Available on Netflix
When The OA first came to Netflix, it was to minimal fanfare. Just as Stranger Things came to us with almost no publicity, so The OA came with a not especially informative trailer and a title and that was about it.
Then, of course, we got to watch them and marvel in projects that at times bordered on genius. The first season of The OA wasn’t exactly plain sailing or without its ups and downs, however. Indeed, it took me a little while to get through all the episodes, rather than just boxsetting them (episode reviews: 1, 2-4, 5-8).
But Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s story about a blind girl (Marling) who disappeared and then reappeared seven years later, her sight restored, and now claiming to be ‘The OA’ (the original angel), was nevertheless a stunningly original piece of work, unlike pretty much anything you’ll see on TV, outside David Lynch’s most auteured piece. In parts supernatural, in parts fairy tale, it was a musing on a musing on the power of storytelling – and of the need to tell stories – as well as of art, music, dance, nature, life, love, masculinity, femininity and more.
The ending, however, wasn’t so much ambiguous as diminishing, suggesting that the whole thing was just made up by The OA based on things she’d seen and read, in the style of The Usual Suspects.
Marling also suggested that she hadn’t even considered a second season and that was that for the story – until the show’s success inevitably resulted in its renewal.
A fairytale sequel
What then for season two – or Part II as it now is? How do you create a sequel to a fairy tale? And how do you do it when you no longer have the element of surprise, as you did with your first season?
As you might expect, Marling’s answer is not whatever answer you just came up with but is something staggeringly different. Indeed, there’s one key line in Part II that sums it up: “I think logic is over-rated.”
And I mean that in a good way, because in terms of ideas, I’d say Britt Marling is the closest we now have to a young, female David Lynch. Or maybe David Lynch is just the older male version of Marling.
The first few episodes of Part II feel a bit like ret-con, in which the first season’s ambiguous ending is chucked into the wastepaper basket to enable the second season to proceed. Now everything she said was true and ‘the movements’ – a strange series of dance moves and hissing performed with others – do indeed enable travel to other dimensions.
The season opens with The OA waking up in another dimension in which Joe Biden is president and she never went on that childhood bus trip that left her blind. Instead, she’s now a rich Russian’s daughter with tech giant Vincent Kartheiser (Proven Innocent, Mad Men, Das Boot) for a boyfriend.
However, it’s not long before she’s checked into a mental facility in San Francisco run by none other than the man who genuinely did imprison her underground for seven years, Jason Isaacs. Because he, too, used ‘the movements’ to travel with his remaining captives to the same dimension. Except he’s been here for some time and he’s been advancing his studies even further…
At the same time, former FBI agent turned private investigator Kingsley Ben-Adir (Vera, Deep State) is looking for a girl who went missing two weeks previously, but mysteriously was able to keep sending her grandmother thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. It all seems linked to both a derelict house and Kartheiser, but how and why?
Meanwhile, back in the previous dimension, all of The OA’s friends back home are still dealing with her tragic death and apparent lies. Sure, they’re now seen as heroes, thanks to their intervention at the shooting, but had they truly been suckered in by her? Most are convinced they were, but some hold out hope of being able to use the movements to be reunited with her in a new reality.
The original genre
For about the first three or four episodes, The OA feels like a far more conventional affair. We have a PI investigating a missing girl and we have a far more literal foundation for the movements. It feels like a standard piece of sci-fi looking at the different paths we might take in life, but that just happens to have a dance-based way to travel between parallel universes, rather than some form of science (cf Sliders and Counterpart).
Indeed, somewhat worryingly, that investigation into the missing girl starts to reveal a new plot that feels an awful lot like Falling Water, with Kartheiser doing lots of secret corporate research into dreams.
However, as with Killing Eve and the recent Twin Peaks revival, what we soon discover is that Part II of The OA is only really much cop when Marling (and to a lesser extent Batmanglij) are involved. There are co-writers this season and every time we come to an episode Marling hasn’t written, everything is relatively vanilla.
Then, just as in season one when we came to episode 4 and ‘the movements’ were revealed, we come to episode 4 of Part II and finally, logic gets to take a back seat.
I won’t spoil you if you haven’t seen it yet, but suffice it to say, you will know the exact moment when everything changes in Part II. After that, you realise that once again you’re going to be taken on a fairytale journey that defies logic to give you bonkers concepts that appear to have come out dreams.
There are strange things in swimming pools, strange things in people’s ears, strange things in small cubes, strange things in big cubes, other ‘travellers’, a flower map and so many wonderful things that again, I don’t want to spoil for you.
And again, it’s only when Marling is co-credited on an episode that we get these wonderful things, so expect a few speed bumps after episode four.
Things do come together at the end, with all the various plot strands finally meeting up. But I have to tell you now, as with season one, the ending doesn’t especially answer all the questions raised. Indeed, it raises far, far more questions than in answers.
It doesn’t come from nowhere – there are hints throughout that it is coming, but there’s no way on Earth you’d guess the eventual revelation – but unlike the first season’s ending, it does leave things open for a Part III and more importantly, it’s genius in its audacity.
Part II of The OA isn’t as frustrating or as magical as the first part and its lack of ambiguity is slightly disappointing. It’s also more sci-fi than fairy tale at times, which is a slight letdown, too.
But overall, it’s a really splendid piece of work with messages about the self, about dreams and about reality itself. In some ways, it’ll even have you doubting your own reality by the end.
Whatever you do, don’t look for spoilers. Whatever you do, don’t give up if at some point you feel frustrated by the narrative. Just go with the flow and watch all the way through to the end.
Seeing as I can’t post any videos of spoilers, please enjoy one of David Lynch’s finest moments from Twin Peaks. It’s like a masculine version of The OA.