“You have to pretend to trust me until you actually do.” The protagonist Prairie Johnson implores this of her audience in the very first episode of The OA. She goes on to relay her story of how she lost her sight, regained it, traveled across dimensions and discovered her true nature and self; The Original Angel.
Skip forward three years to The OA: Part 2. Three years in real time that is, as far as the world of the show is concerned it’s been mere seconds between the Part 1 finale and the Part 2 opener. We’ve left OA (Brit Marling) in a state. She was bleeding out, her gunshot wound proving to be fatal. Yet she awakens in the body of a Miss Nina Azarova, the body of herself in a parallel universe, another dimension. You still with me? Maybe, maybe not.
But I’m not here to talk you through the plot of far and away the most inventive and experimental TV show on Netflix, I’ll leave that to the masters of long form storytelling, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. I’m here to explain exactly why The OA is extraordinarily singular in its delivery.
Brit Marling in The OA: Part 2 (2019) – source: Netflix
The Circles That You Find in the Windmills of Your Mind
Thematically, Part 2 unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle, each episode playing out like a physical puzzle piece. You can imagine yourself turning it around, trying to slot it into the bigger world – or worlds in this case – of The OA. It’s no coincidence that newcomer Hakim (Kingsley Ben-Adir) inquires of Fola (Zendaya) “Back at the house, the kids were working together, but you say the game doesn’t like that.” to which Fola responds “Yeah, well, ultimately, a puzzle is a conversation between the player and the maker. The puzzle maker is teaching you a new language. How to escape the limits of your own thinking and see things you didn’t know were there.” This is exactly how we as an audience interact with The OA as a show. It feels as if we’re having a conversation with Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, a dialogue as opposed to simply being shown and told what to think.
It’s as if Marling and Batmanglij are testing what it means to be a TV show, searching for the limits of the medium and playing with the way we think about TV and entertainment in a more generalised manner.
This isn’t new to Part 2, in fact, one of the finest decisions from Part 1, the instant in which I knew I was truly watching something different to other TV shows, was the moment in which the opening title credits roll 50 minutes into episode 1. However, this experimentation with form remains in Part 2, with episode lengths varying, flashbacks taking us not only through time but also dimensions and actors playing several roles depending on which dimension the episode demands of them.
There’s a specific joy that comes from watching something where you can feel the love of the creators pour from every shot, every decision. One could easily take issue with the three year wait between seasons, but when you see a show in which no blade of grass is out of place and there’s no throwaway dialogue or references, it’s easier than you’d think to forgive.
Marling and Batmanglij are methodical and controlled without seeming clinical. There’s a scene from Chapter 1: Angel of Death in which we are faced with someone who looks very much like Prairie Johnson/OA from Part 1, but speaks with a clipped Russian accent and carries herself in such a way that we know it isn’t Prairie that we are seeing. Despite this, she hums a familiar tune, one that we know to be linked to Prairie’s childhood in Russia. It’s these details, the minutiae that creates the lavish and richly textured world of The OA.
If you expand outward, looking at The OA in its entirety, it’s impossible to miss the fact that it is written by people who extensively know their genre. They don’t shy away from existing works, rather they seek them out and aim to improve their storytelling through seeing what’s come before. Marling and Batmanglij are people who know speculative fiction, who riff off of works in the canon, who can make fleeting references to works that have clearly inspired them. This is evidenced in interviews with the pair in which they recite their influences such as The Passion According to G.H., obscure genre and form bending texts like House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and City of Lost Children.
The OA is so unflinchingly in its own world. It does what all great art does and takes you by the hand and guides you through, letting you see what you want as you go. What you bring to The OA as a viewer is just as valid as what Marling and Batmanglij give you.
Kingsley Ben-Adir in The OA: Part 2 (2019) – source: Netflix
Unwaveringly Bold and Wonderfully Weird
What’s wonderful about The OA: Part 2 specifically, is that it retains the essence of Part 1 whilst managing to feel fresh, not merely riffing upon the successes of the previous season. Part 2 still tackles questions of theology and philosophy, still ruminates on the meaning of life and looks at death as a journey and something to be celebrated as opposed to grieved.
On that point, Part 2 steers itself into darker territory regarding death. The tone is decidedly more dark, the stakes raised and the sense of peril is heightened. There’s still a saccharine optimism underlying the elliptical narratives, but the deaths felt more immediate and final this season.
In regards to ideas of inter-connectivity of humans across dimensions, the revelations in terms of Hap, Homer and OA being co-dependent and inextricably linked was handled thoughtfully. The very notion of Hap as OA’s shadow if you will, someone to be integrated with instead of stifled, worked seamlessly alongside the parallel narrative of Nina and OA attempting to exist simultaneously.
The ridiculously meta ending nearly lost me. It had a smug and knowing air, but that’s why I love it. There are times when The OA is so absurd that it feels arch but it does it in a jovial and goading way, almost akin to an annoying younger sibling that you can’t help but dote on. With each prod and nudge into the realms of the unknown and borderline silly, The OA is saying ‘how far will you follow us?’.
Trusting the Story-tell
My question is this; What other show has the gall, the guts, the right to have an ending that feels so ludicrous yet simultaneously so correct? What other show could make me not even question the fact that a house is a maze, an Octopus can have an erudite discussion with a human who is actually an Angel via telepathy and dancing robots can open dimensions in a more sophisticated way than humans?
As much as I could try to fight it, The OA has earned my trust. With every twist, every layered and multi-faceted story-line, it earned the right to do whatever it pleased. The minds of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij percolated their way through my own logic and granted me with an entirely new perspective. When the credits rolled on the final episode I realized that I was no longer pretending to trust Prairie/Nina/OA/Brit; I sincerely did.