Episode 5, The Medium and the Engineer, is another action packed episode of The OA, from Homer’s dream to the time OA spends communing with tree roots to the trippy path that leads Karim to reunite with Fola. OA and Karim enter the house through the secret door and follow the labyrinth, which takes them each on a different journey. If I’m reading the signs right, both Homer’s dream and the house’s imagery are connected to Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically the 7th Circle of H-ll. In retrospect, there have been connections to Dante all along.
The mysticism in this episode is intense. I feel like I’m Fola in the hall of mirrors and need Karim to carry me out, or I’ll never stop analyzing it.
We start this epic episode with a very different Homer stumbling down a dusty dirt road, carrying a bundle of wood on his back. He knocks on the door of a stone house, which is answered by an old woman, who tells him, “I have skin, all textures, all shades, for a price.”
Homer tells her, “I have no money. I only have this wood, that I need to sell for food.”
She tells him she’ll accept a trade and pulls him inside. He drops his bundle in front of her fire, where she sorts through it, exclaiming over the better pieces, such as ash or oak. Homer is drawn to her collection of skins, which consist of either the back or front of a human torso, framed in a wooden box.
She turns him away from the first set he sees, telling him they’re limited edition and more than he can afford. “You’d have to cut down every tree in England.” She redirects him to a set in the back of the room, asking if he wants a boy or a girl. When he says he’s looking for a girl, she realizes he means a particular girl, a lost love. She’s happy to help him find his love, and, after looking at him more closely, directs him to touch a particular woman’s back. But Homer isn’t sure he’d recognize her, because he’s only touched her once, so the old woman tells him to use all of his senses. He kneels down and smells the back, then runs his tongue over it.
Suddenly, there’s a flash of memory to original flavor Homer and OA touching for the first time, along with the sound of a glass being knocked over.
Dr Roberts startles awake, sitting at his desk in his dark office at the clinic. He sits and pants for a moment, then picks up a photo of OA and looks at it.
That’s right kids, our Homer is definitely in there, and he’s ready to come out. I’m way too excited about this. 😍🍀🍾💖 And worried. Hap is lying in wait for him. 😱
Karim and OA have gone through the
looking glass magical door in the SYZYGY wine cellar, into the game a tunnel. It starts out large enough to drive a truck through, but narrows until they need to crawl through in single file- a tunnel the size of a coffin. OA has gone with the latest in Jurassic World fashion and is still wearing her red evening gown and high heels for this adventure. Karim wears what he always wears, whether he’s sleeping or attending a formal event. Guess which outfit is easier to spelunk in? Who cares about the condition of OA’s legs by the time she’s done? It clearly would have taken too long to scare up another outfit. Karim waits for no one.
The tunnel leads them to its watery end, where it takes a sharp 90 degree turn straight up and becomes a well. There’s also a locked decorative grate that would have allowed them to continue horizontally, but suddenly water rushes in, so the obvious thing to do, if they want to live, is to follow the water to the top of the well.
This triggers memories of her the bus accident for OA. It takes her a moment to come back to herself and remember to swim. She also loses her shoes, which is hardly a tragedy (though they were cute in the appropriate situation).
OA reaches the top of the well first, and turns to pull Karim out. They’re in the pitch dark basement of the puzzle house. It’s creaking and groaning, as old houses do. Karim uses his lighter as a torch and announces his phone is dead. It’s not OA’s first time through this type of life altering, underground adventure, so she doesn’t waste time making obvious announcements.
There’s a door up near the ceiling, where one would expect the door to a basement to be, but Karim doesn’t think there’s a way for them to get to it. OA, who’s used to living in the dark, and now has the lighter to help, goes right over and finds a narrow staircase built into the wall, leading up to the door.
Guess Karim grew up someplace like the Southwest, where basements are uncommon? The whole set up wasn’t that strange for the basement of an old Victorian house. There should have been a bunch of old broken stuff left by previous owners, though.
But OA takes care not to emasculate Karim. She just says that she feels something against the wall, and lets him figure out that it’s a staircase. Then he leads her up the stairs by the hand, and figures out that this must be how Michelle has been getting in and out.
OA, the blind woman who broke Hap’s kitchen window and made a run for it, poisoned him, and survived 7 years in basement captivity, now needs to be led by the hand by Karim? Don’t think so. She’s keeping him happy and avoiding arguments, not following him.
At the top, they enter the foyer of the house. Did I see that right? Did they come out through the fireplace? One of many references to H-ll in this episode. The ground floor is unfurnished, and has been abandoned in the middle of a remodel. It’s dark, of course. There are curtains over the windows. Then OA and Karim go through double, carved, wooden doors, into a room whose walls look like very old stucco. There they find more construction materials, including paint thinner, which Karim uses to make a torch for himself.
Once they have light, they can see that they are in the room where the puzzle gets serious. The curved, double-sided staircase is built to surround the doorway they just came through. The portraits of the medium and the engineer are to either side of them. Fittingly, OA is next to the medium, the way of the heart, while Karim is next to the engineer, the way of the head.
(Two ways up the stairs equals two ways to solve the puzzle and two ways to reach enlightenment: Through intellect and reason-the head, or sensitivity and intuition- the heart.)
