[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “The OA” Season 2, including the batshit finale.]
To say nothing will prepare you for the end of “The OA” could be seen as an embellishment, considering the entirety of Season 2 — a meticulously drawn-out, increasingly bananas story from creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij — is designed to do just that. The madness only escalates as Marling’s “original angel” (aka OA) learns more and more about inter-dimensional travel in order to save her fellow jumpers from Dr. Hap (Jason Isaacs). Yet even when you think the final bit of insanity has played out, a whole other layer of crazy is spread over the series, and the ending of “The OA” goes totally off the rails.
On the one hand, that’s exactly what fans should want. The Netflix original series puts its emphasis on “original” at every turn; so much so, it’s harder and harder to complain whenever the bold choices don’t gel with your expectations. Only Marling and Batmanglij have a firm grip on what’s allowed in this unique world. We’re just along for the ride.
But that doesn’t mean you have to like the ride. Viewers can admire something and still get a headache from it. After Season 2, it’s getting difficult to imagine a wide swath of people sticking with the show through long waits between seasons and increasingly complicated storytelling. It’s one thing to ask a massive audience to go along with a wild two-hour movie (as Marling and Batmanglij have made in the past), but it’s quite another to assume they’ll keep coming back for 20+ hours of TV. By pursuing its uncompromising vision, is “The OA” limiting its audience — and, ultimately, cutting short its lifespan?
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Just as it’s hard to say how many Netflix subscribers are watching — and how many Netflix subscribers need to watch for the series to continue (but this show can’t be cheap) — it’s also difficult to assess just how much weirdness viewers can take. After all, “The OA” is coming off a season where the “movements” were the most divisive moment, and Season 2 takes place in a whole other dimension, with wholly fresh weirdness. Things are getting crazier, so let’s look at the escalating Scale of Batshittery, divided into three tiers: Fun Surprises, Admirable Creative Efforts, and When “The OA” Goes Too Far, (aka The New “Movements”), to try to figure out if “The OA” is sustainable as is, or if its unchecked ambitions indicate a quick exit to the original angels in the sky.
The Fun Surprises
- Season 1 (if not Marling and Batmanglij’s past film work) earned some big name fans. Zendaya’s appearance in Episode 1 as an experienced veteran of “the game” (an online puzzle to find new dimensions within an old house in San Francisco) actually turns into a recurring role that’s exciting every time she shows up. (Especially when she’s trapped in the game, looking like an old, grizzled version of herself.) Riz Ahmed’s pop-in is less justified, since he literally shows up at the end of Episode 6 (as an FBI agent promising to help OA) and then never resurfaces. Finally, the much-discussed but never seen Pierre Ruskin is embodied by ex-“Mad Men” star Vincent Kartheiser — who, quite frankly, is the perfect person to play a reclusive rich dude who creates a viral computer game to lure in cheap labor for his own nefarious purposes. Not too distracting but fun for entertainment fans, these kind of surprises work every time.
- Honestly, if you would’ve told me robots performing the “movements” would look less silly than people doing them, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. And yet, the little faux-wooden cubes that sprang to life and created a surprise path for Elodie (Irène Jacob) to travel between dimensions look kinda cool. They’re cute, portable, and certainly a practical — dare I say logical? — means for a person to travel on their own. No need to lug around a bunch of friends, or waste time training new people, when there’s a robot that’ll do the movements for you. This was a clever addition, doubtful to piss anyone off, unlike say…
On-the-Edge Creative Ideas
- These are the actual words Netflix uses to describe OA’s Episode 5 discovery within the mysterious S.F. house of multiple dimensions. Sitting in a tree that tells OA it’s “been calling you from inside the earth for years,” she’s told by the talking vines that she’s a medium who can communicate with the natural world. In other words, she’s like Mark Wahlberg in “The Happening,” except when she stares at a tree in the corner of an office and asks, “Can you hear me?” the tree can actually hear her. (You know, assuming it’s not a plastic plant.) This is kinda silly, but works as an excuse to create lush, arresting visuals — OA lovingly entwined by an enormous space tree is something we’re glad to have seen.
“Old Night” (aka the Horny, Psychic Octopus)
- When OA walks through the dark pathway lit by neon overhead pipes toward an unknown destination, and even when she’s strapped to a chair in front of an underground audience, it’s unlikely that anyone was thinking, “Oh, there’s going to be an octopus in a giant glass tank sitting behind her, waiting to wrap his tentacles around her arms in order to psychically communicate with OA.” I guess she’s not just a medium for plants? Either way, the spectacle itself is stunning — there are multiple wide shots of a red octopus perched halfway out of its tank, tentacles dangling across a blue stage — but the concept is out of this world. Perhaps the episode title, “SYZYGY,” should’ve tipped us off some weird shit would be happening, but this is the first big, unnecessary risk taken in Season 2; mainly because those tentacles start undressing her for Lord knows what reason.
