then that Abel and Nancy arrived. They were there to buy the infant boy, which actually gave me a little more hope than what I had previously had for the children that had gone before. It was a twist I have to say, I didn’t expect that Abel and Nancy would go this route to become parents, I can only imagine that it was after every other path led to nowhere in their quest to become parents. I get this, I know how it feels to want to be a mother so much, I imagine that it was Nancy’s quest and that Abel would just have done anything to make his wife’s wishes come true. Yet still I can’t shake the nagging feeling that this wasn’t the right way to go about it, desperate times lead to desperate measures indeed. Were they really that naive that they didn’t know what was going on there? How did they even find this place?
Whilst Abel and Nina’s Aunt discuss payment, Nancy visits the bathroom and she hears the cry of the child she is supposed to take home. She creeps into the attic and finds Nina trying to comfort him. Nancy brings her downstairs and tells Abel that, “this girl is special, she needs more than this”. Now yes, she’s blind, but is that what she meant? Or could she sense more from her? They decide quickly to take Nina home with them, and not to take the baby boy, which to me is just unfathomable. Yes, I know they probably didn’t have the money for two children, but the thought of leaving a baby behind in a brothel, without seeming too upset, the child they originally had their heart set on? This is bizarre to me and makes me distrust them. They decide to make Nina an American Girl and name her Prairie because of her eyes as blue as the Prairie sky.
After a while of living with The Johnson’s, Nancy awakes in the night to the sound of Prairie speaking Russian, sleep ‘playing’ it seems, with her dolls house. Abel films her, and tells Nancy that she’s been doing this for weeks. This is the footage that The OA watched on the camcorder in episode 1. What Nina says is, “I go to find you. I’m going to start in this house”. Then, “the first one will be grandpa”. This is interesting, she would be, I assume, talking of her father, who she still believes is alive, but she opens the door to the doll’s house, leaves the door open purposely, just as she told the Crestwood Five to because it was important that they invite her in. In her sleep she picks up a knife, at which point Nancy steps in to stop her. The first what will be grandpa? Already there appears to be a pattern in Prairies behaviour, she is always looking for someone, her father firstly, and then Homer in present day.
After this ‘episode’ her new parents take Prairie to see a Psychiatrist, who tells them that Prairie believes her father is alive and that she can find him in dreams, that her dreams are premonitions, and that the Russian mafia are after her. All of these things could well be true but the Doctor believes this is a sign of severe mental illness. He convinces her parents to start medicating her despite her young age. That this is not just fantasy. Nancy begins plying her with pills after every vision she has, despite her initial objections, telling Prairie not to tell her father, so it would seem that Abel does not agree with this course of action. The secrets begin.
Back in the house The OA tells her friends she was medicated for 13 years, it made her feel numb inside but it didn’t stop her premonitions. In one dream she climbs in the misty darkness up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty. There she sees her real father carrying a candelabra with twenty one flames burning towards her, but as she reaches out to him, he disappears. Her premonitions are powerful because she can see in them, and her nosebleeds return.
Prairie knows now that she has to travel to New York on her 21st birthday. French and Steve are stunned to learn that she just ‘ran away’, that she wasn’t abducted. She arrives on her birthday as planned and waits, listening for her father. He doesn’t come. She has her violin with her yet she doesn’t play. Was this the mistake she made? He had given her all the clues she needed, he would find her in the midst of a million violins with just one note. Was he ever coming? How could he if he really is dead, can she trust her visions or are these really the hallucinations of a woman losing her mind?
She is ushered back onto the boat at Liberty Island, but does not return home. She decides to stay in New York awhile, taking up a spot in the tube station to play her violin and make some money busking. It is then that she is discovered. A dark haired man, wearing a lilac scarf, that we walk behind hears her play from corridors away, he’s wearing headphones at first yet still he hears the sound of her playing through the crowds, just like her father said he would. But this is not her father.
The OA pauses her story here and the six new friends return home at dawn. We watch them leave the house as if we are still there, inside, spying on them. Who are we then? If most of this story is from the point of view of the OA or the other players, who is watching? Nancy spots Prairie sneaking back into the house. She and Abel discuss with her whether she does require medical intervention, if she needs to be sent to hospital. She begs not to be sent away and Abel understands and allows her to go out every night, for just one hour on her own, just so that she can be in some wide open space. They only ask that she speaks to the trauma counselor in return.
At French’s home he feeds his younger brothers their breakfast and sends them off to school. He snorts cocaine off a spoon. He appears to have no active parents in his world, he has a heavy burden on his shoulders. At school he learns that he has received a Scholarship, a huge success for a boy with such a challenging life. He’s warned not to do anything to ruin this chance by getting into trouble or doing anything weird. He returns home, tells his mother, who appears drunk, laying in bed, smoking. She’s happy for him but tells him she’s not well enough to attend his special dinner.