Karim figures out which part of the house he’s in and where the front door is, which he used the first time he visited the house. He tells OA to leave through the front door and wait for him under the street lamp, because everyone who goes into the house either comes out insane or disappears. He refuses to let her walk through her own house.
Lol. I’m sure she’ll be much safer in that red dress standing alone under a street light on a city street at night, looking as bedraggled as she does, having just escaped from a mental hospital. That’s not a beacon for the crazies of the world or anything.
Not any more than being a blind girl playing violin in NYC was.
OA refuses to leave her own property. She tells Karim that maybe he should go outside and wait safely.
It would be safer for him, that’s true.
They go up the stairs to look for the rose window and Michelle, but there’s no halls or doors at the top of the stairway. It circles around to the top of the other stairway. They go back downstairs.
OA discovers that the floors tiles are a jigsaw puzzle. She and Karim work together to solve the puzzle, which is an abstract image of the cross-section of a tree, with a few lines radiating outward from the center. This pattern has been growing throughout the two seasons. There have been trees and wooden items featured throughout. The pattern of radiating lines, which can be seen most clearly in the photo of OA after she’s been shot, is the same pattern of the walls that separated the glass walls of the captives’ cells and the shape of the aquarium from Homer’s NDE and the Treasure Island Clinic.
When they finish the floor puzzle, OA senses something and turns toward the window.
Meanwhile, Roberts discovers that Rachel’s personal effects are still in a box in her room. He asks Darmi why they haven’t been sent to her new hospital, even though she was transferred two days ago. Darmi says she’ll get right on it. Homer makes up an excuse for why he needs to get into Haps office to snoop around. He convinces Darmi to give him the key.
Hap and Elodie are not exactly basking in the afterglow of sex. These two opportunists never slow down or make themselves vulnerable enough for that. Elodie tells Hap, “I can feel you thinking. You have the look of a man who is in love with someone who is not here.”
Hap: ” Oh, well, I wouldn’t call it love. We’re more… partners in a way. She leads me places I couldn’t have found. And when I’m with her, it’s like it’s the only time I can be truly myself. Maybe that is love.”
Elodie gets up and starts to get dressed so she can go home. Not in a jealous way, just so she can sleep better. Hap doesn’t want her to leave. He only told her about Prairie because he thought she liked complexity.
Elodie promises to call Hap tomorrow, but he insists that she stay and answer the questions she’s been avoiding all night. He asks her to give him just one minute, and leaves the room. Elodie looks alarmed, as well she should.
Roberts ascends through the hatch into Hap’s office and pulls out Rachel’s file. He calls th number for Perkins State Hospital, where she was supposedly transferred. The guy who answers the phone easily finds her name listed in the computer, but can’t find a bed listed for her. Roberts makes him physically go look to see if Rachel is there. He’s the only staff on night duty, so it takes a little while.
While Roberts waits, he looks through Hap’s desk, finding a secret compartment with the materials Hap used when he came to this dimension in order to get up to speed on Dr Percy’s life. This includes a recorded session with Pierre Ruskin, which Roberts listens to. On the tape, Roberts hears Hap ask Ruskin to tell him about the house, and to tell the story as if Hap knows nothing about it (because that was the truth at the time).
Ruskin: “The house was built in 1910, after the earthquake, by this childless couple in their 40s. He was an engineer and his wife was a medium. And they bought the land cheap. It had been the site of this massive mansion that burned to the ground after the fires that followed the earthquake. The medium sensed that there was something strange about this site. And she was right. As they were preparing to lay the foundation for the new house, they discovered this natural spring. It turns out, this spring used to be the holy site of the Ohlone tribe, and the waters were said to give the shamans a God’s eye view. The medium felt that they should not build on this site, but the engineer, he disagreed. He thought that since they had discovered the spring, it was their duty to protect it.”
Hap: “How do you protect a spring?”
Ruskin: “You design a house that is a puzzle. The worthy will reach the revelations on the other side of the rose window in the attic. And the unworthy will be trapped and destroyed.”
Ruskin is a worthy collaborator for Hap. The lab rats who fail are destroyed and those who succeed are in for an experience that no one understands, which may also destroy them, but the ethics don’t bother Pierre. The “crowd” part of crowdsourcing is the lawyers’ problem, not his.
While Roberts listens to Ruskin describe the engineer’s scheme for the house, OA and Karim finish the puzzle, then take off up the stairs. OA, the heart-oriented seeker, goes right, while Karim, the head-oriented detective, goes to the left staircase. This time, things have changed. The surfaces have become reflective and echo-y. Karim and OA are cut off from each other. They will each face the house’s judgement alone.
Karim hears voices and wonders if it could be Michelle. He enters a room which has only a bed for furniture. The door closes behind him and disappears behind Yellow Wallpaper. There are curtains for windows, but the windows have been bricked in. It’s very Edgar Allen Poe. The walls of the room appear to be solid, with no exit.
OA walks down a hallway with a black and white checked floor (arguably a mystical symbol representing dualities), searching for Karim. She passes by an open window in favor of a white door at the end of the hall. She’s still calling for Karim, while Karim calls for Michelle. We hear the sound of a woman laughing from behind the white door.
