Paul Billington shares his thoughts about the first episode of Part 2 of The OA, and is joined by Martin Hearn, Anthony Drivers and Laura Stewart for a brief discussion. This post contains spoilers for Season 2 Episode 1 of The OA (and the first season) only.
OK, who knew that alternate dimensions were really the thing?
A big part of Season 1 of The OA was the NDE element (near death experiences) and the fascinating reflections on what happens when we die. Throw in the possibility of angels (no mention of God, so not necessarily a religious aspect) and other metaphysical allusions, and the show was always on the cusp of the ‘could it be…?’ possibilities.
Season 2 looks to be taking us into ‘this is what…’ territory. Just from the very first new episode, there are answers (and a whole slew of new questions). When Season 1 dropped there was no fanfare; it was definitely a word of mouth show. But it had an inner-confidence about it, a surety of what it wanted to say and how—almost a sincerity and a language of its own (as I have discussed previously). And, with the second season, once again it looks like the creators (Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij) have a vision so unique and well considered, that it will beguile and challenge us once more.
Part 2, as it is known (there’s talk that there will be five parts to the entire series), had a trailer only a few weeks ago…and now here it is. Already I know we’ll have a lot to talk about, and an upcoming article will look over this whole season (the benefits of binge-watching!). But right now, let’s focus on the first episode: “Angel of Death.”
It would be easy to split this episode into two: there’s the new story of San Francisco private investigator Karim Washington and his new case—the disappearance of Michelle, who looks exactly like Buck (and Michelle is Buck’s birth name), one of the Crestwood 5 from the first season; and then there is the continuation of Prairie’s story, who, having died in our dimension via the school shooter, appears in this same new dimension in San Francisco, but in the body of Nina Azarova (the original Russian name Prairie was born with). This is all following the events at the end of last season where the movements were performed at the right time, and Prairie’s ‘perfect will’ or intention of finding her love, Homer, at the moment of her death was carried out.
The plot takes hold quickly and with a sense of urgency with Karim’s investigation. Touching upon augmented reality games, the gaming world, haunted houses and mysterious technology figureheads, we are plunged into a mystery that appears to have no connection to the first season outside of Michelle/Buck’s disappearance.
My first thought was that Buck was the only one who had his front door closed whilst at Prairie’s secret midnight story sessions (they had to be left open)—could that have had an impact here, in this dimension? Time will tell, but for now, Michelle’s involvement in the game (unofficially known as Q Symphony) is the central plot driver for the episode. Who is the tech giant Pierre Ruskin and what is his connection to the house, and the gamers seeking it via Q Symphony? We are just at the start of what looks to be a new, larger thread in this season.
As for Praire, she has jumped and entered the body/taken over the consciousness of Nina, the girl that she used to be in Russia. Now grown, she’s a successful woman judging from her apartment, a very stylised mix of the classic and the modern, especially where technology is concerned. Again that seems to be a focus, perhaps tying into that larger thread regarding Q Symphony?
Unfortunately for her, after being hospitalised due to the body-jump, the medical staff believe her to need further monitoring for fourteen days due to her confusion and loss of memory (they see Nina, but she has the thoughts and memories of Prairie). And this leads her back into a cell again—this time at the Malanu clinic on Treasure Island.
Once there, she discovers Homer, Rachel, Scott and Renata—her original cellmates from Hap’s underground prison. Homer doesn’t recognise her, though, and it’s difficult to say if the others do, so brief is their eye contact. However, at the very end of the episode, one person confirms he does know who Nina really is—Hap, or Dr. Hunter Percy, is in this reality too, and knows this is Prairie. Cue a long-overdue attack on Hap, and the episode cuts to black.
There’s much to talk about just from this episode, and so fellow fans/writers Martin Hearn, Anthony Drivers and Laura Stewart are here with me to chat through our first impressions of the new season…
PB: OK, so first thoughts on the new season. I was both delighted and slightly worried about how quickly the plot raced this time around. The first season was a slower pace, and in hindsight feels like scene-setting for this season, where we are taken into a new dimension in this very first episode, with little time for smaller moments (although there are some). It’s almost like the augmented reality gaming (Q Symphony) etc. would have taken an episode or 2 in the first season and here it’s quickly dealt with—not in a bad way, but it’s just a stepping stone to the next plot point. Did anyone else feel that?
AD: I agree. I expected a nice slow build up and maybe a shock at the end of Episode 1. Which I guess we kinda got. Distracting us with this new story and new characters and then halfway through announcing ‘oh by the way this is all set in the dimension OA jumped to’. But then again, as much as I was enjoying that new storyline, I did find myself wishing they would hurry up and get to OA and the boys after about fifteen minutes.
MH: This is exactly what I wanted from the new season. I loved the way they told the story in Season 1 and I feel the same that looking back it was definitely scene setting for this season. As much as I love Season 1, which is a lot, I didn’t want this Part 2 to be the same kind of format of having a story told to us over the eight episodes in the way it was originally. I think the trailer gave us the warning that Part 2 was going to be very different from what we already knew and different is exactly what we got.
