The OA is, without a doubt, the most inspired, ballsy series around just now.
SPOILER ALERT: The recap in paragraph 2 contains major spoilers for The OA Season 1, while the remainder of the review contains some minor spoilers for The OA Season 2. You can check out our recaps of every episode, starting with the first, by clicking these words.
Season 1 of The OA was the best thing to happen to Netflix in a long time. Even though The Haunting of Hill House has since wriggled onto the scene, impressing audiences with its ingenuity, this all out head-screw knocked fans of subversive content off their feet. That said, it’s not a patch on Season 2 of Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s genre-busting series. Nothing short of a balls-to-the-wall trip outside the realms of perceived reality, this incredibly sweeping story feels like it had the craziest Snapchat filter whacked over it. The OA Season 2 takes the fantastical ideas established in the previous season and cleverly builds upon them, finally revealing the fate of our protagonist, Prairie Johnson (Marling).
Given it’s been over two and a half years since viewers were left hanging, a brief recap might help before going on. Prairie, who discovers she is “The Original Angel” (“The OA”), resurfaces after seven years missing. Previously blinded during a Near Death Experience (NDE), in which a mysterious otherworldly figure removed her sight as payment for continued life, she can now see again. It transpires she’d been kidnapped and caged in a remote underground bunker by HAP (Jason Isaacs), a cruel scientist obsessed with NDEs. Prairie and four other captives – Homer (Emory Cohen), Scott (Will Brill), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten), and Renata (Paz Vega) – were repeatedly killed and brought back to life as part of HAP’s exploration of the afterlife. Prairie escapes, and instead of adapting to her newfound freedom, she seeks to rescue the others. To do so, she enlists the help of a disparate group, comprising teacher BBA (Phyllis Smith) and students Steve (Patrick Gibson), Jesse (Brendan Meyer), Buck (Ian Alexander), and French (Brandon Perea). Prairie teaches them a bizarre sequence of movements able to facilitate travel to another dimension, where she must help her fellow captives. When a gunman makes his way onto school property, the movements save everyone apart from Prairie. Does she die? Or has she gone to her intended destination?
In The OA Season 2, Marling and Batmanglij don’t waste much time in telling us Prairie makes it to the next dimension, her parents left in the belief she was merely killed while her motley crew questions the outcome. In this new reality, the poor girl is met with a fresh hell. HAP, who already traveled with the others, runs a mental facility keeping them all institutionalized for their shared dimension-hopping delusions. All but Homer that is, a psychologist at the facility. Scott, Rachel, and Renata may all be aware of the truth, but Homer’s consciousness hasn’t merged with that of his host… yet.
The continuation of this fanciful story is outstanding, full of truly inventive and mythological concepts. It’s best to keep the particulars of those under wraps, but let’s just say they stretch as far as a talking octopus. Yeah, you read correctly. That’s just a little teaser for a much larger facet of the plot relating to the abilities of Prairie’s host, Nina Azarova – the same daughter of a wealthy Russian oligarch Prairie would have remained had she not been adopted. The OA Season 2 intrinsically binds together its own reality with that of Season 1, providing answers to lingering questions while unraveling a wildly complex (but not convoluted) mystery. Episode after episode, this mystery bends your mind a little more as expectations are turned on their heads to an almost unfathomable degree. Pulling no punches, this is the jaw-dropping stuff of dreamworlds; so much so you’ll be aghast at the capability of any waking mind to summon such abstractions and manipulate them into a thoroughly mesmeric tale.
There’s a magnitude of enthusiasm in Batmanglij and Marling’s storytelling unparalleled by any show ever made. Some critics may find this to be overzealous, equating it with confusion and farce, but the absurdity is what makes The OA the strange creature of brilliance it is. As long as you can make sense of the multiple timelines and legions of characters in this broad-reaching yarn, insomuch as it’s possible to get your head around it all, some of the best viewing ever to hit your screen awaits. Of course, the creators’ premise – as far from high-concept as could be – isn’t one for the Netflix-adoring masses, and they’re likely cognizant of that. Instead, this series is one for audiences seeking nonpareil stimulation, even if that means being exposed to an abundance of story. If it confuses you, then “tough titty,” said the kitty when the milk went dry. Batmanglij and Marling are unconcerned with serving something digestible with The OA. They’re too preoccupied with their objective to sidestep tedium, as confirmed by Isaacs speaking about Season 3. If that comes at the expense of a wider audience, then so be it.