Steve and Jesse play detective on the internet and discover a picture of a bus crashed into water, off a bridge, in Russia, 1995. It appears that The OA is telling the truth. They decide that they want to help her, along with Buck, but French, now with the scholarship on his mind, doesn’t want to get involved. Later that night Buck bumps into him at the store, and manages to convince him to come, relating that they were all picked for a reason.
They return to the abandoned house for part 2 of The OA’s story. She tells them what she did wrong. She didn’t eat when she was hungry, sleep when she was tired, get warm when she was cold. It made her weak.
“But the biggest mistake I made was thinking that if I cast a beautiful net I’d catch only beautiful things“.
The dark haired man finds her just as she starts to pack up. She senses him close. He asks if the music she plays is Russian. He introduces himself as Hunter Aloysius Percy, HAP for short. He doesn’t mess around, he asks her straight out whether she always played that well or if something happened to her, did she have an NDE? Did she die? At first she was flustered by him but this last question stops her in her tracks. Intrigued, she goes to eat with the stranger. He feeds her oysters, which she can’t stomach. A strange choice for a first meeting, somewhat sexual even.
Hap tells her all about his life, his work studying consciousness, where it goes after death. He was an anesthesiologist in the ER when he heard the whooshing sound of ‘something’ leaving the body of a patient who had flat lined, and the whoosh of it returning. He wanted to know where they had gone in those moments. Prairie tells him that it was a choice for her to return to her body after her ‘death’. He explains that he is currently working on a study of people just like her, who had Near Death Experiences, and some of them returned with special skills; mathematical, linguistic or musical. That there is another girl like Prairie, with perfect pitch. Prairie is delighted to learn that there are others like her, she had been obsessed for so long about finding her father as he was the only person who didn’t make her feel like she was demented and now there was Hap and others who understood. He tells her she should never have been medicated, which is of course music to her ears. She hears all the things she wants to hear, Hap knows this.
Hap, it appears is greatly enjoying her company too, and is rueful when telling her he has to leave, she is disappointed too. He shares something, a prototype that he was presenting at the conference he had attended in New York. He assists Prairie with earphones and gives her a device which allows her to hear the heartbeats of the people sitting around them. She is gleeful at being able to hear the difference between every person, the slow steady beat of her own heart, the faster, higher pitched tone of his. His was steady enough not to give anything away. The lure is too much for Prairie to handle and she asks him if she can return to his home with him, to become part of his study. He doesn’t try to dissuade her.
Hap flies her back to his place in a small, light aircraft. To unknown place, but hours away from New York, it is cold and remote. As soon as she arrives she starts to feel that something is not quite right. It’s too quiet, no noise outside at all, he tells her that the windows are insulated because of the strong winds where they are. She asks to phone her parents to tell them that she’s safe. He helps her do this, but the phone just rings and rings. He plays a record, the lyrics, “Operator could you help me place a call..” It’s almost as if he’s toying with her now and she feels it. He leads her downstairs where her bedroom will be, she notices that it smells like rock. “Shale”, he replies. “I built this Lab myself”. She can hear running water, it is a natural spring that runs through the cave like place, a mine perhaps. He leads her into a room, sits her on a bed then bolts the door. She senses the horror now. She stands up and hits herself against the glass, she is boxed in. Panic starts to set in, then she hears a coarse, Southern, male voice. “Let me walk you through this. This is a dream! – You’re wide awake. Someone will find me! Why am I locked in a cage? You’ll find out soon enough. He’ll come for you eventually and as you walk through every step that led you here you’ll soon realise that it’s no-ones fault but your own”.
A second male voice speaks, a kinder tone, and Prairie pricks up her ears when she hears him, “Your thoughts are going to try to take you down, don’t let them. You’ll find freedom in your sleep, in your dreams. It’s how we stay sane. What’s your name?”, “Prairie” she answers. “My name is Homer”. I love the way that we don’t see who the voices belong to, we can really sense then how it was for her. That the tone and accent, the language, made all the difference to the blind Prairie. She knew the first second she heard him that he was special.
The OA cries as she relives these moments and rushes out of the house, curls up in foetal position on her bed at home. What is she about to endure at the hands of Hap? Who are these others? Did any of this really happen or is it the ramblings of a crazy person? How did Hap find her in amongst all those people and how did he find the others? She was a willing participant, why did he need to lock her up? We will of course find out next week. Until then….