The OA Season 1 Episode 7: Empire of Light Recap


This is a difficult episode. Buck’s front door slamming shut was indeed a bad omen. We spend the episode entirely in the present day, as those characters are faced with increasing emotional challenges. Prairie starts moving back out into the world and confronting people’s image of her as a victim. She’s forced to face the pain she’s caused her adoptive parents, and the trauma they caused her as a child. Her story starts to come full circle.

Abel and Nancy are woken up in the middle of the night by Prairie screaming and crying. He goes in to check on her and finds that she’s had one of her premonitory nightmares. He sits with her as she recovers. Prairie asks Abel if he’s mad at her for running away. She tells him that she thought he’d understand her note, and that she’d be back in a few days. He looks surprised, then tells her that he forgot about the note.

Prairie tells Elias, her therapist, about her dreams. He asks where the latest dream took place. She describes a place with high ceilings, lots of glass, and metal clanking, like silverware. He suggests that the dreams may be her mind putting together small clues from her environment rather than true premonitions. The dreams occur at important junctures in her life. This could mean that another juncture is coming.

Prairie is worried that she won’t figure out the meaning of the dream in time to act on it. Elias suggests that she accept the dream and not push herself to decipher it. Prairie says she can’t, the pain is too big. Elias tells her that hugs help contain the pain. He says a hug sets a limit on the pain, puts a perimeter around it, which is a lovely metaphorical sentiment, but not actually practical. Then he asks, “How big can the pain be, really?” And that’s the problem. It can be pretty f**king huge, Elias. Whether physical or emotional, it can be so huge that you feel like there’s nothing left of you but pain. He doesn’t even know what she’s gone through. How dare he diminish it.

Prairie thinks about just accepting the dream.

Abel and Nancy wait outside in the hall for Prairie’s session to end. Abel asks Nancy if Prairie left a note. Nancy is surprised at the question. Prairie and Elias come out into the hall. Nancy asks to talk to Elias. He suggests they all talk together now, in the hall. Nancy wants to talk about medicating Prairie again. Abel says it didn’t work. Elias says he can’t prescribe meds, and suggests the family do something they enjoy together.

Steve stays after the bell in alternative classroom to talk to Angie. She shows him the funny videos she’s been editing, and he kisses her. She asks him to kiss her again.

He’s happy and excited when he catches up with Prairie and the others walking to the empty house. Prairie has Steve coach the others through practicing the movements. They all cooperate to perfect the movements.

When Steve gets home that afternoon, his father is waiting for him. Steve’s father got a call from the parents of the boy that Steve injured in the throat earlier in the season. He had to pay the boy’s family $5,000 for medical expenses. Steve asks to take a shower, then promises he’ll talk the issue out with his father.

Betty has received the $50,000 life insurance check from her brother’s lawyer. She doesn’t want to give up the piece of paper it’s written on, because it reminds her of him. Prairie tells her objects carry meaning in difficult times.

Betty asks if opening the dimensional tunnel will be dangerous. Prairie answers:

” I don’t think so. The force of the movements done with perfect feeling opens something that’s already here, like an invisible river that’s already here. But you have to jump in. You have to want to jump in.”

Betty asks where it will take her. Prairie says she doesn’t know, the future is dark.

Steve practices what he’s going to say while he’s in the shower. When he gets out and goes downstairs, two giant goons from the private prison military school reform school are waiting to drag him away. There is no discussion.

Betty is driving by his house as Steve is being taken to the reform school van. She follows the van when it drives away. On the way, she calls the principal to complain about him turning Steve in to his parents when the situation was already delicate. She lets slip that they are meeting at the house before she hangs up.

Betty follows the van until it stops at a gas station. She stops and talks to Steve inside the convenience store while the reform school goons are doing other things. Betty creates a plan for Steve to yell that the goons are molesting him, and Betty will back him up. Steve can’t go through with it, so Betty yells that she saw him being molested. Everyone tries to ignore her. The van tries to drive away. Betty grabs her life insurance check and stops the van. She uses the check to bribe the goons to leave Steve with her. She found a use for the money that feels right to her.

