The following photo gallery first introduces you to the characters within “The OA” and then digs into some of the series’ biggest plot points. For those who just want a little more information, click through until you’re instructed to stop. For the rest, keep going to better understand the mysteries of Netflix’s new original series.
Brit Marling stars and co-created (with Zal Batmanglij) this mysterious Netflix original series. As Prairie, Marling is the featured star and fascinating central figure. We first encounter her as she runs across a bridge and jumps off, knowlingly glancing back at the child recording her from his car. She survives, and from there we discover she used to be blind and has been missing for seven years.
Alice Krige plays Nancy Johnson, Prairie’s mother who’s overjoyed by her return but deeply worried about her strange behavior.
Patrick Gibson plays Steve Winchell, a troubled high school student with bullying issues who’s about to be shipped off to military school when he encounters Prairie (Marling).
A nice surprise popping up in Episode 4, “Away,” is the 2016 breakout star of “The Night Of” and “Rogue One,” Riz Ahmed. He plays a special FBI agent who’s looking to help Prairie adjust.
Phyllis Smith (“The Office”) plays a school teacher who’s suffering from the loss of her brother. She gets sucked into Prairie and Patrick’s plans, eventually joining the group to hear Prairie’s story told in hour-long chunks every night in secret. Jesse (right) also joins up, along with a few other kids from school.
The embodiment of a stereotypical perfect student, French (Brandon Perea) gets good enough grades to earn scholarships while working to support his family. With a mother who’s a bit too eager for a cocktail, there’s a lot of pressure on French to succeed. Yet he’s drawn to Prairie and her story.
Rounding out the group is Buck Vu (played by Ian Alexander), a member of the school choir. Buck and the aforementioned four others listen to Prairie’s fascinating backstory and try to learn from her wild experiences.
OK, we’re going deeper into spoiler territory here, so be warned: The following is unveiled in and after Episode 2 of “The OA.” Read at your own risk.
Basically, “The OA” takes place in two different time periods: the present day and during Prairie’s past, as she tells her story. When we’re in the past, Prairie is telling us what happened by sharing her story with her recruits from the present day. So, let’s start digging into “The OA’s” biggest secret: what happened to Prairie.
As Prairie tells her recruited crew, it turns out the formerly blind girl was born with her sight…in Russia. She maintains an unshakable bond with her father — in part because of a near death experience she had as a child — even though he’s reportedly passed on. There’s reason to believe he’s only in hiding, though, as the Russian mafia played a part in the separation between father and daughter.
Prairie’s original name was Nina, but when her father was reported dead, she had to move in with her aunt. From there, she was sold to her adoptive parents, Nancy & Abel Johnson, who named her Prairie. They brought her home and took care of her until she went searching for her father at the age of 23.
When she didn’t find her dad at the Statue of Liberty in New York, Prairie remembered how he once said he could find her simply by hearing her music. She starts playing in the New York subway, but a different man finds her instead.
Jason Isaacs plays Hap, a researcher investigating the afterlife by studying people who’ve gone through near death experiences (NDE). He presents his work as an opportunity to Prairie; a helpful partnership for them both, where she can find her father and he can learn how she does it. But…there’s a twist.
Hap isn’t so much accepting volunteers as he is luring NDE survivors into forced captivity. He traps Prairie in a glass box in his basement, along with three other subjects. There, he kills and resurrects each of them over and over again in order to study the afterlife.
Emory Cohen plays Homer, one of Hap’s captives and a former star athlete who almost died playing football. He’s the de facto room leader in Hap’s prison, and he helps Prairie form plans to escape.
The other captives, including Sharon Van Etten (who has a beautiful singing voice), are equally integral to the escape plan. Strength in numbers is a theme of “The OA,” and five is a number that surfaces as a critical tipping point. A shared belief — a shared hope — is key for surviving life.
Paz Vega plays a singer and NDE survivor that Hap fails to recruit by himself. He enlists Homer to assist him, which is quite the gut punch for a formerly innocent victim-turned-assistant in kidnapping
Prairie and her fellow captives plan a number of escapes. A few involve blocking the gas grate that floods their rooms with poison gas, and Homer even starts trying to die while “staying awake” during the experiments. But the most successful attempt used Hap’s misplaced trust in Prairie against him — and it almost worked.
After getting outside the house for the fist time during her captivity, Prairie is hit hard in the back of the head by Hap. She suffers another near death experience, regaining her sight in the processs, but also learning about a method of travel involving wormholes from the medium guarding the border between the real world and the afterlife. By using a series of movements in combination with four other committed individuals, people can be transported through wormholes — and even be brought back from the dead. This is what she’s been preparing the group for, in the present day: working together to send her through the wormhole and save the captives she left behind — especially Homer.
We here at IndieWire are rather spoiler-phobic, and within that mandate is the desire to support artists and their work. So, with this in mind, we’re not going to spoil the very last moments of “The OA.” If you’re interested this far, please watch the ending. If you already did, it’s rather self-explanatory, if still a bit odd. Read more analysis on the final moments here, but do consider watching if you’ve enjoyed this explanation.