This show is a meta writer’s dream. So many layers, twists and turns, fantastic complex characters, and questions of sanity.
To start with the broadest layer, one way to look at the story is as a metaphor for science and practicality vs art and religion. Hap, Elias, the psychiatrists, the adults of Crestwood, and the weapons represent science and the practical world. Prairie, Russia, her biological father Roman, and the other captives represent art and religion. Prairie’s present day team represents the battle between the two in our communities and schools. At Alfonso’s scholarship dinner, one of the businessmen even brings up the idea after listening to Buck sing. What good is art, since it’s not practical? Elias gives Alfonso an unsatisfying, roundabout answer in episode 8, by implying that Prairie turned whatever really happened to her into a mythological hero’s journey as a way for her and for them to be able to cope with it more easily. The problem is that Alfonso, like many in our culture, can only see that maybe there was some poetic framing in the way Prairie told the story, and thinks that makes the whole thing a lie, thus useless. He forgets the changes the group’s time with Prairie has made in all of them, and the easily verifiable parts of her story. The therapist forgets to mention those to Alfonso, too. She was gone for seven years. She has the physical hallmarks of captivity, like vitamin D deficiency. She did regain her sight. She has strange scars on her back. Something did happen to her, the science shows that. But it can’t tell us what. It can only give us theories. For the rest, we have to rely on Prairie’s memories and interpretations, even if we think she’s using poetic license or is an unreliable narrator because of mental illness or for other reasons (maybe Hap kept them on mild hallucinogens the entire time). Art and religion are the ways we express things when science and practicality fail us, because not everything can be put into those terms. It doesn’t make the metaphor less true, it’s just another way of expressing the truth. Not everything needs to be expressed in literal, factual terms to be true. Some truths can only be approached by circling them, slowly and metaphorically.
We’ve come around full circle from episode one in so many ways. Prairie and Steve have been caught colluding again, this time with others. Steve’s family, and the other boys’ families, acted like Prairie was a dangerous, brazen woman again, out to harm their innocent children. Prairie’s parents subdued her and accepted, or possibly initiated, house arrest and medication. Prairie was dismissed as crazy, delusional, and/or a liar, based on scant evidence, like meeting friends late at night in an empty house by candlelight, becoming agitated while telling upsetting parts of her story, and owning books that pertain to her interests and life story. Sort of like the hospital wanting to make her an inpatient in the mental ward in episode one because she insisted on using the internet, and had scars on her back. Sometimes it feels like the entire series could be an allegory for a witch hunt. Don’t let the strange, outspoken woman near the normal people, it might rub off!
Was Prairie’s goal in bringing the group together ultimately selfish or not? I don’t think so. She didn’t know what would happen, when the dimensional shift happened. We still don’t know if she’ll be able to come back to them or not. But, more importantly, she always kept herself slightly distant, while also always acting as a warm, loving teacher and guide. She bonded with them, especially Steve, but she tried to give them each other, most of all. She couldn’t make them a family the way seven years of captivity made her original group a family, but she did what she could to help them bond and see the best in each other. She also helped them see the need that they all had, the loneliness they shared and could help each other overcome.
There is a lot of online speculation about how Elias knew Alfonso was at Prairie’s house, and why he went to the house that night. His presence wasn’t that odd to me, since home security systems that automatically call 911 are popular in neighborhoods like Crestwood, and I could imagine the FBI monitoring calls to that neighborhood, and especially to her house. They may even be watching the house with surveillance equipment in case her abductor comes looking for her. The show may ultimately give a reason why it was Elias in particular, but a law enforcement agent investigating a break in isn’t weird. In a house associated with an ongoing investigation, the FBI may claim superiority in responding to calls.
There’s also a lot of speculation that Prairie’s blindness was psychosomatic because of how her sight was restored. That also didn’t seem odd to me. For one thing, we’re clearly told that we’re going beyond the realm of science as we can understand it, into magic and mysticism. But even within in our own mundane understanding, it’s explainable. The optic nerve goes through tight spaces on its way to the brain. I have what’s objectively a tiny tumor that threatens my sight because if it grows, it might squeeze my optic nerve where it passes between two bones. I assumed the first blow to Prairie’s head shifted the bones in her skull enough to put pressure on the nerve, and then the second shifted them enough to relieve it. I’m sure there are other similar, plausible explanations besides her blindness being psychosomatic.
