What is The OA?
The OA begins with grainy video footage shot on a phone by a young girl in the backseat of a car stuck in traffic on a bridge. Suddenly, a blonde woman dressed in tatters appears in the frame and leaps from the bridge into the icy water below. It's a jarring image. If you've ever spent any time viewing violent or unsettling videos online, it will inspire familiar and disquieting questions. Who is that girl? How did she get there? Did she survive?
In the first few episodes, the show provides answers at its own occasionally odd pace. We soon learn that the young woman is Prairie Johnson (series co-creator and writer Marling) and that she disappeared years earlier. When her grief-stricken adoptive parents (Deadwood's Alice Krige and The Walking Dead's Scott Wilson) arrive at the hospital in St. Louis where she's being held, Prairie doesn't recognize them, but it's not because she has amnesia. "Seven years ago when she went missing, she was blind," says her father. And now she's using a new name: the OA.
In a meta way, the question "What is the OA?" is also one of the driving dramatic tensions of the series. As Prairie acclimates herself back to the barren suburban sprawl that she grew up in, she's quickly on the hunt for information, scrambling for a Wi-Fi password so she can begin Googling the name "Homer Roberts." Her mania will be familiar to anyone who spent weeks researching "Carcosa" and "the Yellow King" during True Detective's reign as the brain-teaser of the month.
Through a slightly contrived series of events involving a local drug dealer named Steve (Patrick Gibson), she falls in with some local teenagers and a high school teacher played by The Office's Phyllis Smith. Soon she's leading them on late-night vision-quest-y flashback sessions in an abandoned house, where she explains her childhood as a blind Russian girl, her unconventional adoption, and how she ended up the lab rat of Jason Isaacs' death-obsessed doctor character. Like the similarly thorny Westworld, The OA occasionally confuses narrative density with profundity. But if you like untangling mythology, it's worth putting the work in.