11 Questions We Have After Binge-Watching Netflix's 'The OA'
Netflix's mysterious series The OA is filled with puzzles designed to keep you up at night. In between all the celestial visions of the afterlife, eventful dinners at Olive Garden, and interpretive-dance lessons, the show contains multiple scenes in which characters are doing what you likely spent some time doing after finishing the eight episodes: Googling stuff.
This binge-worthy sci-fi drama from co-creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice and The East) can be overwhelming and bizarre -- but also exhilarating in the way that it sends you searching for answers. If the final episode of the show's first season left you feeling as confused and lost as the captives being held in Dr. Hap's funky underground laboratory prison, we've got you covered.
Here are a bunch of questions our latest Netflix obsession needs to answer if it returns for an angel-filled, Pearl Jam-referencing second season.
Is Prairie telling the truth about her past?This is the post-binge conundrum that is going to drive viewers crazy. For much of Season 1, the audience is put in the same position as Steve, Jesse, Buck, Alfonso, and Betty, the five people who gather to listen to Prairie's incredible story. Are we supposed to believe that the vivid yarn she unspools about her tragic childhood in Russia, her search for her father, and her time in Dr. Hap's lair is completely factual? That fundamental trust she's asking of them and us is called into question in the final episode, when Alfonso discovers the books in her house (more on those below). So has Prairie been lying the whole time? Has she been embellishing the truth behind her own traumatic history to make it more palpable? Or is she truly the afterlife-visiting angel she's presented herself as?
In a candid, spoiler-filled interview with Variety, Marling and Batmanglij were appropriately coy about the possibility of answering some of these larger questions in Season 2. "I would like to see this story continue," says Batmanglij. "Brit and I figured out the whole thing. The whole thing's a riddle. There are a lot of clues. Very few people have really picked up on all the clues."
Did the Five Movements actually work?The OA has some ridiculous and wonky plot details, but none has been as divisive as the Five Movements, a sequence of interpretive-dance maneuvers that Prairie teaches her five followers and claims facilitate interdimensional travel. Some viewers love them (e.g., there's already a Reddit thread of people talking about learning them), while many think they're silly as hell (e.g., Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall compared them to the choreography of "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah."). But the important question is: do they work?
The finale's big (and somewhat out-of-nowhere) school-shooting scene is frustratingly ambiguous about this point. As the music swells, we see the group perform the hiss-filled movements in the face of a violent gunman -- an act that proves they have a surprising amount of faith in Prairie's story. This selfless act ends up thwarting the gunman, but it's unclear whether the shooter is halted by the dance's mystical powers or if he's just stunned by the bizarre response to a dude pointing a semiautomatic weapon in the direction of dozens of defenseless people.
Of course, when the bedazzled shooter is tackled by the cafeteria worker, the gun goes off and Prairie takes a bullet to the chest, which indicates that the movements might not have been as effective as they seemed. Or is getting shot part of Prairie's plan, so that she might be reunited with Homer? It's unclear and there are no definitive conclusions offered by the show itself. It's almost like it's designed to be ambiguous! Crazy, right?
What's the significance of the books Alfonso found?Again, the books that Alfonso finds in Prairie's bedroom are one of the most significant aspects of the finale, and it's worth taking a closer look at the discovery. Of the four books, only two are real: The Iliad by Homer (duh!) and The Oligarchs by David E. Hoffman. The other two, the Encyclopedia of Near Death Experiences and The Book of Angels by Audrey Ebbs, are fictional titles created for the show. (However, as one Reddit sleuth points out, Audrey Ebbs is the name of a real singer/songwriter who has written a novel about a character named... wait for it... Buck.)
After Alfonso finds the books, he jumps to the conclusion that Prairie must have been consulting them for references to weave into her tale of captivity. That's an odd conclusion to make, though: given Prairie's past, would it be so out of the question that she'd seek out books about topics related to her life? She grew up in Russia, so why not read a book about Russia? She had a near-death experience -- and was kidnapped by a man who performed near-death experiments on her -- so, why not brush up on some medical history? From a plot perspective, I get why Alfonso questioned Prairie, but I'm not sure the books are the smoking gun the creators intended them to be.
Why is Riz Ahmed's counselor character at Prairie's house?After watching Riz Ahmed light up the big and small screen this year in Rogue One, The Night Of, and Jason Bourne, it was exciting to see the actor steal more scenes as FBI victim counselor Elias Rahim. On the surface, the character seems like the most compassionate one depicted on The OA: he goes for walks with Prairie, lets her play that fun marble game, and even suggests that her parents should take her out for a nice dinner. Anyone who gives parents the green light to take you to the Olive Garden is a good dude.
But maybe he actually isn't so good? One of the most popular (and plausible) theories floating around Reddit at the moment is that Ahmed's character plants the books that Alfonso finds, perhaps as a way to seed mistrust in Prairie's circle of five followers. This theory would explain what Elias was doing in Prairie's house during that scene -- and it's way better than my original theory that he's there to drop off an Olive Garden gift card (because he knows that when you're there, you're family).