Karim gets tired of fighting the house and lies down on the bed, hoping for a prophetic dream.
Roberts is still listening to Pierre Ruskin: “Lore has it that the engineer based the design of the house of his wife’s nightly dreams. When the house was finally built and they moved in together, the engineer began to want to solve the puzzle himself, from beginning to end. His wife advised against it, saying they were meant only to be gatekeepers. But the engineer, he couldn’t resist his desire.”
Hap: “Gatekeepers to what? You’d have to know.”
We don’t hear the end of the conversation, since the hospital staff member Roberts was waiting for returns to tell him that Rachel DeGrasso isn’t in that hospital.
While Hap is filling a syringe with his preferred knockout drug, Elodie calls 911 to tell them that a woman has collapsed and become comatose in Hap’s apartment. She tells the operator that it’s an allergic reaction and they should send paramedics right away. Then she hangs up before Hap can hear her.
Behind the white door, OA finds an empty, wallpapered room with a painting on the opposite wall. She hears noises, from tiny squeaks to sounds of a struggle and calls to Buck a few times. She takes the painting off the wall and pushes against the wallpaper. There’s a window behind the paper, then open air and a large tree.
Karim awakens with a dream of someone falling from one of the house’s windows. It’s a reminder that the puzzle is also vertical. He feels around the bed and discovers that it’s a Murphy Bed, which means the head of the bed is hinged to the wall, so he can easily lift the foot of the bed up, revealing stairs to the floor below.
Roberts continues listening to Hap’s recording of Ruskin.
Ruskin: “The medium was part of a consortium of women, the wives of many of San Francisco’s most successful mining engineers. They met monthly to protect the trees and wild spaces of the city. It’s why Golden Gate Park exists. The medium returned one day from her monthly meeting to find her husband had collapsed in the attic. The rose window, hanging wide open.
“She, of course, saw only the view from Nob Hill on the other side of the window, for she had walked through the house as a house. She had not ascended through the puzzle to reach the attic. She suspected, however, that her husband had, and he was now lost to whatever he had seen on the other side of the rose window. No doctor in the world could revive the engineer from his coma. But his wife was convinced that someone would show up someday, be able to solve the puzzle and withstand the view from the rose window. Maybe even rescue her husband. But no one ever did. He died many years later, never having woken up.”
There’s a lot here, which I’ll look at further in the commentary. But for now, let’s note that the engineer clearly jumped to another dimension. It’s not clear whether the jump was voluntary, accidental or forced, but this speech reveals that the rose window is a portal to something outside of this dimension.
And the medium predicted that someday, someone would be able to make it to the rose window by solving the puzzle, but avoid jumping or going insane. In other words, someday, a guide to the house would appear who understood it, but wasn’t affected by it. Until then, the medium and the engineer were meant to be gatekeepers, who, by definition, would wait outside the puzzle.
While Roberts listens, Karim descends the staircase under the bed. He enters a room with three doors. In the center of the room, a detailed model of the house stands on a table. As Karim looks at the model, getting an understanding of the house, Ruskin describes the guide to the house that the medium waited for, but who never came.
OA opens the window and lets the wind and the tree branches in. The wind whispers her names, both Nina and OA, and the tree pulls at her hair. They tell her, “Come to me.” She climbs into the branches. A branch breaks, sending her falling down below the ground, into the roots of the tree. She’s caught, and cradled, in the tree’s roots. The trees all hum together in harmony. Roots grow to gently hold her in place and connect to her. Then she can understand the language of the trees.
The trees are impatient with OA. They’ve been calling her through their roots and through the wind since she was a child. They tell her that Nina is a medium who can communicate with the natural world, that’s why she can communicate with the trees and wind.
Trees: “Old Night had much to tell you, but he ran out of time. It is urgent that you listen. The one who seeks to own you is going to make a powerful discovery. He will use it to destroy your faith in yourself, so that you will need him to survive. The only way to recover is to form a tribe.”
OA: “I’m alone. I can do it alone.”
Trees: “No, child. No tree survives alone in the forest. When one tree falls ill, we all send food. For if one tree dies, the canopy is broken. Then all suffer the weather and pestilence that flood in. You will not survive on your own.”
OA: “What do I do?”
Trees: “They are already coming for you. Remember, Nina Azarova is the key.”
Karim is still inspecting the model of the house. The rose window is lit from within. Karim pushes on the window to open it. Once it’s open, water flows out.
There’s pounding behind one of the doors leading out of the room. Karim goes through the door and finds a dark, cavernous space with a dirt floor.
Elodie puts on some music, while Hap sneaks his syringe into the room. It’s a testament to how many times he’s kidnapped people, that he’s got his “hide a syringe on my person while naked” technique mastered.
Elodie asks if he wants to go for one more round before she leaves. Hap says, “You know I can’t let you go.” Since he’s Hap, he means this literally, not romantically. He slides the syringe under the pillow. She climbs on top of him and gets started.
Karim picks his way across the rugged ground. Suddenly, filthy, nearly naked people climb up from burrow-like holes in the ground and grab at him. We can clearly see the white light of the door he came from, the door of faith, and the red light of the door to the next level, the door to the next awakening.
