Angels, supernatural elements, and thoughts regarding an afterlife and death have always felt ambiguous and far away from the reality that I and so many others live in. The OA, while maybe far-fetched and a bit hard to comprehend at times, made these elements feel closer to me and to my reality partially due to the suburban setting which contained such normal characters who lived normal lives and dealt with normal problems. To be more specific, Prairie, who prefers to be called “The OA”, is the daughter of a successful Russian oligarch and was once-blind, but can now see. Her insane experiences and story contrasts nicely with the quiet, suburban setting where the biggest issue is a degenerate high school bully named Steve. Due to having a main character who appears to be so supernatural, foreign, and spectacular it was more than necessary for the creators of the show to include characters such as Betty Broderick Allen, Nancy and Abel Johnson, Steve, and Alfonso to show viewers some familiarity and keep them engaged in the show.
The character development of Steve who is a bully, troublemaker, and misunderstood teen can easily remind viewers of someone they knew all too well in high school. Similarly, Alfonso, a jock who appears to have it all because he got a full ride scholarship, struggles with abusing drugs and running a household because his mother, who appears to be a bed-ridden addict, is uncapable of doing so. The addition of high school teacher Betty Broderick Allen (also known as BBA), was especially fascinating because her ability to believe the OA and the five students added such credibility to OA’s story and to the development of the plot. Additionally, it showed a reality that students often forget: teachers deal with hardships, aren’t perfect, are often not as simplistic as people think, and have lives and real challenges to deal with not only inside the classroom, but outside of it as well. While the developments of the listed characters added substance and plot to the show, Jesse and Buck needed to be more developed because unlike the other three people who listened to Prairie’s story, these characters didn’t contain much development or really add much of anything except needed meeting numbers to the plot.
One character I’m still trying to psychoanalyze is Dr. Hunter Aloysius Percy, better known as “HAP”. In the beginning, HAP is portrayed as a curious, understanding, nice man who acts like he wants to help and understand Prairie. After he misleads her into becoming a part of his experiment, he is immediately seen as the show’s antagonist. A few ambiguities that spark my curiosity regarding HAP are the fact that he does show some moments of humanity in the show that are unexpected. Throughout the first season, I almost seemed to notice a development of guilt in HAP. Whenever he told the hospital staff about the people in his friend’s lab I was surprised and am still curious as to why that was included in the show. It makes me wonder if HAP will always stay the shows antagonist or if it could foreshadow changes in HAPs character. Closer to the end of the season, we see the relationship between Homer and Prairie grow into an intense and powerful bond. Throughout the development of their relationship, HAP almost appears to be jealous of their bond and does almost everything he can to break it. HAP shows moments of jealousy when he allows Prairie and the other captives to hear Renata and Homer having sex. Finally, HAP gets so fed up with Homer and Prairie’s relationship that he “sets Prairie free” after Homer and Prairie heal the Sheriff’s wife. These actions by HAP and his evident fondness for Prairie throughout the show make me wonder if HAP was or is in love with Prairie.
The first episode of the OA almost seemed like the first episode of the second season of a show due to the abrupt beginning where viewers see Prairie do what appears to be committing suicide. In the beginning of the first episode of the OA, I originally felt confused and thought the show was a bit hard to follow. Not knowing or understanding the challenges of Prairie’s captivity and how she regained her eye sight was frustrating, and in retrospect, I can understand Nancy’s short-fuse with Prairie and Abel’s utter confusion. I knew that in order to understand and comprehend all of the different and contrasting elements imbedded into the show, I was going to have to give the show my undivided attention and have minimal distractions if I wanted to better understand. Typically, when I watch TV shows, I can use my phone or have side conversation, but with the OA I couldn’t. When I found myself trying to do this, I in turn found myself needed to rewind whichever part I had zoned out of. For me, the experience of watching the OA was more similar to reading a book than it has been for me in the past with show watching. Similar to watching the OA, when reading a book, I also have to give my undivided attention to the book and if I decided to chit-chat in between lines, I end up always having to re-read.
While the first episode of the OA might have been a bit too ambiguous, it definitely sparked a major curiosity inside me and made me want to binge the show because I wanted to make sense of everything I had just seen. The unfamiliar addition of the supernatural elements also enthralled me more because it added an aspect to the show that I’d never really experienced before in a show that also contained elements that were all too familiar. Another thing I really liked about the OA was the strong female lead and the new perspective it shed light to regarding a higher power and afterlife. After Nina (Prairie’s Russian name), died on the school bus incident, she encountered a recurring character Khatun who is portrayed as the higher power throughout the series. Khatun is mystical, mysterious, has brail markings on her face, and certainly isn’t the norm people think about when considering a higher power. By adding this element, the OA diminishes the misconception that “God” or a higher power must be male.
While the ambiguity of the OA started out as frustrating, I ended up genuinely liking it because the show can really be read whichever way you interpret it or want to read it. If you don’t believe Prairie and her story it could be a story about a captured girl’s trauma and the mental illness that follows her return to normalcy. If you do believe Prairie and her ability to transport to a different dimension by using “the movements”, then it becomes a mystical sci-fi story. Lastly, if you believe that the FBI detective planted the books to make Prairie’s story seem fake, then the show becomes rooted in conspiracy. The ending of the first season leaves viewers with multiple different perspectives, explanations, and outcomes to ponder which is a lot of the reason why after watching the show it really stays on your mind.
I would definitely recommend this show to anyone who is curious, open-minded, and appreciates a good mystery. I would also recommend binge watching this show because there are so many important characters and so many things that happen that would be easy to forget, but come back to mean something and show importance later in the show. This show is certainly not for those who are impatient or closed-minded regarding supernatural elements, a higher power, miracles, and an afterlife. The OA, in my opinion, adds a new perspective on death and dying which is a topic that so many people are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with. This show is an ambiguous, mystical, mystery that is action packed and will throw you a curve ball when you’re least expecting it.