BBA and the crew from the original dimension are awarded far less screen time than before, but there’s a strong chance real Marling buffs anticipated this. In the past, she has collaborated with Batmanglij on Sound of My Voice and The East, and also with their friend and fellow filmmaker Mike Cahill on Another Earth and I Origins. If you dig The OA and you’re yet to watch these films, oh my, you’re in for a treat. All these projects contained impressively immense ideas, each of which entailed some level of ambiguity tempered by just enough certainty to imply the filmmakers’ confidence in those ideas. So, for the aforementioned aficionados of Marling’s work, Prairie’s success in travelling was a foregone conclusion, and the return of BBA and the crew a pleasant surprise (for me, at least).
The reduced involvement of this bunch in The OA Season 2 has the dual effect of linking both dimensions and making way for new characters, especially straight-talking private investigator Karim (Ben Kingsley-Adir). Motivated first by money and then by intrigue, he’s on the hunt for a missing girl linked to a peculiar mansion. That mansion, to which teens are drawn by a sinister augmented reality smartphone app, proves central to the plot. As a sidebar, it’s worth noting smartphone references abound in this season, with references to well-known dating apps Tinder and Grindr. The former comes to nothing more than informing us Homer likes to split the bill, but the latter guides BBA et al. to a key piece of information, which assists Prairie and offers some topless shots of a toned, tanned Perea for those interested. The creative decision for Karim to dominate much of the first episode is smart, establishing the new status quo and simultaneously leaving the audience yearning for Marling’s familiar face to make an appearance.
HAP’s evil is cranked up a gazillion notches here, although the misguided nutter doesn’t see it. On the odd occasion, the charming Isaacs is so utterly convincing as a man consumed by his purpose as well as the notion he’s working for the greater good, it’s easy to find yourself pondering the potential that his draconian research methods might border on justified. If that happens, slap yourself. When we finally peek behind the veil of his new, menacing lines of scientific investigation, it’s apparent the discovery of inter-dimensional travel is yesterday’s news. This relentless truth-seeker has a multiverse to map out.
As the narrative arc crawls towards its mind-blowing, twisty culmination, with some intrepid diversions along the path, the realisation sets in that this is but a mere chapter in a much more extensive fantasy saga. Again, anybody with a decent understanding of Marling’s previous opuses will be unsurprised by this. I Origins, for example, has been referred to as a prelude to a much bigger idea, so there was always a chance of Season 1 being an introduction to a greater omniverse. Season 2 proves the journey Marling and Batmanglij have in store will be monumental, however long it lasts, and whatever the endpoint. In essence, watching The OA is akin to knocking back moonshine while observing a pair of child prodigies, gifted with an infinite supply of Lego and unfettered by the physical laws of space, crafting an intricate model brick by brick, all the while taking extended breaks between segments to consider their next genius move.
The finale of Season 2 doesn’t fail to shock, but it avoids leaving viewers on an aching cliffhanger as its little brother did. We’re handed a short glimpse of what comes beyond the limits of this chapter, giving the impression Marling and Batmanglij have a more concrete idea of the story’s progression than they perhaps had previously. If they continue along the same track, this pair are in danger of creating my favourite show of all time. If they take an even more bewildering detour, I might just pass out with intense exhilaration. The OA is, without a doubt, the most inspired, ballsy series around just now. Please just suspend your disbelief and behold as that Lego model sprawls further than your imagination can stretch.
Steven is a Scottish freelance Film & TV Journalist based in London. He earned a BA in Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University before moving onto ghost-and content-writing. Steven now covers Film & TV for various websites.