They never showed Nina/Prairie getting any sort of modern medical diagnosis or care for her vision loss, like an MRI or a CT scan. She was frankly getting horrible, misogynistic medical treatment that assumed she was lying or exaggerating at every turn, as tends to happen to women and girls. It took me a while to find a doctor who would take the symptoms of my brain tumor seriously, so that I could get an accurate diagnosis and treatment. I frankly find it extremely likely that the doctors Nancy and Abel took her to told them that her blindness was psychosomatic and they never pursued it any further. It fits with what they wanted to believe. It’s also much easier than searching out specialists who would take her seriously and do extensive testing in order to get an accurate diagnosis, especially if her blindness was caused by a rare condition.
Prairie’s treatment at the hands of men, and medical professionals, is a major theme of the show that no one comments on, but it’s there from the beginning of the first episode when she returns from captivity and the hospital wants to commit her for being uncooperative and agitated. An uppity, emotional woman, the bane of society’s existence.
She is traumatized by every encounter with medical practitioners that we are shown, and mistreated by every male authority figure who has power over her after she leaves her birth father. Even Abel assumes she’s mentally ill when he discovers her sleep walking and having nightmares as a child. Elias is the kindest of the male authority figures, but he’s dismissive of the intensity of her pain, and implies to Alfonso that she was lying about everything, making up a fantasy as a coping mechanism.
Steve: Steve and Prairie are two sides of the same coin, troubled children formed by their parents and gaslighted into believing that their issues are their own fault. Prairie’s adoptive parents created her by telling her that she was mentally ill and over-attending to her. She is all about the head. Steve’s parents ignore and neglect everything but his physical needs, so he has only developed that side of himself. Because of this, he is only able to express himself through physical actions. Then his parents blame him and physically remove him from themselves, rather than trying to work things out with him. Even when he begins to find some balance and tries to talk to his father, he is violently dragged away. Steve has the most uncertain future. He’s so sensitive, fragile and volatile, and expresses his emotions so physically. His parents are useless, and public schools aren’t set up for kids like him. They didn’t send him to the reform school, maybe because accepting the bribe discredited the school? Hopefully that gave Steve time to convince his parents to give him a second chance. Community service would probably do him good, and closeness with a stable, strong, patient adult who cares about him. Maybe whoever he works for when he does community service, since his relationship with Betty didn’t last. The question right now is, how will he handle what’s happening to Prairie? Will he become violent again, or will Angie, Betty, and the others be able to calm him down?
Alfonso: Alfonso imagines with his eyes open. He doesn’t believe in things he can’t see, that can’t be proven scientifically, and he doesn’t believe in magic or miracles. Alfonso needs help just as much as Steve does, he’s just quieter about it. He’s the Hero kid who seems fine on the outside until he crumbles from the pressure and becomes an addict or commits suicide. I was glad Elias gave him a hug and told him that he’d helped Prairie, but I wish he’d been more insightful about the books. Alfonso desperately needed to be helped by Prairie. He needed that story to be real, and to be able to trust that what was happening between all of them was real. He needed to draw strength from it to keep carrying his own impossible burdens, figure out his own impossible escape, and how he would manage to take care of the people he’ll leave behind. Prairie’s life was a metaphor for his own. When he thought it turned out to be a lie, he was sent crashing out of a hero’s journey, back down to a mundane, abusive life where no one notices his struggles. He believed enough to jump into the movements with the rest, because he is a strong, brave hero. Will he believe that it worked? And what will that mean for him?
Buck: Buck seems well-adjusted, but his parents still call him Michelle, and he’s buying his testosterone from Steve. That suggests that they don’t accept and support him as a trans person. He’s plucky and sensitive, with hidden strengths. He was quietly one of Alfonso’s main supports, and I wondered if they were inching slowly toward romance. He’s an artist, a believer in the paranormal, and an optimist. I think he still believed in Prairie, at least a little, when everyone else abandoned her, based on him keeping her book about angels. That makes sense, since he speaks her language more than any of the others. He didn’t get much focus as a separate character this season. Hopefully he’ll get more in season two.
Jesse: Jesse’s had a hard life, with his mother taking her own life and his father abandoning the family. His sister appears to be his guardian, and not much older than him. The fact that they still live in the big house suggests that there is life insurance and possibly some other inheritance supporting them. Jesse’s wise beyond his years, but also a lost soul. He’s the researcher of the group, and Steve’s friend before the series starts. He’s intelligent, perceptive, organized and patient. Those qualities should set him up for success, but no one pays attention to him in order to guide him toward life choices that would help him succeed. Like Alfonso, he’s quiet and doesn’t act out in school, so there’s no need for anyone to do anything about his issues. He slips through the cracks and his potential is lost.