These people appear to be the unworthy. They are stuck here in this place that mimics one of the Circles of H-ll, living like blind moles and unable to see that they could easily escape. They don’t have the virtues of faith or charity that would allow them to follow the light and leave.
(The color red is love, charity and spiritual awakening. The trees have just explained that awakening and safety come from openness and connection to other people and nature. As we saw with the captives in Part 1, love and charity lead to awakening.)
Karim breaks free from the Unworthy and runs for the red light. He goes through the door and into a hall of mirrors. After a minute of examining himself and cold hard reality, something that’s not difficult for Karim, he gets to the other side. Fola, now an old woman, is sitting near the door to the next level. She’s in a hooded cloak, which he pulls back from her face as he hugs her. She asks him where he’s been, as if she’s been waiting for him, but then tells him to take the door and go deeper into the puzzle.
He tells her that he’s getting her out, and picks her up in his arms.
Guys, I ship them so hard. But mostly, I love Fola so much.
Karim looks at the mirrored wall, and remembers seeing a bit of mirror through a hole in the wall while he was lying in Michelle’s nest in the closet the first time he was in the house. He figures that they must be near that room, and that they could easily leave through the ordinary front door from there.
He finds a conveniently placed piece of pipe and uses it to smash through the wall. Then he carries Fola out past the nest where Michelle made her notes. Once outside, they sit on the sidewalk to recover. A passing car splashes them with water, which breaks the house’s spell. Fola is now young again.
A seedling reaches out of her ear, but with no encouragement, it retreats back inside. I think Karim saw the seedling, but I could be wrong.
Was the rose window just beyond the door in the hall of mirrors, since Fola got close enough for the seedling to grow? What point in the puzzle process triggers it?
As they both finish, Elodie tells Hap to hold onto what he’s feeling. They’ll use the sexual energy as fuel for the jump. She slips on a couple of items of clothing, then grabs her purse and runs to the living room.
She pulls 5 small cubes from her purse and arranges them on the floor around her. She telepathically triggers them to stand up on one corner and open up, where little robots are revealed. They begin to do the movements in perfect unison, while Hap watches. He looks as if the secret to the universe has been revealed. In a way it has.
Elodie stands still and watches Hap. When the robots finish the movements, she collapses. The robots quickly fold down into their cubes, with no detectable way to open them. Hap runs to stick his finger in one before it closes. The siren from the ambulance that Elodie called earlier can be heard approaching. Hap won’t be able to move her body before they arrive.
She escaped him, but she’s given him the means to take others with him wherever and whenever he wants.
Did anyone else expect Merry and Pippin to join OA in the tree?
I believe Elodie is the first person we’ve seen fully escape Hap when he was determined to kidnap them. And she had to jump to another dimension to do it.
OA’s tiny lighter burns for much longer than Karim’s giant torch- the light of faith? The torch went out when Karim ran out of obvious answers in the bedroom and waited for an answer to come to him. OA thought to look behind the painting much more quickly than Karim looked under the bed.
The men (Ruskin, Hap, Karim, Homer) all choose the path of the engineer, the head. As Hap said on the recording, they can’t live with the uncertainty. They want to know what the puzzle is and how it works. Homer is usually the heart, but in this instance he needs to understand how his world works. He follows his own labyrinthine puzzle through the Treasure Island clinic while OA is in the green house.
The women split, since Fola also chose the engineer’s staircase, but OA took the medium’s side. We don’t know which one Michelle chose.
Pierre and Nina are an engineer and a medium, so are Hap and OA. Where does that leave Homer?
OA was willing to form a new tribe to save Homer, but assumes she should save herself by herself.
OA is connected to sentient trees and wind spirits, plus a bird gave her the first movement. Nina is telepathically connected to the natural world.
Karim killed Old Night, who still had wisdom to share. At least he didn’t chop down the tree. I think when Old Night referred to OA’s brother and her survival, he was speaking in broader terms than the current moment. I think he was talking about whether she’d survive Hap’s plan to take away her sense of herself and make her trust him. I don’t think Karim is the brother. I do think Old Night knew Karim would kill him, because they are both agents of Death. My current guess would be that Steve is OA’s brother, but it could be Elias.
We don’t know what or who Hap is when he’s not on earth, or at least no one has named him as anything other than human. He’s something evil and as powerful as the Original Angel, maybe more so. The trees told her that he wants to own her. Not collaborate. Own. No one but an evil being would try to enslave an angel. Elodie, who’s experienced and seemed fearless when we met her, was very afraid by the time she escaped Hap.
Emory Cohen so fully inhabits Homer/Dr Roberts that I never even think of him as acting. He just is the character. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to adjust to watching him as anyone else in another show, even though in actuality we’ve seen him as multiple versions of Homer by now. They all flow seamlessly out of Cohen, so that I have to stop and think about how different Roberts is from the kid who seduced Renata in Cuba, or the paralyzed football player. Every version is so fully realized as a person, but still essentially that same sincere Homer that you just want to squoosh like a teddy bear. I love him so much. 😭😭😭
Dante and The OA
My current theory is that The OA, while drawing from many sources, is using a modernized version of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a template for their interdimensional reality. Before you dismiss this theory, consider that Dante drew from sources that ranged from all over the known world at that time and stretched back into antiquity.
