WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
In a time where streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer us thousands of shows and movies to watch at the tips of our fingers, it’s easy for some shows to get lost in the crowd, and with how frequently new shows release, it can be difficult to watch everything you want. Staying true to this, Netflix’s original show “The OA” remains largely overshadowed by similar mystery dramas like Stranger Things, but nonetheless, it brings to the table a unique take on the traditional science fiction mystery genre.
“The OA” is a supernatural mystery show that follows a blind girl named Prairie Johnson who went missing seven years ago but mysteriously reappears in her hometown, now with the ability to see and with a set of odd scars on her back. Referring to herself as “The OA” and refusing to explain to her adopted parents or the FBI what happened to her, Prairie gathers a group of five people, a high school teacher (Betty Broderick-Allen, or “BBA”) and four high school boys (Steve, French, Buck, and Jesse), and tells them her life story in an abandoned house. In her story, she explains how she was born to a Russian oligarch and had a near-death experience after a tragic school bus crash. Following the near-death experience, she lost her sight and had to move to the US with her aunts for safety. In the US, she learned that her father died in Russia, leaving her frustrated and in denial. After her aunt allowed her to be adopted by another family (Nancy and Abel Johnson), she ran off to New York, believing that she would meet her father there. Instead, she met a scientist named Hap who imprisoned her and studied her and four other people (Homer, Scott, Rachel, and Renata) who had near-death experiences. While imprisoned, these five people discover “the movements” that open a portal to a new dimension, and after Prairie escapes Hap’s island, Prairie teaches these movements to the group of five people she gathered in the abandoned house to rescue the other prisoners.
Unlike traditional storytelling in TV shows, “The OA” takes a unique approach to the development of its main plot, combining traditional aspects of storytelling in TV where the plot develops as different events unfold with oral storytelling akin to that of ancient times. Much of the plot is revealed when Prairie describes her life story to the five people she assembled in the abandoned house, and due to the unusual nature of her story, it creates a sense of doubt among the people she knows in the modern day that influences her future actions. Paired with its on-point acting, well-suited casting, and immaculately filmed scenes, this combination creates a greater sense of depth and complexity that leaves even the audience wondering whether her story is true. Throughout the season, each episode felt very carefully planned (though there are some issues that will be addressed later) and made great use of foreshadowing and allusion (particularly to “The Odyssey” with Homer and to Jesus with Scott’s death and resurrection) to progress the story and keep it exciting and thought-provoking. The environments, while sometimes appearing artificial (ex: the space Khatun was in), created an immersive atmosphere with a very ominous and melancholic tone (see the end of episode three or Prairie’s neighborhood) that made the story very captivating. These characteristics of “The OA” come together to create a very engaging and well put viewing experience that captures your interest and maintains it throughout the entirety of the season.
As detailed and enjoyable as the season was, however, it left behind some loose ends and questionable scenes that just made it feel, for the lack of a better word, hallow or out of line at times. For example, episode three depicts Prairie attempting to poison Hap with her homemade stew, only for him to have an allergic reaction to the tomato paste in the ingredients she used. While the scene leaves you at the edge of your seat, it seemed strange that this would be an issue in the first place for a man as cautious and sharp as Hap. If he knew about his allergy to tomato paste, why wasn’t he more careful when purchasing the ingredients for the stew in the first place, and how did he not have any reaction to the sleeping pills Prairie laced the stew with? Certain scenes, like the scenes with Steve and Angie in the computer lab or the scenes with French and his scholarship, didn’t have enough development and felt lacking overall. While it’s great that the writers tried to give these characters greater depth to help them connect with the audience and feel more realistic, these plotlines needed to be more fleshed out, as we never saw what happened to French after his scholarship dinner or what happened to Steve after he and Angie kissed in the computer lab. As of now, they felt rather pointless, though, perhaps, they may become more relevant in season 2. The ending, in particular, where a school shooter breaks into the school and the group of five that Prairie originally assembled performs the movements she taught them, felt very contrived and phoned in, as if the show writers had to find any excuse to end the season and create some sort of drama or suspense that loosely related to the plot. If school shootings weren’t as common as they have been recently in the US, then the scene may have felt more shocking or suspenseful, but with how increasingly common school shootings are becoming and how random and out of left field the scene was, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and turned off.
As a person who barely watches TV shows anymore and would have never heard of “The OA” had it not been for my English class, I have to say that “The OA” was a great show. Although I have some grievances with the first season, particularly its ending, its overall attention to detail, fitting cast of characters, phenomenal filming and acting, ominous tone, and allusions to other works make it a very intriguing and captivating show which leaves you wanting more.
With season 2 right around the corner, I’m hopeful that “The OA” will continue to impress and improve upon the already fantastic season 1, and for those who are considering giving the show a try, I would highly recommend it.