This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason Netflix released the whole season the same day.
Should You Find Your Way To The OA?
After disappearing seven years ago, Prairie Johnson comes back home, but she's not the same. Should you hear her story?
What Is This Thing?
Someone in a car stopped in traffic happens to be shooting a phone video when a woman darts across a bridge, looks back, and jumps. She survives...and turns out to be Prairie Johnson, who mysteriously disappeared seven years earlier. Except she's different, in many respects, than she was when she was last seen: she has strange scars all over her back; she has a strong aversion to being touched; and while she had been blind when she departed, now she can see. Where was she and what happened to her?
When Is It On?
Whenever you like: Netflix dropped the whole eight-episode season today.
Why Was It Made Now?
Netflix has so much money, it'll even throw a bunch at the star and writer/director of little-seen indie feature films....
What's Its Pedigree?
...Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Maybe you've heard of Sound Of My Voice and The East, in which Marling starred and which she co-wrote with Batmanglij, who directed them? But probably not; even among indie movies, they're pretty culty. The two reteam here -- Marling stars as Prairie and is credited as a producer and co-creator. Joining her are Alice Krige (that crazy horse lady who boned Dylan on 90210, among many other credits) and Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) as Prairie's parents, Nancy and Abel; Phyllis Smith (The Office) plays Betty, a high school teacher who gets embroiled in Prairie's story; Shuler Hensley (Broadway) plays the father of a neighbour kid Prairie sort of befriends. Future episodes promise appearances by Emory Cohen (I could be rude and give his past credit as Smash but instead I'll say Brooklyn; he's briefly in the series premiere, in video footage Prairie finds online, detailing his miraculous recovery from a traumatic football injury) and Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter movies).
It's a compelling premise -- so compelling, in fact, that it's not even the first series this year to explore the idea of an abducted girl returning to her old life; that would be BBC's Thirteen. Except Prairie disputes the version of events as the authorities and her loved ones understand it; when the FBI agent who was the lead on her case asks about it, she tells him, "I didn't disappear. I was present for all of it -- all seven years, three months, eleven days...." She doesn't dispute his characterization of having been held captive, with others, who she says were "gone" when she started making her way toward the bridge, but she does say she wasn't trying to kill herself when she jumped: "I was trying to get back to them, to-- I was trying to get help....We all died more times than I can count." She also keeps reminding those around her that she doesn't consider "Prairie" her name anymore; she calls herself The OA.
Leaving the particulars of her situation aside for the moment (we will definitely come back to them), Marling does some very nice work portraying the difficulties of a woman reintegrating into society: when her parents drive her back home -- to a house she's seeing for the first time -- it's surrounded by noisy well-wishers with welcome signs, at which Prairie covers herself completely with the blanket she's brought from the hospital and trudges through the crowd to the door like a kid in a poorly made ghost costume.
When she strikes up a friendship -- or, more accurately, a strategic partnership -- with Steve (Patrick Gibson), a troubled neighbour kid/high school bully, Prairie starts opening up in ways she hasn't with Nancy, maybe because Steve doesn't want it as much. In exchange for a mobile router (on the advice of hospital personnel, Nancy hasn't given Prairie the wifi password), Steve gets Prairie to pose as his stepmother for a conference with his teacher to convince her that he shouldn't be sent away to military school, and the two hit Ross to buy her an outfit that will make her look the part better than the oversized fleeces she's apparently been borrowing from her mother. Steve complains that his girlfriend has just dumped him, and Prairie muses, "That's okay, you don't want to go there until your invisible self is more developed anyway....You know, your longing, desires you don't tell anyone about....You spend a lot of time on the visible you -- it's impressive -- but she probably thinks the invisible you is missing." With Betty, who wants to expel Steve for punching another student in the throat, Prairie tries to get her to talk about what made her want to be a teacher in the first place: "It's about you and Steve, and the play -- cast of two; setting: classroom -- over many dimensions, through time." Where did this kind of enlightenment come from? Was Prairie in a cult, or what?
All the interesting real world elements -- like a very nice scene in which Steve's parents, regretfully, have to come to Prairie's house and tell her parents to keep her away from their son -- are obliterated in about the last twenty minutes of the pilot, after Prairie gathers her squad of people who are "strong...flexible, and brave" and tells them her story, which starts with her birth in Russia in 1987. Her oligarch father cured her terrible drowning nightmares by forcing her to step into a hole in a frozen lake! She was the only survivor of a school bus crash that left her blind! But before she returned to life without her vision...this!
I can't lie: as soon as I saw baby Prairie curled up in her nest in space, I said "I'm out," aloud, to an empty room. It's either aliens or something even less comprehensible than aliens; either way: no.
It's really too bad Lost has ruined every other TV show that aims to unspool a sci-fi-tinged mystery over several episodes, because now the viewer -- or, at least, this viewer -- is automatically suspicious that it will have a satisfying ending. But here we are! Even though The OA is only eight episodes long, the first was full of enough Dharma flags for me that I can't wholeheartedly commit to it.