Betty: Betty has changed the most out of Prairie’s new family. She was the most open to Prairie’s story and ideas, and the most alone at the start. She ended up alone again at the end, before the shooter arrived, having lost her job, but she was happier and more open to possibilities. Prairie set her free from the life that had slowly been draining her vitality away. She advocated for the boys out in the world as much as she could over the course of the story, since Prairie couldn’t do that. Helping them was a way of healing from the loss of her brother, who had been beyond her help for a long time. Prairie told her in episode one to teach Steve, and help him become a man, because he’s the one she lost. Betty took that to heart. She taught him and saved him up until the last moment, and saved herself in the process. Sometimes I wish Betty could adopt all four boys.
Rachel: Rachel is a musician and a singer. She and her younger brother ran away from their prejudiced small town and family. She’s caring and thoughtful. She lost her brother at the time of her first NDE and her close friend, possible lover, August, just before Prairie’s arrival. She misses her brother desperately, and might blame herself for his death, since he died in a car accident. Rachel was never a main character, but she disappeared almost completely for the second half of the season. She was never given a movement. Whenever we saw her she was sleeping. Her plants all died. Her name was also written in Braille outside of Elias’ office. Buck saw what looked like the remnants of her car accident on the street when he was riding his bike during one episode. Maybe she was slipping between the dimensions in some way on her own already, leaving messages and calls for help to Prairie, but couldn’t quite get through. Rachel seemed to be the most spiritual and intuitive of the four that Prairie left behind. If dimensions are fluid, time could be fluid too, so she could already have been traveling back and forth, trying to tell Prairie how to find them. Maybe she wasn’t given a movement because she didn’t need one. Maybe her plants died because there wasn’t enough of her spirit in the captives’ dimension to keep them alive, or maybe she was drawing energy from them for her travels.
Homer: Homer is the one person from the past that we know is a real person, because Prairie watched YouTube videos of him in the first few episodes. He’s loyal, kind, brave and determined, but he does lose hope at times. Without Prairie to keep him going, he has a hard time seeing his way through to the end of the long game. Homer started out worried about his son, but then never mentions him again after the failed attempt to get help using the letter. His son might have become too painful to talk about after that. Homer is the heart of the group, the leader and coach, but Prairie’s knowledge and organizational skills are needed to set them on their journey toward escape. Neither can lead alone. Both are necessary. They often mirror each other, with their beds and bodies up against the glass, reflecting movements back at each other. Is Homer an aspect of herself, on her hero’s journey, but also a representation of her father, trying to reunite with her, but then seeming to have forgotten her? They fall in love, but can never touch. They are separated as soon as they do touch. Homer feels like both the person we know the most about, and one of the biggest enigmas.
Scott: Scott was the negative, bitter, resentful, fatalistic unbeliever who died for the other captives’ sins, then came back to life a devoted believer, healed of his fatal illness, and is now a sunny optimist. His death and rebirth were a turning point for the captives, when they finally believed that maybe Prairie’s crazy plan could work. He was given knowledge and the 3rd movement, but he also gave knowledge of the plan and Prairie’s restored vision to Hap. He was a Doubting Thomas, then he was Judas the Betrayer, then he became Jesus, then he faded into the background for us as viewers, but kept working toward escape. We know very little of his pre-captivity background, other than that he was a drug addict living on the streets when Hap took him. He’s a multi-faceted everyman, and shows us that everyone has a dark side and a light side within them. We’re all capable of betrayal, and of redemption and healing, given the right circumstances.
Renata: Renata was the only captive that we saw taken by Hap, besides Prairie. She was given the 4th movement, but she was never shown in the death machine, and we don’t hear the story of how she was given the movement. We know that she is strong, independent, a musician, forgiving, compassionate, defies gender stereotypes, passionate, and intelligent. I suspect that she is very much like what Prairie, and many others of us, would like to be. If she can be captured, anyone can. She was smart enough to stay out of Hap’s clutches the first time they met, but she trusted Homer, as Hap knew she would. She sensed a kindred spirit, another angel, who needed her help. She tried to give him what she knew how to give, only to fall into the trap of the angel hunter. She forgave Homer and became part of the group once Scott was healed and resurrected, working as hard as anyone else on their escape plans, even though she’d only been part of the group for a short time. Renata is a formidable woman, and I would dearly love to see her left alone in a room with Hap at her mercy.
