The Octopus Scene in This Season of 'The OA' Is Amazing
This post contains spoilers up through "Syzygy," the fourth episode of Season 2 of Netflix's The OA. Please proceed with caution.
By the time the second season of Netflix's The OA hits episode four, a lot of crazy shit has gone down. I mean, this is a show where a series of movements can somehow prevent a school shooting and help people jump between dimensions. The new episodes have also introduced a Pokémon Go-style game that is somehow luring teens to an abandoned house and making them disapper, and a lab that's harvesting bodies with little stems growing out of their ears. Frankly, as I type this I realize how hard it is to even articulate what happens on-screen here.
And then we encounter Old Night, a very special octopus kept in a tank in a nightclub that performatively communicates telepathically with our hero Prairie, née Nina Azarova, in front of a live studio audience. Yes, you read that right. Rarely does a show dish out a random octopus, but that's what makes The OA such an insane treat to watch. You think you're watching just a regular old scuzzy nightclub scene -- and then a frickin' octopus shows up. What's wild is this pales in comparison to the finale, but, still, a telepathic octopus?!
In the context of the action, Prairie/Nina/the Original Angel (co-creator Brit Marling), with the help of private investigator Karim (Kingsley Ben-Adir) has broken out of the rehab facility where she was being kept prisoner by evil scientist Hap (Jason Isaacs). You see, Prairie is new to this dimension, having taken over the body of Nina, a version of herself who was never separated from her Russian aristocrat father. Karim is looking for a slew of missing kids who are likely connected to Nina's dealings in this current timeline. Their hunt leads them to a club called Syzygy, in the back of a dinky looking tailor shop.
There, Nina is welcomed with eager arms and a White Russian cocktail, and is instructed to do what she normally does. Apparently, what she normally does, although Prairie doesn't know this yet, is communicate with a prophetic octopus being. Nina is strapped to a chair by some shirtless hunks and placed on a stage, with the tank behind her.
Old Night latches onto her arms with its tentacles and begins speaking through her. His name, he tells the nightclub crowd, is Azrael, the name the Angel of Death goes by in certain holy texts. His other moniker is a name given to him by Nina, who creates a bridge between his world in the sea and hers on the land. Old Night knows, and maybe even confirms, that Nina is indeed an angel hopping through realities, and tells her he can reveal her "true face" -- if he just kills her for 37 seconds.
She agrees, and she's suddenly transported to an airplane where she roams the darkened aisle and approaches a short haired blonde woman. (For the big reveal of who it is, you'll have to wait until Chapter 8.) Worried for Nina's life, Karim resuscitates her, killing Old Night in the process.
I don't claim to have an explanation for exactly everything that goes on here, and that's sort of the pleasure of watching The OA, which throws out so many symbols -- some of which have real world significance, some of which only exist in the show's galaxy-brain logic. But there are some contextual clues. Syzygy is a fitting name for this venue -- which seems to exist at a crossroads between planes of existence -- since in all its applications, the word implies some sort of alignment. For example, when used to discuss, say, astronomy, it's when three celestial bodies all form a line.
Water, meanwhile, holds a key place in The OA mythology. Prairie/Nina almost drowned as a child in a bus crash, which essentially acted as the catalyst for her journey. Hap's experiments in Season 1 require Prairie and her fellow basement prisoners, all survivors of near death experiences, to place their heads in small tanks that slowly fill with liquid. At one point in Season 2, Prairie realizes that the key to unlocking Nina's consciousness in her brain is to submerge herself fully in a bath. And yet it's still unclear why Old Night is an octopus. Maybe because it looks cool? Maybe because octopus tentacles can regenerate the way Prairie can?
The remaining episodes don't provide an explanation for Old Night's form or even his existence. And why, for instance, does this spiritual conversation happens in front of drunken club patrons like it's some kind of Vegas magic show or the Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive? Where is Old Night kept when Nina isn't around? Is there more to his home than just that little tank? We've reached out to Marling and her fellow creator Zal Batmanglij, and we'll let you know if we hear back.
Still, the sequence with Old Night is what The OA does best. At first the scene is stunning, almost laughable, in its sheer oddity, but then the mood morphs, as it pulsates with existential terror and a sort of unnerving sexuality. Old Night's tentacles almost caress Prairie's body and expose her bare leg from the slit in her glamorous red dress. It's almost like looking at a medieval painting: fervent and violent all at the same time. But also there's an octopus.