Prairie, Nancy and Abel go out to dinner at Olive Garden. They are having a nice time until a young woman comes over and takes a picture of herself with Prairie before the family can stop her. The things she says about Prairie shatter the mood. Nancy can’t let it go. She gets more and more upset about the things people might imagine about Prairie because no one knows the true story.

Prairie decides to tell her a little of the story but starts with the craziest part. Nancy points to the scars on Prairie’s back, and Prairie explains that she made them herself. She says that they are two notations of the movements to open a tunnel to another dimension. She knows because she is the Original Angel (The OA). Nancy is not ready to hear anything like that, and slaps Prairie. Alfonso is their waiter, and recognizes how badly out of control this is getting. He grabs Prairie and they escape out the back door.

He drives them back to their neighborhood, then stops to talk. He reminds her of everything she’s told them about, poetically summarizing her life as she’s told it. But, as he finishes, he tells her that she’s never told them about the Johnsons. They rescued her from a hard life and raised her. She responds that they medicated her and thought she was crazy. They’re not her parents. He responds that they are her parents. She could have stayed with Khatoun and her father. She says she didn’t choose to return to Crestwood. He says that maybe she did. Maybe this is the missing piece. Alfonso knows a lot about accepting the parts of yourself, your parents, and your life that you don’t like. Prairie looks floored by this realization.

Just then, Steve and Betty drive up. Steve jumps out of the car, yelling for OA. He runs into the house and upstairs. Prairie and Alfonso follow. Prairie tries to calm Steve, but he accuses her of selfishly using them all as her slaves. Her doesn’t think that she genuinely cares about any of them. He finally lets Prairie hug him, but then he stabs her in the leg with a pencil, hard. Prairie startles, but then holds him tighter and doesn’t let go.

Steve finally accepts her affection. He asks how she survived so long down there. She says she survived because she wasn’t alone.

Next time, Prairie finishes telling her story.


Alice Krige is amazing in the restaurant scene. Hearing the things that the other woman has imagined about Prairie sets Nancy off, bringing to the surface everything she’s imagined in the seven long years that Prairie was missing. The combination of not knowing what really happened, imagining the worst, and thinking about other people having an image to pin their fantasies to, is too much for her. She melts down. Prairie choosing that moment to tell her something that sounds like a delusion pushes her right over some kind of edge. This is not the way she thought it would go when she got her daughter back. This is probably not the daughter she thought she signed up for.

How many jobs does Alfonso work? If this were a different show, I’d want to see him working in the background anytime a character goes into a service-type business.

I’ve been wondering if Steve’s parents were ever going to make good on the threat of military school. Betty was great, and using her brother’s money to save another troubled young man from a bad situation was probably cathartic, but I’m not sure how much she accomplished in the long run.

What are the reform school goons going to do now? Accuse Betty of kidnapping Steve? Say that Steve escaped? Take the money and run? At least Steve knows that there are people who think he’s worth making sacrifices for. Whatever happens, he can take that with him.

Alfonso is so mature, but sometimes I think he’d be better off if he wasn’t. He’s shouldered the burden of adulthood in his house because there are younger children, and no one else to take care of them, or his mother. It’s especially sad that he’s so accepting of the status quo. It feels like he accepts that the world is a dark place where you can’t expect much from people. He doesn’t dare to dream much, because he knows those dreams will be dashed. I wish he had a little more anger or resentment in him, though. Some kind of passion or fire to show that he realizes that his situation is wrong, and it didn’t have to be that way. I worry that he’s just going to give up hope and everything else eventually.

I think Alfonso’s right that Prairie needs to process her time with Nancy and Abel. She doesn’t have to accept them as perfect parents, but they are the parents she’s got, and they do love her. They did their best, even if much of what they did was terribly wrong. She’s the opposite of Alfonso. She has so many strong feelings about the ways she was harmed that she can’t see the good any more. But in this episode she brought up a story about how well they tried to treat her, when they indulged her with trips to the museum. She’s such an unusual person, and they just weren’t prepared for a child so far outside of the mainstream.