Hap: Hap is so complex. I’ve written a lot about him already. He surprised me right up until the end. I knew he’d kill the sheriff and his wife, but I didn’t see him releasing Prairie coming at all. I really thought she’d escaped. Why not kill her, when he’d just murdered two innocent people? Because he’s still in love with her, even at that point, and he knows Homer won’t cooperate if he thinks Prairie’s dead. The love triangle is absolutely fascinating. If Hap weren’t a sociopath, if he had turned out to be the person he presented himself as in the pilot, Prairie could have fallen in love with him. They showed us how truly evil Hap could be, in the form of Leon. They’ve shown Hap second-guessing himself, wondering if what he’s doing is worth the suffering it creates. I believe that he was more like Leon until Prairie came along. His compassion still only extends to the work. He doesn’t consider the physical conditions that he leaves his “collaborators” in at all, such as eating nothing but pellets meant for animals and wearing clothing that’s disintegrated into rags. When Prairie rejects him, the compassion he had developed leaves him again. He reverts back to evil, and even quotes Leon to the sheriff. He’s given up his humanity at that point. He’s not just an angel hunter. He’s also an angel, too, but he’s an angel of death. He’s jealous of the living angels and wants to steal what they have. When he can’t, he kills them.
The Love Triangle: Hap kept Homer, instead of Prairie, when he was in love with Prairie, and jealous of Homer. Hap took Prairie’s rejection hard. But Homer had been his son for longer than he’d been in love with Prairie. And Homer complied with Hap in Cuba, while Prairie stayed defiant, and led the rebellion. Homer was the day-to-day leader in many ways, the coach and heart of the group, but Prairie was the one with the vision and the determination. Without Prairie backing him up, Homer loses his direction and becomes easier for Hap to manipulate. Hap knew that Prairie would never give in, especially if he’d taken Homer from her. Hap’s real love is his work, and Homer could share that with Hap, maybe eventually be convinced to voluntarily be a part of it. Homer had the potential to become Hap’s protégé, since Prairie refused to become his partner.
Prairie and Steve: They are both blonde, fair, difficult, socially unacceptable children, with parents who believe they are severely mentally ill and take drastic measures to treat them. Prairie’s through heavy doses medication, and Steve’s through reform school. Both are strong natural leaders, charismatic, but also on the edge of mental illness.
Rachel and Betty: Both are quiet, invisible, and easily forgotten, with brothers they were close to and wanted to protect, but couldn’t.
Alfonso and Homer: They are both loyal, brave heroes who need to be saved themselves, and who lose faith without Prairie there to shore up their strength periodically.
Renata and Buck: They are both outside of gender norms, musical, and have a strong, quiet confidence that allows people to underestimate them.
Jesse and Scott: Both are parentless, directionless, into drugs, and easy-going (once Scott is healed). They are both true believers who have important knowledge. Jesse because he’s perceptive and he knows how to Google, Scott because he’s given it during his resurrection NDE.
Roman and the Oligarchs vs the Voi: The all loving Russian father and parents who want to protect their children vs the Russian gangsters who want only money and try to kill children.
The School for the Blind vs Aunt Zoya and the Whorehouse: The school was filled with kind teachers and meaningful learning. She was still able to speak to her father. It was set up to be a perfect environment for a blind child. At the whorehouse she was an expensive afterthought who was in the way, valued only for the little help she could give with the baby. People were sold there, and her aunt sold her to strangers.
Hap vs Leon: Hap was a sociopath, but his captives had running water, plants, beds, and were kept alive and relatively healthy for a long period of time. He was physically gentle with them, unless they pushed his boundaries. They were his only company most of the time, so he still saw them as humans. Leon left his captives alone in a clinical setting, spending time with them only when he had to, disposing of subjects in quick rotation in order to avoid attachments, viewing them with less compassion than most people would view a lab rat.
Could it be that Prairie was actually held by Leon, the cruel, evil captor, but fantasized about the conditions being better than they were? This is supported by the difference between what she tells her parents vs what she tells the group. A very small room vs a large room, drinking out of a trough vs a flowing spring, a basement vs a mine. Only the animal pellets were the same.
Running Water: The water the bus fell into in Russia, the underground spring running through the cages, Prairie jumps off a bridge into a river at beginning of the pilot, her parents do the dishes with the water running at various times. All are about fear, escape, transition, processing fear.
Still Water: The ice-covered lake in Russia, the full bathtub in Prairie’s Crestwood house, the cylinder of water in death machine. Prairie learns to face her fears in all 3. Also the aquarium in Homer’s vision. He had to learn to face his fears to reach it, then had to overcome more fear to eat the anemone.