LS: I loved it too. I straight away loved Karim and his storyline. It was all perfectly done, there’s always a risk bringing new characters into a show where the originals were adored so much. I think because he is looking for Michelle it keeps him tied to the original story. Brit and Zal knew what they were doing there.
MH: I like how he was introduced too, I think his story had to dominate a large part of the first episode so that we would want to be invested in what was happening and his connection to original characters. If he briefly appeared for five minutes and then it was back and forth to him would we care as much?
PB: Yeah I really warmed to Karim straight away. He’s almost the viewer, perhaps the sceptical first season viewer, casting a wary eye on what we had taken for granted, for reality as given to us by Prairie previously? Or that could be the intention/part of his purpose, I don’t know.
The augmented reality game seemed like a red herring in some way at first, and I hoped it wasn’t going to be the focal point, but then I saw it from a different perspective. Is this a metaphor, that there are things all around us, unseen, moving through us that only a few are in tune with (like the OA etc.)? Is it another way of approaching that idea that I feel was really a big part of Season 1?
MH: The game threw me a bit at first too and I began to think that it was possibly a new group of people learning a story. In Season 1 the OA tells her story in a traditional way, sitting them down and talking, but in this new dimension perhaps people had to figure out the story themselves by using the game; they had to actively want and seek out the information.
PB: I had a brief moment where I thought that too. Is it leading to similar revelations?
MH: Even in the first episode, this dimension seemed much more technologically advanced than the dimension we knew.
PB: I guess we are out in the larger world now, not underground in a lab or foraging for stolen WiFi.
AD: I was sold by the fact that the photo the old lady has of Michelle in episode 1 is clearly an alternate version of Buck. That’s what made me stick with the Karim story and not just sit waiting for the boys to come into it. So much intrigue straight off the bat.
MH: Even mobile phones didn’t play that much of a part in the first season. I can only really recall them being a “thing” in the very first episode when someone uses one to film Prairie jumping off the bridge.
AD: They used them to research OA’s story too. I remember French had a super smashed up phone in Season 1.
MH: Smashed up phones and struggles to get a WiFi connection feels like the opposite to what we see in this new dimension. It feels like the only person who had advanced technology in season 1 was Hap.
PB: It’s an interesting way of splitting the two dimensions, in addition to the different characters.
The focus was different too for the first half of the episode. The game, the house—like a haunted house vibe. The idea of getting to the next stage of the game..
MH: I think even the way the two dimensions are filmed and appear on screen are different. The new world looks bright, vibrant, and is buzzing whereas the other always appears so grey and isolated
PB: Totally! The first was a reflection on the characters state in Crestwood—that feeling of dullness in suburbia, the troubling future, the complicated present etc. Plus Prairie’s story is a troubling and fairly dark one, being held captive for seven years…This is outside—free of those prisons.
LS: Yet, the young people playing the game/puzzle are all in prisons of a kind, confining themselves to a small space.
MH: Ooh, I didn’t think of it like that, that’s really interesting. Especially in the scene where Karim goes to that house to question people about the game and it’s full of people all sat on their phones, not speaking to each other, and even when he asks them if they’ve seen Michelle they communicate to each other through text message despite being in the same room
PB: Yeah—it’s another method of communication, non-verbal. Like the movements. Or intuition etc. Things both seen (the texts) and unseen (the wireless movement/delivery of them).
AD: It’s relatable.
LS: It’s interesting that this alternative reality, whilst set at the same time, is slightly ahead in technology it seems. Makes you wonder what thing happened to make it so.
PB: That’s a possibility. It’s an alternate 2016 with a different President etc. Perhaps technology is slightly different. Although AR has been on phones for a while. Perhaps we will find out more as the show goes on.
I wondered if Michelle’s disappearance is in some way connected to the fact that Buck was the only one whose door was closed by a parent whilst out with Prairie in the ‘original’ dimension—they were all asked to keep their doors open whilst they visited her in the abandoned house. No sign of a connection so far but who knows…?
MH: That kept playing on my mind too, the fact that a door was closed during the original story. Had that caused something to go wrong in the new dimension or did it alter something for Buck?
I originally thought it was a clue to discredit Prairie’s story so she appears unreliable but then after starting Season 2, I did think that I was wrong and that action had had an impact elsewhere.
PB: Could be…That leads me to Prairie and her story. It all seems true now—the doubts and ‘what if’ feels more concrete. Here she is, in Nina’s body—a life she could have had, given changes in the past. Did anyone feel a sense of relief or validation that we had believed or had faith, in the first season? Is there less room for doubt after this first episode?
AD: I still have in my head ‘She’s in a coma after the gunshot’ at this point. I am a Doubting Thomas. I can’t forget the books under the bed, the cracks in her story, the coincidences. I am aware I may be alone in this!