The surface of The Divine Comedy is written as a Christian allegory, but Dante himself said it can be understood many different ways. It’s considered a mystical, Gnostic text by some and it’s symbolism is as Classical as it is Christian. Some see it as a guidebook on how to reach enlightenment, starting with recognizing and casting aside the distractions of sin.
Even if the OA isn’t purposely referencing Dante, the work serves as an encyclopedia of ancient and medieval symbolism and imagery, so it’s worth looking into. There’s no question in my mind that Zal and Brit are referencing the distant past this season, with coffin-like underground tunnels, stained-glass windows that belong in centuries old cathedrals and blatant references to Virgil. They want to evoke a sense of eternity stretching behind us and ahead of us, as does Dante.
The Divine Comedy follows Dante as he moves through H-ll, Purgatory, and then Heaven. He’s guided through H-ll by the ancient poet Virgil and through Heaven by his ideal woman, Beatrice. He eventually finds enlightenment and aligns with God. Each of the three main levels is split into many sublevels, where Dante meets people he knows from real life, history and legend, who help guide him on his journey.
Dante’s trip through H-ll, known as Dante’s Inferno, is the most famous section. I believe Parts 1 and 2 of The OA have mainly been in H-ll. D1 is a bad dimension, as Steve tells us, based on Limbo and the Lower Circles of H-ll. D2 functions like a game based on Dante’s Higher Circles of H-ll. Based on this, I’d expected to find some aspect of purgatory next, in Part 3, but turned on its head. Heaven is in space, with each level represented as a planet or other celestial body. This could explain the space imagery that’s been present in the show from the beginning. Maybe someday, Hap will get to jump to the Rings of Saturn. 😘
Karim with the Unworthies, and a few artistic versions of H-ll:
First, an important bit of information about the dream: The old woman is played by Cynthia Mace, who also played Evelyn in Part 1, Ep8. This is important for a few reasons. Evelyn was there when Homer and OA touched for the first time. She was the Sheriff’s wife who had ALS. OA and Homer healed her by doing the movements, and she gave them the fifth movement.
Evelyn had an NDE as a child, when she learned the movement and was told she had to stay alive until she could teach it to 2 captive angels. She told OA and Homer that using the movements is dependent on having the will. Then Hap murdered her and her husband and dragged OA away. Homer never saw OA again in D1.
So Evelyn is very important in Homer and OA’s relationship- she’s connected to the movements, the first time they touched, having the will to live, and having the will to travel. She’s also a powerful reminder of just how ruthless Hap is.
Which brings me to the next point. I believe that Homer, OA and Evelyn are all potential suicides. OA started the series by jumping off a bridge, trying to use death as a way to get back to Homer. Evelyn said that the being in her vision told her she had to stay alive, though she had to live through many decades with a painful and debilitating chronic disease. The angel might have specifically told her that because otherwise, Evelyn would have found a way to die at an earlier time.
Homer ran away from Hap and the captives in the field, willing to die rather than help Hap. Since his jump into D2, he’s let the original consciousness, who I call Dr Roberts, control the body, while he’s buried himself. I believe that he was so depressed at the loss of OA that he tried to commit suicide by dimensional jump. He jumped, maybe because he believed he had to for it to work for the others, but then he gave up. He’s spent all of this time with OA, and nothing has woken him up. He thought she was dead, so he tried to make his own mind dead to.
Still with me? Now we get to Dante’s Inferno. Ring 2 of the 7th Circle of H-ll “is the Wood of the Suicides, in which the souls of the people who attempted or committed suicide are transformed into gnarled, thorny trees and then fed upon by harpies, birds with the faces of women; the trees are only permitted to speak when broken and bleeding.” (Wiki)
The OA isn’t doing a direct translation of Dante, any more than Dante did a direct translation of Virgil or his many other sources. The creatures that Dante chose to keep the human trees company, the harpies, came to be thought of as disgusting winged creatures and associated with shrewish women, but that’s misogyny at work. They were originally neutral, sometimes beautiful, wind spirits.
Sudden disappearances were often attributed to them. Disappearances that were perhaps actually travel to another dimension? Perhaps all of the female guides that the characters have are harpies- Fola, Mrs Vu, Elodie, Carmen, Mo, Rachel, Lily, etc. Maybe a harpy is simply a spirit that helps blow another spirit along its path toward enlightenment, and the harpy can be male or female, so Ray the deaf security guard, Elias and Al the doorman would also be included.
In The OA Part 2 I think the harpies are represented by Marlow Rhodes’ birds and by the old women in the series. Sometimes even the younger ones, like Fola. Evelyn is both an attempted suicide and a harpy. So is Dr Rhodes. The wind blows through The OA frequently, and the wind is sometimes a metaphor for breath. All of the female characters who give information by speaking could be modern harpies, helping to save the souls who are in despair.
Then there’s the whole section of the story where OA talks to a tree at length, who explains that the trees have been speaking to her through the wind for her entire life. Like a harpy, OA is associated with disappearing and birds.