Purple Flowers and the Color Purple: Prairie plants some purple flowers with her father just before she gets in the tub and understands her dream, there are some purple flowers in the cages at some point, and there are purple flowers on the table as Nina and her father have breakfast the morning before the bus accident. The liquid preservative that Leon and Hap use to store dead bodies is purple. There is purple in the entryway to the cafeteria the day of the shooting. Betty wears a lot of purple, and has purple in her classroom and bedroom. Betty and OA are both wearing purple the first time they meet. Cultural meanings associated with purple.
OA is meant to be the savior of her group of captives. Betty has done her best to take care of her group of boys. Even without an NDE, Betty is an angel. Purple seems to have a complex meaning in the show. It seems to have to do with angels, major transitions, and dimensional shifts. Death isn’t necessarily death on The OA, it could be a reunion with a lost loved one, a message and/or gift from a spirit guide, or a shift to a new dimension. We bring flowers to funerals when people die, and here we have purple associated with death and flowers. I keep having this feeling that the purple is pointing toward more resurrections, possibly of people who are dead, possibly of people we just thought were dead.
Knives and Cutting Tools: There is a large container full of small cutting tools in Abel’s desk, Prairie picks up a knife while Abel is filming her nightmare, Hap cuts her dress when he releases her and she cuts her own during the retelling, she and Homer cut themselves to create the movement notation scars, she finds a knife in Hap’s kitchen and uses it to make a sandwich. She is kept from sharp tools with her adoptive parents, but manages to cut herself in captivity. The cutting tools are almost always in her hand or used on her. They are symbols of her need to be able to see inside of herself, to find her true self, to dig deep. Her parents keep taking away her ability to think and see clearly and sharply, just like they won’t let her near sharp objects, even as an adult. Ironically, with Hap, she could think whatever thoughts she wanted, even though her body was held prisoner, so she was existentially more free than she’d been since she’d left Russia. No one was controlling her mind. The scars were cuts she made into herself as reminders of who she really is, just as much as they were reminders of the movements.
Mines/Metal: Nina’s father owns a metal mine, Hap lives in an abandoned mine, the dream and the school shooting take place amidst the clanking of metal silverware, her father breaks the ice in the frozen lake with a long metal bar, a gun is also a long metal bar. It seems like a direct thread, from her father’s working mine, that employed people and supported her family and others, to the played out mine, that created a new family of captives under terrible circumstances, to the products of the mine that can be used for good or evil- to feed people or to kill them. Both the silverware and the gun can be used either way. Her father loved her and tried to protect her, but in doing so he sent her away and abandoned her. Would it have been better if he’d kept her in hiding with him, perhaps to die with him? At least they’d have died together. That abandonment is at the bottom of everything else that’s happened to Nina/Prairie, and that question. Which would have been the better outcome? The difficult, harsh, lonely life she’s lived, or the possibly short, but loving life she would have lived with her father? The mine that you don’t have for long but supplies you with riches and deep love or the played out mine that you can live a desperate life in, with a makeshift family, for many years? Homer is the love that she’s been missing, that would make life without her father bearable, but he’s been kept out of reach. She can hear the metal from the working mine in the clanking silverware of the dream, calling her to action. She just has to be brave enough to do what needs to be done. This time the metal bar makes a hole in the glass, and her chest (her frozen heart?), instead of the hole her father made in the ice of the frozen lake. She just needs to slide through the dimensions instead of into the lake.
Glass, Especially Glass Walls and Windows: The walls of the cafeteria, the walls of the cages, the windows of the bus, the clear plexiglass of the cylinder in the death machine, the window in Hap’s kitchen. All are associated with death, the barrier that should be a thick wall, but is clear for Prairie to see and pass through in both directions. They also represent transition and enlightenment. Sometimes the passage through the glass requires breaking it, sometimes the passage is less violent.
Homer’s aquarium matches the cages, and is filled with water. He has to face his fear of death, Hap and the experiments to gain the knowledge that the aquarium holds, then bring it back to the other captives in the cages.
The building Prairie tells Elias about her dream in also has tall glass walls. They talk in front of windows at least one other time. He is a barrier to her freedom and understanding, though he tries to appear as a transparent friend, as he subtly manipulates and undermines her, questioning the reality of her experiences and the rightness of her decisions. I think he’s hiding something, as well. He knows more than he’s saying about her case. His therapy methods are off-kilter, with his goals seeming strange for an FBI therapist, like a through-the-looking-glass version of therapy.
Alfonso and Steve both climb through windows into Prairie’s house, opening the windows rather than breaking them. They are open and willing to work with Prairie. They have an instinctive understanding of how to pass through liminal spaces, even though they aren’t angels. Steve also looks out through his bedroom window in the pilot. Alfonso looks out through the cafeteria windows in the last episode. Both are looking into the distance. They are contemplating the barriers that they know are in their lives, but they can’t quite get through them. Steve can’t find his invisible self, or even name it, and Alfonso can’t get past his rationalism and skepticism in order to allow himself to believe in something that would heal him inside. They both need what’s on the other side of the glass desperately, but they have to find the way to get there.