MH: I felt the relief. Having over two years between seasons has resulted in me having too much time to think that Prairie was a liar. I still have my doubts about certain things but I’m more convinced now that she’s telling the truth.
LS: I have always been torn between whether she’s telling the truth at all, but by the end of Part (season) 1, I believed her. Steve felt her go and I believed Steve. I like the fact though that we are never entirely sure, with her history of mental illness or at least presumed mental illness, it always leaves that smidgen of doubt. When I first watched The OA Season 1, I was regularly visiting a man in a secure mental facility (in my job) who believed he was an angel. That really pulled me in every direction! That was quite a moment in episode 1, seeing Steve chasing behind the ambulance again. I always get choked up.
This story is truly epic, and the cinematography to go with it. One of the most astounding visual moments of Season 1 was when the ‘Netflix Presents’ title came up, like 3 quarters of the way through the episode, a majestic trip to Russia. I remember thinking ‘wow, this is really something else’ then. They managed to even trump that for Part 2. Seeing the Earth lit up like that, I knew this series was going to be huge. Brit and Zal’s vision and creativity really are breathtaking, you can understand why it took them so long to get it all exactly how they wanted it. Every frame, every sound is perfected.
PB: I had the same feeling about the opening titles and about this episode in general. It feels larger, expansive—when I mentioned the feeling of being outside earlier (and being ‘free’), I forgot I’d noticed some of the other ways they seem to be presenting this chapter—there’s copious outside filming, aerial shots and a seemingly wider ‘canvas’ in the camera work. It seems very purposeful.
I’m a sucker I think, for Prairie’s story. I didn’t doubt her for some reason. Not even when the books were found etc. There’s just a sincerity and an openness, a certainty, that I want to believe in.
It’s interesting—the mental health angle and the thoughts and beliefs of people in certain situations.
AD: I need proof. Proof!! I want to believe (The X-Files for life) but I can’t get the doubt out of my head…Plus I’m a sucker for a sad story, and how heartbreaking would it be if she was just making it all up?
PB: It would be heartbreaking—well, for those who believe!
Nina’s life/apartment was interesting. If you were to look at the fact that there are birds (Praire ate one in an NDE) and fish (Homer ate one in his NDE) in that apartment, her father was alive until recently, etc., there’s a lot there to lend some weight to the idea that she is in a coma/dreaming/in an NDE…
AD: I really enjoyed the scene that introduced Nina. She looked fantastic, of course, and we got some interesting snippets of her phone conversation, but mostly I enjoyed her thinking she had been shot. I’m guessing this was an echo of Prairie being shot as she jumped into her body. But visually, I just loved the way it looked, and how panicked she was. If we think of Nina’s childhood, she has probably spent most of her life expecting to be shot (Russian mafia) so her reaction to it was brilliant. I just really loved that scene.
MH: And it was on a boat. When she had the premonition in Season 1 about her father waiting for her on an island, she took the boat to Liberty Island. Now in Season 2 she starts Nina’s journey on a boat near Treasure Island. Two boats, two islands, always with Nina on them!
PB: It was cool! So much about this first episode was cool…Well remembered Martin!
So the episode ends with Praire back in another prison, with Rachel, Scott and Renata—and Homer, who isn’t Homer. Do you think they all made it? The only person who definitely has is Hap (and way-to-go Prairie—a punch and all goes black!).
MH: I think the others have made it (except Homer) as I got the feeling they were looking at Prairie being escorted past their cells in relief that she was there. They definitely recognised her.
PB: I am hoping so. I don’t want her to have to go it alone in this new dimension (although from the trailer we can see that she will interact with Karim somewhere down the road).
AD: I think they have made it too. It’s just gutting that they all jumped into the same positions of power (except Homer): still prisoners, still ruled by Hap, still kept in cells and monitored daily. Episode 1 also made me think Homer was faking it—not remembering—to get close to Hap. It’s his plan to get everyone away! But maybe I just have too much faith in Homer.
MH: I want to know how though? How did they jump, too? After Prairie was released by Hap we didn’t see any of them again and now here they are in the other dimension. Perhaps Hap forced them to do the moves in order for him to follow Prairie?
AD: Paul—that note about the birds and fishes is interesting. I didn’t make that connection to the animals they ate in their NDE’s and the one Karim saw in the AR on the stairs! Good spot! And yeah I’m looking forward to seeing how they all jumped together too. If they all jumped together why didn’t BBA and the boys jump with Prairie? Or did they?!
PB: Martin—that’s what I figure happened. As soon as they obtained that final movement, Hap no longer needed Praire. He had the other four, and together with himself, that’s the five needed.
Anthony—I honestly can’t wait to find out what happened to the boys and BBA. Onto the next episode!
On that note, let’s all catch up when we have seen all 8 episodes. I think we will have a lot to talk about! Thanks, everyone.
Paul and the others will be back next week to talk about the second season of The OA as a whole, so stay tuned!