But it’s the trees in the Wood of the Suicides that are important to Homer’s dream. Homer walks away from a wooded area, carrying a bundle of wood that’s all he has, and he’s in bad shape, exhausted and depleted. Homer almost became one of those trees, maybe even was in the early stages of turning into one. He had to battle his way out of the Wood and turn back toward life.
He’s in a new dimension with nothing, just his nearly worthless soul, but he can offer the old woman sticks, the remnants of his connections to the other potential suicides, the captives, as evidence that he deserves as a new body. Except he’s not actually looking for a new skin for himself. He’s already sharing someone else’s skin in the waking world (Dr Roberts).
He’s looking for OA. Their souls are connected, so he knows that she’s also an attempted suicide, but now he can also feel that she didn’t linger in the Wood of the Suicides and turned back toward life.
Here are some of the skins in the episode and an illustration of the Wood of the Suicides by Gustave Doré. Those backs in the shop could easily be part of the trunks of the human trees. In Evelyn’s shop, enough of the human tree could be inside the box to replant it, and bring the human soul back.
Dr Roberts isn’t awake to his full self, whether or not Homer is within him. We can tell this because we learn later in the episode that he hasn’t paid any attention to Nina in this dimension, yet we also know that their souls are bound. His soul is bound to Hap/Dr Percy, but he can’t sense the other man’s true nature.
If I had to guess, I’d say that after his football accident in D2, he shut down that part of himself, and has been living a half-life ever since. This dream, which is Dr Roberts’ dream, is the beginning of him truly opening up to his full self and potential again, which will include the side of the equation Homer excels in, the open heart. Homer must have helped direct them to this particular dimension because he wanted to go where he could close his heart and hide from the world.
Metaphorically, if nothing else, Homer has been wandering, lost in the wilderness and carrying a heavy burden, since Hap tore him and OA apart, and then took her away. Homer’s guilty that he couldn’t save her from Hap and afraid she’s dead. Because of the dimension hopping, he’s afraid he won’t recognize her, even if he finds her.
Evelyn recognized them as the right 2 angels to give the movement to, so she has some sort of second sight. If she can direct Homer to the right skin, then maybe he can find and recognize OA in D2. She helps him figure out how to see the real OA inside the unfamiliar skin, and in so doing Roberts lets D1 Homer into his consciousness and remembers touching OA for the first time. Roberts snaps awake, having begun the process of integrating D1 Homer with D2 Dr Roberts.
At the same time, OA is using Nina’s skills as a medium.
Hap & Elodie & Complexity
One of Hap’s odd characteristics is his self-awareness. He’s aware of everything about himself and everyone and everything around him, but he’s without an innate sense of morality to temper it. There’s nothing in his character to stop him from using any knowledge he acquires to help himself and hurt everyone in his life. And he won’t understand why others are so upset with him for it. It’s nothing personal, surely everyone else would do the same in his position.
With Hap, I feel like it wouldn’t take much to put him on the road to redemption. He has no innate morality, but he does try to live by a personal code. If he started integrating with the personalities he jumps into, would he eventually become a well-rounded person? And where does the show stand on redemption vs punishment vs enlightenment and moving beyond this plane of existence?
Hap hasn’t paid for his many, terrible sins, but if the world is an illusion and we’re all here to play a game that takes us toward enlightenment, then would understanding the way he’s hurt others, and feeling remorse, be enough to allow him to move on to the next level? It seems wrong to let Hap move on as if nothing happened, even if he turns good someday, but it’s a much better story with him in it.
(I’m talking the possibilities of The OA and its presumed mystical/existential outlook, not our own dimension. Among other things, D2 is a game based on Dante’s Higher Circles of H-ll. D1 is a bad dimension, based on Limbo and the Lower Circles of H-ll.)
When Hap tells Elodie that it seems like she likes complexity, it’s a complement. He has a complex mind and he appreciates it in others. She is complex, but she’s smart enough to know that complexity isn’t enough to bring out loyalty in Hap. She has something he wants, which means he’ll need to dissect her to make sure he gets all of it out of her. That’s the downside of letting Hap see her complexity. Now he must possess it, like a bug collector who kills and displays the bugs he loves so much.
It’s intriguing that Hap and Elodie stay naked for their entire battle of the wits, right up until she’s about to travel to a new dimension. She quickly puts on clothing so the paramedics won’t find her naked. They stay physically vulnerable, even have sex again, as if their nakedness proves they are being honest and open with each other. It’s a major lie between them, especially Hap. I think Elodie was honest, until she realized Hap’s plans.
But she’s confusing. Is she a spirit guide, like so many of the other new side characters? Is she one of the denizens of H-ll or a demon, trying to seduce Hap away from the path to enlightenment? Her ideas about travel seem to suggest that she actively avoids spiritual growth, choosing instead to stay where she is and enjoy the human experience, as she put it. But there’s a selfish aspect to this, because it severely disrupts the life of every other Elodie that she visits.
She could be a professional guide, who has chosen to stay at this level and help others. She certainly tried to help Hap, he just wasn’t open to everything she had to teach. The Vestibule of H-ll is set aside for the Uncommitted, the opportunists who choose their own self-interest rather taking a true moral stance. This could be the “life” Elodie is living. Or it could be that the life of a spiritual guide and the life of the Uncommitted/karmically neutral are the same thing. The OA’s world may not be as oriented toward punishment as some other systems.