Space: Khatun’s starfield, the rings of Saturn, the starfield Prairie is in alone, all of Hap’s pictures on his wall board. Prairie’s visions of space are open, unrecognizable places, but Hap wants to ground them and own them. He’s trying to make them someplace real that he can scientifically prove exists. The starfields can’t be anyplace that exists on this plane of existence, because then they could be destroyed or conquered. Why would you send souls someplace that can be easily found and destroyed, like the Rings of Saturn?
Angel of Death: All of Prairie’s NDEs, dreams, and visits with Khatun coincided with an encounter with an Angel of Death type- Hap, the high school shooter, the Voi operative who hits the bus. An angel of death seems to be an essential part of the process for her.
Parents: Prairie has a father figure in each time period, but never a mother, except for Nancy. Each parent is deeply flawed. Her biological father strengthens her, then sends her away instead of going with her. Hap kidnaps and tortures her, trying to hold her body and spirit captive for his own purposes. Abel and Nancy hold her mind captive using drugs and manipulation. Nancy also tries to hold her physically captive, through need and learned helplessness. After Prairie’s biological father, her relationship with her parental figures is abusive, more about their unhealthy needs than her needs. It’s no wonder that she finds it hard to give up on the dream of Roman coming back for her. He was the only one who ever put her first, listened to her, and took her needs seriously. Prairie’s issues with her parents are echoed through her present day group’s relationships with their parents, even Betty’s relationship with her mother.
True Captivity vs True Freedom, or Let’s Get Existential
Her father teaches her, what’s the only way to fight cold? Become colder than it is. Khatun shows her that the way to fight Hap is to make the experiments belong to the captives instead of to Hap. By making the NDEs about getting the fifth movement, they take control, and make Hap follow them. They learn to go deeper inside their minds to escape, rather than pushing their bodies to break outside of the cells. They try to go so deep into their minds that Hap can’t follow. Become colder than the cold.
Her father makes her strong and brave. Khatoun makes her smart and strategic. Her adoptive parents try to keep her weak and dull-witted, so that she can never escape. Hap allows her to be more awake, her mind more free, than they do. Existentially, they are the true captors, which is why she left them to begin with, why she never gave up on finding her birth father, why she was trying to get back to Homer rather than them, why she wasn’t happy to see them in the hospital, and why she is creating escape plans with Betty and the boys. If your mind is free, there are still possibilities. If your mind has been taken from you, what’s done to your body is ultimately irrelevant, existentially, because it’s no longer your body. (As Prairie told us, Homer’s body looked free in Cuba, but his mind was still a prisoner, so the state of his body didn’t matter.)
Symbolically, it’s no accident that Prairie was blind from the time that she left Russia to the time of her first attempt to escape Hap. She allowed herself to be controlled by others for that entire time. After she woke up from that NDE, she took control of her own life again, and what she believed about herself and the world. She fought to hold onto that control, no matter what, even after she returned to Crestwood. She refused to let anyone else frame her narrative or take her inner freedom. Even the new drug that she was taking at the end was apparently mild enough to allow her to think clearly and access the deepest parts of herself. (Or else she wasn’t actually taking it.)
The Books Alfonso Finds and a Theory of How They Got There:
The Book of Angels
Encyclopedia of Near Death Experiences
The first two books are fake books made up for the show. The authors listed are both involved in the production of The OA. The other two are real; obviously The Illiad is a great work of classic literature.
