I’m still hurting over The OA in every dimension. It’s been 14 months since Netflix made the astonishing decision not to renew The OA for a third season and left fans hanging on the most excruciating cliffhanger since Twin Peaks’s “How’s Annie?” Part of me still wants to believe that there is more to come—that it’s all an elaborate meta part of the show that we are all unwitting participants in. I like that “in denial” part of me; it’s a much nicer place than the truth.
The OA creator and lead actress Brit Marling, as well as Jason Isaacs (who played the dastardly scientist, Hap the captivator), have both been very clear that the show is not coming back. Even so, fans were so upset about Netflix’s decision not to carry on with the show—despite there being another three seasons already mapped out—that a social media storm was whipped up begging for someone—anyone—to #SaveTheOA. Many Netflix subscriptions were cancelled in protest. Fans from all over the world filmed themselves doing the movements in support for the cause #TheOAIsReal. A young woman went on a hunger strike outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters to protest for the show’s return. Brit Marling and the shows co-creator, Zal Batmanglij, visited her and offered her food and water, touched by the lengths to which fans would go to express their love for The OA.
That alone should be enough to tell you how much of an impact The OA made on people’s lives. In a very dark world, even before 2020 arrived, The OA brought a sense of magic and fantasy to our screens that hadn’t really been accomplished before. While the premise of the story is oppressive and desperate in places, when I think of the show as a whole all I see in my mind is a stunning bright white light (with a purple tint, of course), and a warm and comforting feeling washes through my body.
In Season 1, we met Prairie (Brit Marling), a young woman who was reunited with her adoptive parents after she jumped from a bridge. Prairie had been missing for seven years before she jumped, and when she went missing she was blind. With fully restored sight, she tells her parents and the police that she had been held captive, but she doesn’t really divulge much more information than that because she has people to protect.
As the story unfolds, Prairie makes friends with five people (referred to as the Crestwood 5 by fans): Betty Broderick Allen (BBA), Steve, Buck, Jesse, and French, all of whom have their own demons and vulnerabilities. Their futures are all pretty bleak before they meet Prairie, but they find inspiration and real friendship from Prairie (and each other) as she confides in them what happened to her during her captivity. Most of the first season is spent wondering whether Prairie was telling the truth or if she was crazy, but by the very end, it’s clear that her story was real. Prairie, who was born in Russia and named Nina by her father, lost her sight at a young age after a school bus crashed off a bridge and she drowned. She survived but had a near-death experience (NDE) during which she met a woman—or perhaps spirit guide is more apt—named Khatun in a realm between dimensions. This was the first time Nina’s life forked onto another path. In one dimension, Nina remained Nina and was not on the bus that crashed. After the NDE, Nina’s life forked into another path and she became Prairie—named that by her adoptive parents, Nancy and Abel—after her birth father sent her away and was later killed (he was in the Russian Mafia).
It was the NDE that prompted Hap to track Prairie down. Hap, a megalomaniac scientist desperate to discover if there is life after death. He carried out completely unethical experiments on Prairie and four others who had also experienced NDEs—Homer, Rachel, Scott, and Renata—by drowning them over and over to try and find out where their souls travelled to. Imprisoned in a glass cage underground, Prairie became close to the other prisoners, especially Homer. The two had a strong connection from the second they met—almost as if they had always known each other. They probably had. Prairie’s love for Homer is the thread that runs through both seasons as she does whatever she can to reunite with him.
In the final moments of Season 1, a shooter storms the cafeteria of the school that the Crestwood 5 attend (or work at in the case of BBA, who was a teacher). Prairie—or The OA (original angel) as she is known to them—has shown them all special movements that she and the captives all learned during their NDEs. These movements were used to restore life to Scott when Hap’s experiment went too far and killed him, and they could also be used to create an invisible river for the soul to jump into and travel to another dimension at the point of death. As the school shooter prepares to massacre his classmates, the Crestwood 5 divert his attention by carrying out the movements. Distracted, the gunman stops shooting, and only one bullet strikes through a window and into the chest of OA, who just arrived at the school knowing something bad was going to happen to the boys. As the bullet hits, her soul gets whisked away to another dimension, which is where we find ourselves in Season 2.
It was an incredibly moving finale episode that solidified The OA as a cult show with a fandom who patiently waited three years to see what would happen next, all while theorising about what it might all mean. Not since Twin Peaks have I seen a fandom so passionate about solving a mystery and learning the mythology, and many of them created beautiful art and dance moves of their own.
That was Season 1 in a nutshell, but I am going to focus mostly on Season 2 because there are so many unanswered questions, loose ends, and what-if’s that it should be a criminal offence to cancel a series at this point. If I ever become Queen or President, watch out Netflix.
Right then, let’s do this!