Elodie could be the medium who built the house, still performing her job of gatekeeper and guardian for the puzzle house. She’s never come up against the likes of Pierre and Hap, so protecting the house (and herself) from them is a challenge. The dimensional travels she talks about would be undertaken during times when the house is quiet. She’d still be alive and relatively young because she’s using the bodies that her soul is reincarnated into.
ETA: If Elodie is the medium, it could be that somewhere in her travels, she found her engineer, and he designed the robots. Maybe the medium and the engineer continue to be bound together in each dimension, and he makes her a set in each one. She likely has the design schematics memorized, just in case she meets an unawakened engineer. What will her gift of the robots to Hap mean for the robot maker? Will Hap track the maker down, or is he enough of an inventor himself to create his own robots?
Springs, Goddesses and Oracles
“It turns out, this spring used to be the holy site of the Ohlone tribe, and the waters were said to give the shamans a God’s eye view. The medium felt that they should not build on this site, but the engineer, he disagreed. He thought that since they had discovered the spring, it was their duty to protect it.”
As it turns out, the innate magic of the house is derived from the sacred spring it’s built on and the house itself utilizes that magic to cull the talented gamers/seekers/potentials from the mundane humans. Sacred mineral springs with healing and/or magical properties are common all over the world and usually have a deity associated with them. Sometimes it’s a well-known deity, sometimes it’s a local deity specific to the spring.
Sheela-Na-Gig, an ancient, complex Celtic goddess associated with both birth and death, is also associated with springs and wells. She is also frequently found over the entrances to very old churches in Europe. This is significant because Angie, who is a truth teller, pointed out the peaks over church windows and entrances that are meant to look like vulvas and associate the church with the goddess. Sheela is associated with trees, specifically birch (birth) and yew (death) and a bird (herons), who spends most of its time in the liminal space of coastal wetlands, but is able to roam between the three habitats of land, sea, and coast.
Women, the church and Sheela-Na-Gig all preside over births and deaths. Sheela is pictured holding her vulva open as a passageway between the worlds/dimensions- fitting, because we come into this world through the birth canal, and women bleed without dying, so to ancients, they had power over death.
Sheela is a harsh mother goddess who expects her children to fend for themselves, but she is a guardian and a gatekeeper to liminal spaces. I believe it’s significant that the puzzle begins by making the seeker go underground, then crawl into the house through “a tunnel the size of a coffin”, which then becomes a well that tries to flush the seeker out again. To me, the imagery has been clear from the beginning- the house is a womb and the tunnel is a birth canal that can bring life or death.
Sheela floods the tunnel with amniotic fluid/mineral water in one final attempt to convince the seeker to save themselves from the peril they’ll find inside the house. This is the “I’d turn back if I were you” sign. Seekers can leave and remain the person they are, or they can keep going into the house, where the person they are will die. They might stay dead, but they might be reborn with greater knowledge or on a new plane of existence.
We as viewers are following Karim, who is the guide that the medium was waiting for, which muddies the water, so to speak, and can make it hard to see this and other truths, because he’s able to break the rules of the house in ways no one else who gets beyond the floor puzzle can.
The story of the medium and the engineer, which has been continued by Pierre and Nina, and now Hap and OA, has elements in common with the story of the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle made her prophecies while breathing poisonous vapors rising out of a mountain chasm. As the Oracle’s fame grew, shrines were built around the chasm. Money-making schemes developed. The Oracle changed hands between deities, starting out with Goddesses, but being moved to powerful Gods, as the political world took notice. The Oracle was eventually banned when Christianity took over the Roman Empire, but it was in use for more than 1400 years before that.
A chasm in a mountain isn’t a spring, but it is the same type of liminal space between the worlds above ground and below ground, the seen and unseen worlds, where the two mingle in the form of the mineral vapors. Pierre is interested in making money from the house/spring. Hap is interested in personal gain, which has taken on a fanatical, religious form for him. Science is the “religion” that justifies his actions. The medium, Nina and OA are all oracles, able to listen to what the house/spring is telling them and hold onto the message in their waking lives.
The Worthy, The Unworthy, and The Rose Window
“The worthy will reach the revelations on the other side of the rose window in the attic. And the unworthy will be trapped and destroyed.”
So, Pierre wasn’t kidding when he said this. Those who don’t make it are consigned to being trapped in the house while they die from mercury poisoning and hallucinate that they are in a medieval H-ll. Or maybe they shift to another dimension and are really in that place with the dirt and human burrows. The medium and the engineer weren’t fooling around when they built this place. It’s grow or die.
We don’t find out what happened to the medium. We’re only told that her husband never woke up, and the person the medium was waiting for never came. The medium symbolizes the way of the heart, using sensitivity and intuition. The path that OA took in this episode, which brought her to the trees, who shared their wisdom. The medium was part of a group of women who saved the trees of San Francisco for future generations and made sure there continued to be wild spaces.
