‘The OA’ Review: Doubling Down on Crazy, Brit Marling’s Netflix Opus Plays to Its Strengths

If the dance scenes got to you in "Part I," then steel yourself for even more endearing, loco shenanigans from your favorite original angel. [Spoiler-Free]
The OA Part 2 Brit Marling
Brit Marling in "The OA"
Nicola Goode/Netflix

Ah, “The OA.” After nearly two-and-a-half years, our sweet, big-brained, beautiful, batshit-crazy baby has returned. And it is a baby — perhaps a toddler, or whatever age little humans start talking, as it enters Season 2 (or “Part II,” as co-creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij prefer). All wide-eyed innocence, sparking massive ideas that come off as existentially awe-inspiring or laughably silly, depending, the hourlong Netflix drama doubles down in a longer, more pretentious, and less vigorous follow-up season that’s part puzzle box, part romance, and wholly insane.

Still, even when annoyances surface — which run from macro structuring issues (Season 2 recycles the same setup as Season 1 and draaaaags out its plot) to micro matters of taste (you cannot expect anyone to take a new “character” called “Old Night” seriously) — “The OA” proves hard to resist. There will be no spoilers in this review, save the basic plot outline, but holy moly is there a lot to discuss with this one.

For those new to this sci-fi world (or who’ve forgotten it over the long break), here’s as cohesive a summary as can be offered: After being introduced as Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling), a long-lost blind girl returned home with her sight, she soon reveals her true self as OA — which stands for “Original Angel,” but the religious connotations are kind of brushed under the rug. She gathers a group of high schoolers to share her story and teach them to travel through dimensions, via synchronized dance like she can, in order to save her friends who are still trapped in an evil scientist’s laboratory.

There’s a lot of talk about near-death experiences, “the movements” (that’s the dancing), and even a tortured romance, but let’s not get bogged down in the details. Season 2 begins by introducing Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a new character who fits right in. A cop-turned-private-investigator, he’s been recruited to find a missing girl by her desperate, non-English speaking grandma. His search eventually sends him to an online game offering cash rewards, a mysterious tech billionaire, and a weird old house on a hill.

The OA Part 2 Kingsley Ben-Adir
Kingsley Ben-Adir in “The OA”Nicola Goode/Netflix

Last we saw OA, she’d been shot by a stray bullet (or was it guided to her?) and her high-school boys were chasing the ambulance as she spoke of traveling to another dimension. Lo and behold, she made it — but there’s a hitch. And I’m only comfortable saying this much because it’s in the synopsis and in the trailer, but OA once again finds herself as the captive of Dr. Hunter Aloysius Percy. “Hap” (Jason Isaacs) also found a way to travel to OA’s new dimension, and they both enter similar yet slightly altered lives once arriving.

This dimension is the primary setting for Season 2 (though the dancin’ boys get looped in for significant chunks as well), and similar patterns quickly emerge. The boys question what they learned from OA, and OA tries to escape the clutches of a mad scientist. Homer (Emory Cohen) plays into matters well, but to say more than he’s still a big deal to OA would be saying too much.

The writers take their time getting to the story shifts. Three of the first four episodes run well over an hour, and they definitely could be cut down to more effective lengths. It’s also a tad disappointing to see a series hellbent on being different fall back into its own comfortable patterns, but, well, then “Old Night” shows up and things get fucking wild. (Just wait until you meet him.)

The OA Part 2 Episode 8 Emory Cohen
Emory Cohen in “The OA”Nicola Goode/Netflix

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cry from laughing or simply stare blankly at the screen as some of the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen unfolds, and you’re asked to take it all very, very seriously. For better or worse, “The OA” never blinks. Its imagination is its bane and blessing, rendering the show inaccessible to certain audiences while successfully distinguishing the series from any other.

The show’s sense of humor is over-calculated and rarely works; meanwhile, much of what it asks you to sincerely believe could elicit far louder laughs. This is earnest drama told with spectacular style, oblivious to snark or unconcerned with its consequences. After the dance scene in Season 1, you know whether or not this is for you, but to be clear: Marling and Batmanglij didn’t ease up on the bizarre touches. Rather than ground their show, they flew even further up into space.

That may be a good thing, as all that weirdness is the show’s most reliable element. “The OA” isn’t quite a mystery box show: While cracking the puzzles can be fun, some clues drop out of nowhere  It’s also not a thoroughly profound drama; there’s too much stagnant time in Season 2, and too many leaps of logic.

Ultimately, those leaps are what make it stand out, what keep you intrigued, and ultimately what makes “The OA” a drama to root for. Through six episodes, there’s nothing as tone deaf as that Season 1 finale when a carelessly inserted school shooting was juxtaposed against a supernatural dance routine to unsettling effect. All the goofy Season 2 moments aren’t tarnished by reality; they’re further removed from it.

Marling and Batmanglij (who also directs) curry favor through earnestness and ambition. They’re trying so hard to make something grand, unprecedented, and unique, that even when they swing too big, the whoosh only makes their mission more endearing. Just pick the little baby up, let them shake the rattle for a while, and put ’em back down again. Maybe it doesn’t have a revelatory, earth-shattering Point-with-a-capital-P, but hey, neither do babies. And we love them anyway.

Grade: B-

“The OA” Part II premieres Friday, March 22 on Netflix.

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