Netflix presents ‘The OA’: Can you see her wings?

the-oa-netflix-series-filming-locations-poster

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Spoilers winging in, ye hath be warned!

It is virtually impossible to talk about this show without all kinds of spoilers, simply because the show is so layered and complex and occasionally, downright weird, that to say anything is to spoil something else. With that apology in mind, onward we go into starlit madness!

So Prairie (Brit Marling), and I still say that’s a strange thing to name your adopted child, used to be blind. She had been blind we’ll say about half her life, and what happened to her before, when she was quite young and could still see, is very odd, but we’ll get to that in a bit. When we meet up with her, Prairie is fleeing like all the hounds of Hell are after her, enough to make her go spit-spot off a bridge in broad daylight in front of a lot of witnesses.

She comes to in the arms of her sobbing mother, brilliantly portrayed by Alice Krige, being beamed down upon by her father, Scott Wilson, who also turned in a heart-wrenching performance in this show, as he so often does. The fact that the Doctor who tried to pre-warn the folks that their daughter wasn’t answering to the name “Prairie” anymore doesn’t register on her parents radar at all, and indeed, as Prairie is taken home through a gaggle of Press, her folks are incredibly restrained, highly permissive, and even gentle with their beloved daughter. Because almost immediately upon coming home, Prairie continues to act seriously bizarrely.

Steve (Patrick Gibson) is some asshole high-school jock-type, I think maybe it’s rugby, and he has very poor impulse control, along with a good deal of violence and anger issues stored up. What does he have to do with anything? Nothing, except well … apparently Prairie needs him. Steve the asshole specifically, along with a few chosen others, to come meet with her and her alone, in the same abandoned house where she first met most of them. That freaky scene where Prairie flat dominates Steves’ dog is just another in a long line of WTH left to audience interpretation moments The OA throws at us. Rounding out the group, because there has to be at least five for it to work, is the beleaguered schoolteacher Betty, and the other students that had happened to be there for the dog scene. Random doesn’t seem to enter into The OA, be aware of that.

Okay so now, finally, it’s story time! We get to sit down with Prairie, or perhaps The OA as she now calls herself, and hear what the hell happened to her in those missing seven years. Right? Except that’s not where we begin at all. Instead is some baffling journey about a small Russian girl who had suffered potentially precognitive visions, her love of her father and what happened between them, and oh yeah, her meeting this, wait for it, spiritual guide she calls Khatun. Near as I can tell, it’s actually Khatun that blinds the little girl, amidst the kaleidoscoping lights, so she literally wouldn’t have to see what was coming. She suffers separation from her beloved father, adoption by her new folks, and in general being a tortured soul of a blind person. Prairie rarely quails at anything, sighted or not, and that bravery takes her all the way to New York to find her father, where instead she is found by one Doctor Hap Percy, mesmerizingly played by Jason Isaacs.

Here we need to take a breather for a moment, because everything has been leading up to this point, the meeting between Prairie and Hap, and everything that befalls her afterward seems to have been preparing her for that. I guess? Well. Check for signs in the braille, and we’ll continue on.

So Prairie suffered what is commonly known as an NDE, a Near-Death Experience, and somehow Hap can tell all that just by listening to her play her violin. After talking with Hap for awhile and enduring him going on about his own fascination with NDEs, Prairie actually agrees to go to his place, way out in the middle of who-knows-where-ville, to further explore this whole NDE thing. At least, that’s what Prairie assumed would happen. And well, kinda sorta not really maybe that is what happened, just nowhere near the way Prairie expected.

Hap, it turns out, has a knack for finding other NDE survivors, and collects them in this underground lair habitat he apparently built, for further study and experimentation. What kind of experimentation, you ask? Hold your breath spiritualists, because as we go on we learn that Hap is taking these poor captive people, Prairie too, and killing them under strictly controlled conditions, to try and capture that elusive NDE in a recordable, definable way. Killing and bringing them back, over and over and over, the ultimate nightmare that never ends, because Hap apparently doesn’t believe in things like mercy or pity, not in the face of scientific discovery.

Prairie herself is subjected to these repeated killings, she confers with Khatun, and then begins yet another weird-ass portion of the show: the Movements. To me they look like Hindu-based mudras, or prayers, performed in a kind of religious ecstasy dance that only comes after subjecting oneself to mind-blowing rituals or drugs. Prairie proves that these movements work, they absolutely do work, when one of her fellow captives seems to be on his final very last death, and with all the rest of them performing the Movements, he rises like Lazarus. Prairie, or the OA as the other captives are now beginning to call her (if I said why it would just confuse things, so I’ll let you find out for yourselves), sends them all in search of the final fifth Movement, which will in theory allow them to travel some kind of spiritual wormhole and let them, finally, escape Hap’s tyranny.

How the show finally brought everything together in the very last episode – the need for the five Movements, the specially chosen five people to perform them, and where and why they did it – is entirely unpredictable and nearly inexplicable, yet somehow utterly magnificent and moving. The proposed spirituality of the show is strange and otherworldly and largely left open to our own interpretation, which is difficult for the show to pull off and keep the main narrative going at the same time, but for the most part, they manage it pretty nicely. The soundtrack is often startlingly good, and the gut-wrenching performances pulled from the actors make you feel for both the character and the person playing them with all their heart. We are hoping for a second season, considering all the stuff the show left open-ended in the last episode of Season One!

Gird your spiritual wings with The OA on Netflix!

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