The OA: Part 7, “Empire of Light”

Welcome back to my weekly recap and thoughts of each episode in Series 1 of The OA.  Last week we left off with Hap having a gun pointed to his head by the local Sheriff. Local to where we don’t have a clue, but it appears that his time his up. The Captives will be released now surely?

We start the show with Prairie/The OA at home, waking from a nightmare. The visions of a dark figure, a gun shot, glass smashing, people screaming. It is not clear where but it’s familiar, the sound of cutlery crashing maybe?  Her parents wake to the sounds of her sobbing. She asks Abel if he is mad at her for running away, that she thought he’d understand the note. He tells her he forgot about it, but it’s obvious he never knew there was a note that she left before travelling to New York. Nancy must have some explaining to do.

The OA discusses her premonition dream with the FBI Psychologist, Rahim. He talks through her previous dreams, the bus crash when she was a child, the vision of her father at the Statue of Liberty when she turned twenty one. These all happened at important junctures in her life, and he wondered if her mind had been absorbing everything around her, the fear of losing her father, and turning them into dreams for her to process. The OA sees that, she thinks that it’s her mind preparing for her mission. But she doesn’t know what to do yet and she can’t just face it, let it claim her, the pain is just too big. Rahim tells her she can own that pain by putting a perimeter around it, it’s why people like to be hugged, it keeps it close.

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Rahim and The OA greet the couple then and stand together in the corridor of the FBI building.  On the wall behind them is a large braille word displayed on the wall. That word? Rachel. Curious. What does this mean?

I have had my thoughts about her throughout, the dark clothing, the dead plants in her cell, the fact that she is not given a movement, but what is it? And what do the FBI know? Why would this have been left there?  Too large to be read by a person without sight. This is a purposeful clue, for us as viewers. Only seconds earlier Rahim was telling us that we absorb everything we see happening around us, those words alone will have triggered us to be on the look out, to take everything in. We need to know about Rachel.

rachel braille

Rahim appears to be very much on the OA’s side when Nancy asks to speak to him alone. He does not allow this to happen and encourages them to talk as a group. Nancy it appears wants to The OA to be put back on medication despite Abel stating it didn’t work.  Rahim is kind, tells them that he understands their trauma as well their daughter’s. He suggests that they do something together as a family.  He calls her OA as he says goodbye; this makes her trust him. To be called what she feels her real name is, it’s a sign of good faith, of belief in her. If you believe in angels they might actually come for you when you need it most.

Steve sits in his special tuition class for unruly students. His classmate who poured water over herself sits opposite. He starts talking to her, and he soon starts to realise that they have a lot in common, a shared outlook on life, they know they can be successful, they are just wired differently than most. They may have their flaws, but they are perfect for each other.  She has managed to edit the tuition programme they study so that it shouts obscenities. Yep, Steve has met his perfect match and he doesn’t waste any time. He goes straight in for a kiss and she doesn’t stop him. He tells her he likes her laugh, she laughs at how corny he is. If you can find a guy that makes you laugh and get’s you, you’ve got it all.

steve and girl

The Crestwood Five make their way to the abandoned house. They pick up on Steve’s newly found happy nature. The OA gives Steve the opportunity to shine by getting him to lead the group in teaching the second movement, Homer’s movement. He does really well, he is a great teacher it seems, and for once his dream of being a personal trainer could actually happen. He was able to instruct French, despite their differences, he has got what it takes and The OA saw that in him. She is proud of him, and it is encouragment for him that he has never had from his own parents before.

Things won’t remain so positive in Steve’s life for long.  He returns home, his father tells him that he’s having to shell out £6000 to the Brekov family, the boy whose throat he punched. Steve takes this news calmly, as much as he wants to lash out, he doesn’t, he wants to admit how he felt and why he did it. The boy is growing up. His apologies will mean nothing though, not today.  Asheville Correctional Facility are here to take him away.

BBA speaks to the OA about her cherishing the cheque of £50,000 she has been left by her brother, how even though it’s just a piece of paper it was a final reminder of him. She doesn’t want to cash it. She asks the OA if she thinks the place she travelled to during her NDE was purgatory. The OA doesn’t think so, but knows that the future is dark, as in black, you can’t see it.  BBA expresses her concerns about what lies ahead, that she is not ready to travel to another dimension. The OA reassures her that it won’t be like that, that the movements performed perfectly will open something that’s already here, like an invisible river that carries you away. But you have to jump in, you have to want to jump in.

And this takes us back to the start. The very first scene was of OA jumping off the bridge into the ocean. Has she already jumped dimension? Is that why she cannot lead the FBI to where the others are because they are not here? How did she do it the last time, with all the captives help?

The future is dark.  Yet everything here is bathed in purple. Except Rachel, who is dark in every way. She may be the answer to this puzzle.