Abel and Nancy (whether consciously or subconsciously) created a child who is considered mentally ill. Nancy is self-aware and honest enough to admit straight out that she wanted an impaired child who would need her and never leave her. Abel doesn’t realize he’s doing it, as far as we know, but he assigns the mentally ill label to young Prairie’s nightmares. Throughout Prairie’s childhood and adulthood, everything she does is approached through the framework of mental illness, based on her parents making that decision about her when they adopted her, and finding doctors who agreed. They convinced her that it was true to the point that she isn’t sure what’s reality anymore. She’s been gaslighted into craziness by them her whole life- see “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The more I think about it, the more I think Nancy bought the books and planted them to discredit Prairie’s story. Nancy had enough information to buy the books, and the motivation to make people think that Prairie was making up her story. She walked in when Prairie was watching the YouTube video of the news report about Homer, then startled when Steve said that Prairie wanted to get to Homer. Homer’s NDE was talked about in the YouTube. Nancy also had access to Prairie’s browser history and videos. Prairie probably mentioned enough to give her the idea for the angel book. She already knew about Prairie’s Russian background. Prairie loved that wolf sweatshirt. I don’t believe she’d keep it under the bed like that, where it would get dirty, and draw someone’s eye to what she was hiding, just like it drew Alfonso’s. It was placed as if it was meant to help someone find the books, not to hide them. Nancy was spending all of her time reading the other kidnap victim’s book, and Abel told her to keep reading. Maybe those books were the next things she read, then she put them in Prairie’s room. We know she’s capable of a long, elaborate con, because she lied about Prairie’s note for seven years to everyone, from her husband to federal authorities. She kept the note hidden and wouldn’t have ever revealed it to anyone if Prairie hadn’t mentioned it to Abel. Buying and hiding books would be a very small act compared to that deception.
More Thoughts on Nancy, Abel and Prairie, Some that Are Extra Paranoid:
The Johnsons work very hard to keep Prairie isolated and to make sure that no one will listen to her or believe anything she says about any part of her life. Did they kidnap her when she was a child because they were so desperate for children and were too old for anyone to allow them to adopt? Her adoption didn’t seem terribly legal to me. She didn’t seem happy to see them again in the hospital. Has she been an abducted child since she left Russia? Have the Johnsons known all along? Were they complicit in holding her captive wherever she was being held for the last seven years? Nancy is very unstable herself. They both put a lot of effort into making Prairie look mentally ill, keeping her from researching her life, and holding her captive in her house. They chose a blind child specifically because she wouldn’t be able to
escape leave them easily, OMG. When she grew up and was ready for independence, suddenly she disappeared for seven years. Was she in their basement? Did they adopt the baby boy, too, and that’s Homer? Nancy hid Prairie’s note. Did she pay a private detective to find and hide Prairie where she could visit her? Abel is complicit in Prairie’s emotional abuse, which we know is real. Nancy is definitely mentally ill herself, and needed for there to be something wrong with Prairie, so she created it and continues to create it. Elias may suspect them, and have suggested that the family all leave the house together so that he could investigate Nancy and Abel. It’s not normal to record your daughter the way they did, or to assume mental illness, or to always assume that Prairie was at fault the way that they did. Combined, those things all suggest abuse. Alfonso told Prairie that she had to accept her parents, but his mother is also a terrible, addicted, neglectful parent. Was that a clue that her parents are at least as bad as his?
Nancy is incredibly manipulative, and desperate to control both Abel and Prairie’s lives. She watches the videos that Prairie records for Homer, which is a major invasion of privacy. Instead of asking if Homer is someone who Prairie knew while she was missing for SEVEN F*CK*NG YEARS, Nancy asks if Prairie is hearing voices again. Because a daughter who’s hearing voices won’t leave her, and a daughter who has a boyfriend might end up with a husband to live with. Nancy turns Prairie’s search for her birth parent into something sinister, because looking for a birth parent is normal for an adult adopted child, but a mentally ill person might wander off in their delusions. Nancy will twist the evidence as hard as she has to in order to avoid facing that Prairie voluntarily left her in search of something better.
Other Random Thoughts, Questions, and Speculations:
Foreshadowing the School Shooting and Dimensional Travel- Just before the accident, the kids on Nina’s bus are talking about a show they’ve all watched where a boy shoots himself. The other kids say it’s like he’s somewhere, but then he ends up nowhere. Nina says she thinks you’re always somewhere.
Prairie eats not just a bird, but a canary, as in the canary in the (coal) mine. Canaries were brought into mines to be a warning for when the miners had hit a pocket of poisonous gas. Birds are more sensitive to poisons in the air, so if the miners saw the bird getting sick, they knew they were next. Sort of like how Hap was always pumping gas into the captives’ cells, just before he experimented on them and left them with amnesia. Prairie is the canary who convinces the captives to figure out what happens after the gas, and then to find a way to fight it.
The School for the Blind vs Her Aunt’s whorehouse- Could it be that when her father sent her away, she was sent straight to her aunt, and the school was a fantasy, or even worse, that she was born and raised there? Could her birth mother have been an illegal Russian immigrant who was reduced to prostitution, who then told her daughter stories about a rich, loving father before she died? Nina might not even be sure if the stories are true or not.