Hap’s Inner Lab (aka the “Invisible River”)
- After repeated teases as to what’s hiding in Dr. Hap’s one unseen laboratory, it’s revealed in the finale to house the dead bodies of many deceased characters. They’re suspended in a pool and used as a kind of living fertilizer to grow flowers that allow anyone who eats them — yes, eats them — to see what dimension they’re about to reach. This makes sense in the show given that Hap’s original research involved him repeatedly killing and resuscitating people who’ve had near-death experiences in order to understand how to reach a separate dimension, but it’s still a pretty darn odd sight to see. Why’s it called the “Invisible River”? Because it’s a pathway to a dimension you can’t see, and it also only exists in their current dimension. (I think — I’m not going to pretend to understand every aspect of “The OA.”) This is a solid narrative payoff, albeit a peculiar one.
Scott Patrick Green/Netflix
When “The OA” Goes Too Far
Hap Eats a Flower
- This is just silly — and the self-seriousness of “The OA” means it can’t afford to be silly. Sadly, it’s also only one example of the many wackadoo dialogue exchanges that, when taken out of context, sound utterly absurd. During the season finale’s climax, Hap and OA are arguing over who should be traveling between dimensions, how it should be done, and what’s worth sacrificing in order to make such trips possible. They, of course, disagree, and just as obviously, they air their grievances while giant versions of the dancing robots start doing the movements all around them. That’s when this exchange happens:
- OA: “Open the invisible river. I’ll take us back to the dimension when we’re both dead.”
Hap: “You wouldn’t.” [Hap then slowly puts a flower petal in his mouth and chews it, daring OA to follow through on her threat.]
- I mean, come on. “Open the invisible river”? “A dimension when we’re both dead”? Eating a flower petal as the ultimate life-or-death threat?! This is so, so, so strange, and even in context, laughable. These kind of moments pop up more often than they should, making it seem like no one on the “OA” writing staff is able to step back and say, “Hold on. Let’s make this a little more accessible.” Of course, that’s exactly the kind of “let’s go there” thinking that allows them to create such unfiltered originality, and make “The OA” stand out in the first place, so here we are: one last challenge to overcome, and it’s a biggie…
The Final Meta Twist
- So here’s the ending to “The OA” in its simplest form: After Homer is shot by Hap, OA takes them all into a new dimension to try to save his life — a new dimension where OA is an actress named Brit, Hap is an actor named Jason Isaacs, and she got injured performing a stunt on the set of a TV show. That’s right! OA takes them into our dimension; outside of your TV set and into your very own reality. We’re all in “The OA” now! Yet again she’s hurt and in need of help. Yet again she’s stuck with Hap, but this time Homer is trapped inside another body (Steve’s body, to be specific, who somehow got sucked into the inter-dimensional travel, too).
Now, no matter where these choices land on your own personal Scale of Batshittery — you might think Hap eating a flower is totally in line with expectations set by the show, or you might think the Tree Internet (seriously, just say that phrase out loud a few times) is so goofy you can never take anything about “The OA” seriously again — the point is they all add up. One way or another, the experience is either increasingly addictive or increasingly alienating, and finishing the season isn’t a given. Even if audiences do finish it, how many are going to be able to stomach the meta twist of writers writing themselves into their characters? How many will admire “The OA” getting so meta, so pretentious, and so earnest in their wonky blend of religion and physics that they require you to believe outside the TV show itself? And do its creators have a responsibility as storytellers to give themselves the best chance of finishing what they’ve started, or should they just keep creating for themselves and see what happens?
There is no real way to prepare for such a twist — even though one character’s trip to another dimension revealed OA called herself “Bri” there, and showed Hap sporting a British accent just like Jason Isaacs’ — but should audiences prepare for an ending? I like “The OA,” bonkers twists and all, and don’t want to see it cut short. What happens next in the real world is up to the Netflix algorithm and those interpreting its results, yet what happens next in the show is anyone’s guess. Or is it the other way around? Living in a world where Brit Marling controls whether or not her mind-boggling show continues on is the kind of wish fulfillment fantasy we can get behind, but at some point, “The OA” may have to accept the reality it’s been given.