TV Review: The OA
When Netflix released Stranger Things, people went in to overdrive about how brilliant it was (it really was). Then, The OA came along, and the reviews promised it as the next Stranger Things. It tells the story of Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling), who reappears after seven years missing. But the story is not simple – Prairie used to be blind, and now instead returns able to see, with some unusual scars on her back and some incredible stories about her time away. Sounds pretty good already, right?
Prairie, or the OA, gathers a group of five people to her, promising that together they will rescue the other captives, including Hector (played by Emory Cohen) – the guy she is in love with. Every night, she tells them another part of her story, from her childhood to her time as prisoner and her eventual escape. I wish I could say more without giving anything away, but I really can’t, and so much of the plot hangs on the little things that I’m worried about revealing too much.
It’s only 8 episodes long, so it moves at a fair lick, and there are moments you struggle to remember the tiny plot points (which are always really important). But the basic premise is the overriding question: is the OA/Prairie telling the truth, and therefore are we buying in to the mythology, or is this a made-up story as a coping mechanism for the trauma?
The integral part to the story is the group of people the OA recruits to help her. From the local drug dealer, to a grieving teacher, each bring their own part to the story… yet they are never fully explored as characters. With five characters to go with, I wish they had dedicated an episode to each of them. Ultimately, the OA’s story could have been compressed to allow room for the others.
But criticism is light here. Because the idea itself feels brilliant, and the what’s-real-what-isn’t builds a strong story, yet my criticism stands: they introduce a seed of doubt at the wrong point. You have already invested in the magical narrative and suddenly it’s all taken away. If it had been introduced much sooner and they had played the two theories side by side, it wouldn’t have felt so jarring. Instead, you are left doubting all the previous episodes, with none of the satisfaction of the plot-twist excitement.
However the characters are brilliant… and before we go anywhere, Jason Isaacs is heart-poundingly superb as the creepy Hap. He is charming, terrifying, insidious and hypnotising. Hap is the ultimate Bad Guy, but has moments of complexity that can make you doubt him all over again. It is this magnetism, the viciousness of his nature covered by a charming twist, that makes him so dreadful. So, despite the whiplash you get from the sudden introduction of doubt, it remains compelling, if only for the shining cast.
In the end, though, forget the OA/Prairie, forget Hap (I know, it’s very hard to forget Jason Isaacs), it is the troubled character of Steve (played by a captivating Patrick Gibson) that I found the most intriguing throughout. He gets perhaps the most fleshed out backstory, and this makes for one of the most interesting and exciting characters of them all. Gibson plays him with the right amount of rage and fear, conflicted by his loyalties and expectations, who finds solace and perhaps a chance of redemption in the OA. He is the first to buy in to her story, her biggest advocate, and perhaps her best friend. He is the character you are both frightened by and drawn to, in a completely different way to the way Hap hypnotises you. It is he, rather than the OA, that ends up being the lynchpin of the group (that might be saying too much already so I’ll stop there).
Ultimately, there are moments of beautiful highs, and then crashing moments when you feel like you’re wasting your time (the introduction of doubt). The climax – without spoiling it – is one of the best parts. It’s beautiful – all of a sudden you start to wonder yourself at whether the story the OA was telling was true, if that matters, and if the story wasn’t in fact for herself, but for this cast of frightened, lonely and loving people.
The OA is not Stranger Things. It has much more to build up to, the story has intricacies that for now will leave you bewildered, but you hope will be revealed next season. The OA is a show that you will either invest in or it will never cross your path. And I expect anyone that watches it will have their own opinion on the OA’s story. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it – the idea that a story is open to interpretation, and that no one can ever read the same book. Does it really matter whether or not you believe the OA? Or does it matter that the characters she tells do believe her, and it leads them towards something they are striving for? This TV series will linger with you long after you’ve stopped watching. Whether you believe it or not.