The Bold, Hilarious Ending of 'The OA' Season 2 Proves Brit Marling's Genius
This post contains major spoilers for the second season of The OA.
Anytime you get to the end credits of the first season of an exciting, unconventional puzzle box-style TV show, especially one whose final moments practically beg for a second season, there's a distinct worry that forms in the back of your mind: Do the creators of this show, visionaries that they are, actually know what they're doing? Or are they just cramming in as many of their wild ideas as possible, spinning a plot wheel and hoping that something sticks enough for them to get that sweet, sweet Season 2 order?
That's the worry I felt as soon I finished the first season of The OA, which took Netflix by storm for a few weeks in late 2016. It was inherently bingeable, the perfect model of the kind of original programming Netflix was just starting to experiment with, and yet the ending felt oddly cold. Does this show, which muddled its message with a clumsy "Is it all even real???" roadblock and staged its final climactic moment rather tastelessly around a school shooting (an epidemic we already suffer from more than enough in the real world), even deserve the new season its last shot demands? It's with great joy that I can say that The OA's second season, which took nearly three years to complete, takes the seeds planted in the show's first eight episodes and lets them blossom into something close to a masterpiece.
The first season introduced the concept that there are people in this world -- this multiverse, rather -- who have the ability to jump across parallel dimensions and enter new lives, using a special interpretive dance called "the movements." Star Brit Marling, who also co-created the series alongside frequent collaborator Zal Batmanglij, plays O.A., the "Original Angel," who is slowly learning the extent of her dimension-hopping powers, seemingly trapped in an endless loop of fishtank prisons and creepy houses and forever pursued by the villainous Dr. Hap (Jason Isaacs).
To say that Season 2 expands on the concepts that Season 1 introduced would be an understatement. The newest episodes are so dense that to attempt to explain what happens in a single review would be pointless. There's a giant, prophetic octopus that communicates with telepathy and calls itself Old Night; there's a hard-boiled detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir) searching for a missing girl who lives in a houseboat tied up in San Francisco harbor; there's a beautiful dark green house in the middle of Oakland that's much, much bigger than it seems in a House of Leaves sort of way; there's an augmented reality game that lures people from all over the country; there's a water garden in a pool sowed with seeds growing from people's brains. That last one is Hap's big breakthrough: In his megalomaniacal quest to control the movements, the dimension-hopping, and the angels like O.A., he's discovered a way to make a crude map of every possible reality, using the realities contained inside living people.
In a lesser show more concerned with spectacle, these ideas would be too wild to take seriously. Even in the first season, "the movements" look hilarious and are easy to make fun of. But the notions of the nature of time and space in The OA are introduced in such a sedate, confident way that by the time the show gets to a certain point, you'll absolutely believe that human beings can grow glowing waterlilies out of their ears. And that's not to say that the show is spectacle-free. The aforementioned giant octopus is the cornerstone of a pivotal, creepy scene, and one vision quest transports O.A. underground where she communicates with the glittering roots of sentient trees.
It's not long until we learn of Hap's final gambit. He's been plotting to transport himself and O.A., using three-armed robots programmed with the movements, to a universe where he and O.A. are still alive, still together, but don't believe in what they truly are. It's teased as far back as the trees, who tell O.A. that she'll be taken to another world where she's aware of her nature but doesn't remember it, and in the penultimate episode, where one character describes a universe where O.A. is known as something like "Brin" and Hap has an English accent. They wouldn't, you think, but then they do. The final scene, during which Hap's giant robots perform the movements that rocket him and O.A. into the real world -- our real world where Barack Obama was once president -- shunts them onto a TV set. O.A. is called Brit by an assistant when she falls doing a flying stunt, and Hap's American accent changes to a clipped English one as he climbs into the ambulance with his co-star.
It's hilarious to hear Jason Isaacs say, "I'm Jason Isaacs," and equally so to see Brit Marling literally present herself as nothing less than an all-powerful interdimensional being, as if Marling herself is winking at the fact that she's created her own universe in which she is, basically, a god: Yes, yes, I know. And yet, the utter sincerity in which that idea is posited, like every other insane, beautiful idea in the previous episodes, gives it some ring of possibility. If the multiverse is real, of course a world exists where five people are stuck underground in a glass prison doing synchronized interpretive dance. It's pure faith that gives beings like angels their power, and Marling undeniably proves this season that she can make us believe in anything she chooses. That's a power you could almost call divine.