BBA happens to drive by Steven’s house as he is being bundled into the back of the Asheville van. She follows them, and pleads with Principal Gilchrist to make this right. We learn that it was he who told the Brekov boys parents that Steven punched him, and that he found out through social media.  BBA quite rightly tells him this was a rash and unprofessional decision that will only cause more trauma. But she almost slips up, tells him that they have been meeting in the house, tries to cover it up but her panic is obvious. She tells him she has to go as she’s eating a sandwich, one of the more amusing moments of the series, he keeps calling ‘Betty’ she corrects him, ‘It’s BBA’ then hangs up.

van

The Asheville truck stops at the gas station. BBA has time now to talk to Steven, to keep him calm as he’s freaking out. She has a plan, a terrible, somewhat more devious plan than we could ever have imagined she would come up with. Steven needs to tell the driver of the truck – a massive, sleazy, brute, that he needs the bathroom. BBA has already put a ‘out of order’ sign on the gas station bathroom door, so he’ll have to go at the back of the building. Then he’ll start shouting that he’s been molested by his kidnappers. The plan doesn’t go well. They just think she’s bat shit crazy, no-one hears her calls for help, or cares to do anything about it at least. She has one other option. She runs out in front of their moving truck and offers them the £50,000 cheque that has been sitting in her handbag for some time. Finally, she can do something hugely positive with that money, something her brother would have been proud of; in a way saving his life, through Steven.

Abel and Nancy take their daughter for a meal at the Olive Garden, somewhere they used to visit a lot before her disappearance.  They laugh together as a family for the first time in a long time, discuss her old boyfriend Byron, who she feels only liked her because she couldn’t see him. Their fun and ease is ruined by a girl, who wants a selfie with the ‘Michigan Miracle’. She sidles up to The OA without permission and starts snapping. Abel and Nancy ask her to leave but she refuses, tells The OA she’s an inspiration – that she may be, but she has no respect for her idols it appears. She’s snide, pretending she’s honoured to talk to someone so strong, that has got through so much, being beaten and raped – an assumption many people would make no doubt, but definitely not something you would speak about so brazenly to the victim, a strangers, face. Or maybe that is what happens in modern society? People really do think it’s ok to say what they want, social media has made it so. There are no rules of decency now.

selfie

French happens to be a waiter at The Olive Garden. Nancy is understandably upset about what just happened to her daughter, she wants to make the girl delete the picture, but Abel tells her to leave it alone.  The crux of the matter is Nancy still has no idea what happened to her daughter and the pain of not knowing is almost harder than actually knowing. Imagining the abuse, the torture and pain but not knowing if it was that bad, or worse.  She cries out, “Why do you smell like that? Do you smell like him?” This is something we had never even considered before.  A sense that we cannot capture from film.  Now we can only imagine what she smells like, we have been put in Nancy’s shoes. We know what happened to the OA, but her mother doesn’t. She knows what her daughter smells like, we don’t.

Nancy asks her, through tears, how she got her scars, and The OA tells her that she did it to herself. “They are two notations of the five movements to open another dimension. I know, because I am the Original Angel“.  Nancy slaps her across the face in frustration.  The restaurant goes quiet, everyone saw.  Much more to gossip about than a selfie now. French comes to the OA’s rescue, takes her hand and leads her out and away from the chaos.

They talk in his car, his insight is deep.  French knows that she’s told them all about her life.  Losing her father, being taken away from the man she loves, finding Hap and following him into the darkness gladly, needing him like a father. That she created a new family in the darkness, Homer, Scott, Rachel and even Renata. They were her light in the darkness, and he knows that she is replacing them with him, and Steve, Buck, Jesse and BBA.  So is French right on the money here?  Prairie went missing, or she got lost in the very least. But she ran away, and she was kept in the dark. The man she met turned out not to be the man she hoped for, did she make up her friends? Are they all in her head?

She never talks about her parents to the Crestwood Five, and whilst they may not be perfect, they did save her from a life of misery in a whore house attic, looking after screaming babies. She can’t get over the fact that they medicated her, didn’t believe her plight, assumed she was crazy. But they are still her parents, and you know, I’m not so sure that they aren’t her real parents.  They may not be the Russian people we have been told about, but there are physical similarities there.  Does she, has she, always replaced the people who have let her down with more romantic notions of them?  Has she always fantasized that her real mother died, because she couldn’t bear her real mother medicating her? From the moment she understood what was happening her mother was dead to her and wiped from existence.

Steve and BBA turn up at the abandoned house. The OA and French arrive shortly behind.  Steve is angry about what happened to him and calls The OA out for bullshitting them, says that she’s just like the rest, that she’s just using them to get back to her boyfriend. She hugs him tight, trying to swamp his anger, but it still burns, enough to make him take a pencil and stab her in the leg with it. She squeals out with pain, but she won’t stop hugging him. She learned from Rahim to put a perimeter around the pain, keep it close. It works. She allows him to hug her back, to touch her, no-one else has been granted that privilege up to this point.  He asks her how she did it, how did she survive down there? “I survived because I wasn’t alone.”

There is just one episode left now and we didn’t get any closer to finding out whether Hap is about to have the tables turned on him and find himself incacerated for the rest of his days. We are at a point where we don’t know if The OA is telling us the truth, that this all really happened, or if she’s mentally ill, making up friends in her head to get her through those years of captivity. Was she ever in captivity? Was the captivity her mind? What we do know is that once she was blind and now she can see. Will she make a believer out of us?

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