Is Dr. Hap still out there running his experiments?The finale of The OA gives us few answers about the whereabouts of Dr. Hunter "Hap" Aloysius Percy (played with creepy menace by Harry Potter's Jason Isaacs). Though we learn more about Hap in the episode where he enjoys some tasty looking sandwiches and kills his mentor, Hap remains a blank slate and there's very little evidence, other than the scars on Prairie's back, that the guy exists in the real world.
Is the doctor a figment of her imagination? Or, after shooting that poor sheriff and his wife, did Hap return to his lab, pull off the Five Movements on his own, and travel into a different dimension? Until we get a second season, the full extent of his villainy remains unknown.
What happened to Homer?The last line of the episode eight -- "Homer?" -- suggests that Prairie might be reunited with the love of her life. If Netflix only gives us this one season, that's likely how most fans will choose to interpret the reading of that line, but I assume a second season will not provide that type of happy ending. Instead, I bet Prairie will have to keep searching for him.
Where will she find him? It's hard to say, but Alfonso might have something to do with it. While he's searching Prairie's house, the young state-college-bound scholar looks into a mirror and sees Homer peering back at him. This could be the moment Alfonso realizes that Prairie's story is a lie -- after all, he shares a scar with Homer -- but it could also indicate something deeper. As one fan suggests on Reddit, if you buy into the idea that Prairie is a Christ-like figure, then Alfonso could be her Peter: a temperamental apostle who both loves and denies Jesus in his time of need. Theology experts, we need your help!
Who is the shooter?The staging of the school-shooting sequence is intentionally vague. We don't see the shooter's face, hear a discernible voice, or see a look of recognition on any of the student's faces. Even though the shooting is foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Betty hears a story on the radio about a shooter on the loose, the whole incident feels random (and a bit tasteless). It's very possible that the shooter isn't a character we've met.
So what gives? All we know is that if you have to consult a message board and re-watch old episodes to figure out why something happened, the storytelling isn't as effective as it could be.
Where does Prairie end up?The final image of the show finds Prairie bathed in white light and saying "Homer" in a hopeful tone that suggests he could be in the room with her. But where is she? For one thing, we know that the space she's in looks very different from the blue-light, Magic-Eye-esque landscapes the show previously used to represent the afterlife. Perhaps she's moved on to a higher level, a light dimension that she's entered following the execution of the Five Movements? It looks bright there.
A bleaker option: she could be in a mental hospital. Honestly, that makes more sense to me and would set up multiple potential Season 2 plotlines. For one thing, Steve and the gang would want to break her out of the hospital. If she were medicated there, the show could further explore one of its favorite tropes: the negative consequences of unchecked medical experimentation. Also, scenes of her explaining her past life to a psychiatrist would again give the show a way to employ flashbacks in an inventive manner. Though, really, the "she's crazy" plot twist is about as frustrating as the "it's all a dream!" cliché. Let the magic be real!
What's with the Braille in the background of certain scenes?The OA is a dense viewing experience for people who just trying to follow the plot; I can't even imagine how more eagle-eyed, clue-oriented viewers watched it. As Batmanglij and Marling have suggested in interviews, the show is packed with hidden details, cryptic allusions, and riddle-like clues. One of the most alluring ones out there: hidden messages written in Braille on the wall at the FBI office and on Khatun's face. So, prepare to learn Braille to get ready for season two.
What exactly does the "OA" stand for?This is a tricky one. Many believe the "OA" stands for "original angel," which would go along with the book Alfonso finds and the show's numerous allusions to angelology. However, there are more out there theories lurking around the outer reaches of message boards. For example, this thread explores the idea that "OA" could refer to the Christian ideas of the Alpha and the Omega, which were also the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The best theory I've heard is that "OA" refers to Alfonso's two places of work: the Olive Garden and Applebee's. So, uh, yeah, I'm putting all my money on that one.
Why is there so much Pearl Jam on this show?One thing The OA has over every other prestige television series of the moment: it has the most a cappella performances of a Pearl Jam song that I've ever seen. And it's not just any Pearl Jam song, either; no, it's "Better Man," maybe the best Pearl Jam song ever. Westworld might've had a player piano doing Radiohead songs, but it certainly didn't have a bunch of teens singing the vivid poetry of Eddie Vedder. Step it up, HBO.
Are Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij huge Pearl Jam fans? Do they each have strong opinions about why Yield is actually super-underrated and Binaural is a secret masterpiece? Do they have matching "Yellow Ledbetter" tattoos? It's unclear at this point. But, unsurprisingly, there is a very goofy theory online about how the lyrics of "Better Man" reveal some important secrets about the show. Does the theory make sense? We'll have to wait until season two to find out -- hopefully by then Buck and the other members of the choir will have learned another Vitalogy song.
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