There’s some kind of circle of life in that. What the tree told OA, about the trees communicating and taking care of each other, is scientific fact. The medium made sure the network of trees could continue in San Francisco. She may have been aware that the dead sometimes become trees, as in the Wood of the Suicides, and have felt the need to protect those souls. It’s possible that the unworthy and destroyed from the puzzle house grow into the trees of San Francisco, since we saw the failed gamers in the dirt, and we know that plants then grow from them.
But, how about that rose window, huh? Even if you make it all the way, it still leaves you in a coma, since you’ve jumped. Or it leaves you insane, since you didn’t. My working theory is that the most worthy are the most evolved souls, who are ready to accept whatever the universe throws at them.
But they are also seekers, who have a question in mind. They open the window and get an actual portal to another dimension, because they have the will to jump and are seeking something in particular, so a dimension appears to fulfill that need. Maybe they want to see a loved one again or maybe they want to understand physics. There are portals that can help with those desires.
The ones who don’t get a portal are good at games, so they make it to the window, but they don’t know who they are or what they want. They aren’t ready to move to the next level yet. So the window shows them the invisible river, with their alternate selves in other dimensions there to choose from. It does this not as punishment, but with the assumption that it’s giving the seeker a menu to order from. This is exactly what Hap was asking Elodie for. But Hap doesn’t want to risk going through the house himself, so he’s trying to find a way to cheat.
There are probably players who choose from the portal’s menu and jump. The ones who don’t, like Liam, babble about how many alternate selves they’ve seen. It’s a misinterpretation to say that no one can withstand the window. I suspect that it’s more like you either jump to a new dimension and your body goes into a coma, or you go insane, or at least appear to.
The players who’ve come out talking about seeing dozens of alternative selves are being used for Hap and Pierre’s human experimentation inside the locked room. We don’t have a control group who’ve been left alone.
Fola’s plant withdrew back into her ear. Chances are Hap’s victims’ seedlings would too. The players would eventually recover or be ready to jump dimensions, if Hap didn’t interfere with the process.
The medium also thought a guide would come someday who could bring her husband back. Could the medium have given up waiting and gone looking for her husband herself? Did she also do the puzzle and go through the rose window? Is that why she disappears from the story?
I believe Karim is the guide the medium was waiting for. He’s been positioned as a guide since the pilot. He wore the Virgil t-shirt- Virgil was Dante’s guide. Fola wanted him to be her guide. She’s very wise and I think she recognized who he was. She’s acting as a John the Baptist figure for him.
He’s gone into the house and come out intact while rescuing Fola and Liam, plus he found evidence that Michelle was staying there. (Rescuing might be too strong a word for Liam, but Karim did try to help, and didn’t lose his own head.) In this episode, he was given the model of the house, a God’s eye view of the puzzle. When he opened the window, water poured out of it, showing that there is a direct connection between the well and the window, and that the invisible river of souls and dimensions flows through the window.
Labyrinths, Robots, the Movements and the House
We could add sex and death to this list, as well.
Now, can anyone guess what they all have in common? They all help with dimensional jumping and they all disorient the brain. Other than the robots, they all physically move the brain in multiple directions, which has been traditionally used as a spiritual technique, whether it’s walking a labyrinth to prepare for meditation or engaging in ritual dance.
The robots are cheating, and I suspect if Elodie uses them alone, she has to watch them up close in order to get the same disorientation effect. This would be the same principle as using a finger labyrinth instead of walking a full size one. When we saw her use them, she used sex, with her on top, as “fuel” instead, which would also have the effect of moving her head unpredictably through space, leading to spatial disorientation. She could probably also do the movements along with the robots.
I think the fuel is whatever gets the brain ready to let go of its hold on reality so that its open to the unseen aspects of the universe. Rachel, a disembodied soul with no tether to a body or a dimension, was able to effortlessly travel between the two dimensions she knows. There’s nothing holding her back and she doesn’t have to convince her physical brain to let go anymore. She just goes.
A soul that’s still in a body, but who’s very practiced at traveling, would probably get very good at telling the brain that it’s time to let go. It could be that Elodie doesn’t need much to trigger her jumps because she’s so good at the process. The captives have all died and come back so many times that it’s easy for them to let go. Mediums and angels are already tapped into the energy of the invisible river.
Elodie tells Hap that there are many other methods. Will we see more eventually? Hallucinogenic drugs seem like an obvious one. Exercising nearly to the point of collapse or entering a deep state of meditation could be others. Whatever would shock the brain out of its normal state of awareness.
But I believe that not all methods of travel are created equally. Elodie uses the robots to travel without the personal connection upon which the trees placed such importance.
The failed seekers are able to grow the seed that’s inside everyone. That seed must be a seed of cosmic connection to both other people and other dimensions. Maybe more connections equals growth and progression through the stages of enlightenment. The little seedling is the sign that enlightenment has begun. In time, someone with a seedling would ordinarily be able to use the portal or the movements.
But unlike seekers such as Fola, Elodie and Hap are only traveling for personal gain, and actively wish to stay who they are in this moment. Use of the robots takes away the cosmic connection and allows them to jump without it and without growth, but it also leaves them without insight into the truth of reality beyond a certain point. They think they understand the universe, but they’ve only gone a little further than the regular people they live amongst.
Copyrighted images courtesy of Netflix.