Aunt Zoya says that no one can know that the Johnsons have adopted Prairie. That certainly makes it sound like something illegal is involved, and probably more than originally being an illegal immigrant. Nancy says they’ll make her an American girl. The psychiatrist says that she believes her father’s alive, sending messages to her in dreams, that she has premonitory dreams, and that the Russian mafia is after her. Her adoptive parents deny knowing anything about her past, even though they know she’s Russian and could ask her aunt for a little more detail. She’s a young child, the other things aren’t unusual for kids to think. It’s a good thing that psychiatrist didn’t talk to my kids when they were Nina’s age. Kids who aren’t raised with the same experiences as typical American kids are going to think differently and give different answers on standardized tests, including tests of mental health. Nina’s experiences were drastically different. Cultural test bias is real.
Once she leaves the school for the blind, every single authority figure is dismissive of Prairie, either overtly, like her parents and the child psychiatrist, or subtly, like Elias. No wonder she was easy prey for Hap, who listened to her, and took her seriously, until he locked her in a cage. No wonder she would only speak to a group who had volunteered to pay attention to her story when she was ready to tell it. Up until then, everyone she’d tried to talk to had interrupted her (the police), declared her mentally incompetent (the hospital), or already had a history of disbelieving her (her parents).
One exception: The black FBI agent who first questions Prairie is patient, but his partner is brusk and won’t give him time to see if he can draw Prairie out.
Homer is Homer Roberts, injured in 2007. In Leon’s hospital, they are paging Dr Roberts. Could Homer have become a doctor and have been the one who discovered the captives and freed them? Or, could Leon have kidnapped one of the doctors from the hospital? Could Homer have really been a potential protégé, who changed his mind and then become one of the subjects?
In Prairie’s story, Scott died and came back to life; Rachel became quiet; Homer left to go to Cuba and Prairie thought he’d died. Maybe some or all of them died and stayed dead, but were replaced by others who became the same people in her mind. Or maybe Hap/Leon left their bodies in the purple preservative that August was in. Maybe August was in the morgue drawer instead of a tub, and the sandwiches were in the lab, not Hap’s kitchen. That would explain the two sandwich eating scenes. Maybe in the end Prairie was the only one left alive, and she’s trying to get back to the rest of them anyway. Her first escape attempt could have been a break-out into the hospital or it could have been a suicide attempt.
Maybe Prairie’s story wasn’t made up of lies or delusions so much as a slightly prettied up version for the kids. Or maybe it’s all true. That’s what I’m hoping for, true or very close to the truth. This is a good description of how and why the movements would work and fit into Western mystical traditions.
It’s significant that Hap told Prairie that he was leaving her like he found her- ALONE. He’s been the one who was on the outside, looking in, alone, and now he’s taking her place. But it also preys on Prairie’s loss of love and family. The worst thing she could be is left alone again, having lost another family.
Are Prairie and others constantly switching dimensions? Is she already in a very different dimension at the start of the story, and that’s why fact checking her story doesn’t prove much? Is that why Buck sees the remains of Rachel’s accident? Is there something about OA that creates shifting dimensions around her? Something that came from swallowing the canary?
The dimensions are forks in the path, branching timelines that form from every decision that’s made. If you watch closely, you can catch many moments of blurred, wavy or distorted focus in all or part of the screen just as something is happening or being said that will ultimately be important. When Prairie tells Steve that the girl he likes probably thinks he doesn’t have an invisible self, the camera pans through something semi-sheer on top of the clothing racks, distorting the view. He listens to what she says, and starts thinking about his invisible self, shifting to a different dimension/timeline from the one he’d been in/on. The movements are needed to intentionally jump through multiple timelines at once, like a shortcut, or to jump to a timeline you normally wouldn’t have access to. Prairie may actually be unconsciously shifting dimensions all the time. She’s surrounded by windows and doors, frequently shot through them or in front of them, filming them with her camera, asking for them to be open or closed. Her parents remove her door in an attempt to take away her freedom of travel, then drug her and put the ankle bracelet on. Her mind is her true vehicle though, so they can’t contain her.
Prairie can read minds. She knows when Steve mouths “boring” with his eyes closed, facing away from her; she knows when he’s looking at her scars when her back is turned; she knows that Betty lost someone important to her, and touches her, even though Prairiee hates touching. Is it something about the connection she forms with certain people, or can she figure out what’s going on inside of anyone?
How will the present day group’s actions with the shooter be viewed? What they did was objectively bizarre, but it did lead to the shooter being distracted enough for someone to take him down. Will they be viewed as heroic, strange, or ignored?
What will the team do, now that they’ve come back together again and have used the movements successfully? Will they try to use them again for themselves? Will they need to use the movements to open up a tunnel for Prairie, Homer and the others to return to our dimension? Will Prairie be able to communicate with them?