The OA part 2, episode 6, Mirror Mirror, brings us back to the original dimension and OA’s Crestwood gang, as they travel across the country so that BBA can say goodbye to her dying uncle before she jumps to a new dimension. It’s one of those epic road trips that changes your life, opening your eyes to how big the world is, how many possibilities there are, and how much you’re capable of that you’ve never imagined. At least until they reach BBA’s uncle’s house, and things begin to go terribly, terribly wrong. Then the trip begins to look a lot like the lives they’re trying to escape.
Which brings us to the title. Episode 3, which was the first time we focused on the Crestwood group this season, is titled Magic Mirror. In that episode, Rachel lived in Buck’s mirror, until it broke and she was set free to live in the world. She learned to communicate through TV rather than an old-fashioned photographic plate. Even ghosts need to change with the times.
The mirrors reflect the dimensions and the characters while also serving as a way to travel through the looking glass. Multiple reflections equal multiple dimensions and multiple points of view. Breaking the mirror means breaking free but it also means losing those perspectives. If you’ve gone through the glass into a new dimension, breaking the glass could mean that you’ve lost the way home.
There are several instances of mirrors in this episode, another major character death (Why does everyone act like it’s the first and only death? Rachel Existed!), and the reveal of a self-aware Dimension 1 guide. Both Steve and BBA make spiritual leaps that don’t involve moving to a new dimension.
The episode opens on a gorgeous view of Mt Hood, in central Oregon. The car has broken down within sight of the inactive volcano and there’s no cell service in the remote area. Steve, being Steve, is impatient for BBA to jump and get it over with. He wants for them to do the movements here and now. He doesn’t consider how the rest of them will explain her dead or comatose body once she’s gone.
BBA insists on waiting to jump until she’s said goodbye to her dying uncle. Steve doesn’t understand how an uncle can be that important to someone. The other kids try to explain that she needs to say goodbye to her family before she leaves the dimension. BBA is saying goodbye to her entire life and she’s chosen this way to do it.
Finally a pick up truck finds them and the driver agrees to bring them into town. BBA and Buck sit in front and the rest sit in the open back. They all enjoy the feeling of the wind and the sight of the Western scenery on the drive. They get dropped off at the Eagle Crossing Restaurant (which is a real place on Hwy 26 in Warm Springs, Oregon, for those who like to visit TV sites). I’m going to guess that they intended to take Rte 97 down to CA, to avoid busier highways that would be more policed and populated.
Inside the restaurant, Steve and Angie talk as they wait to order.
Steve: “How exactly are we supposed to send an old lady to another dimension if she doesn’t want to jump? Are we just going to push her into the invisible river?”
Angie: “I’m sorry you’re not the chosen one.”
Angie: “I-I know you’re bummed about not going to her.”
Steve: “We’ll be doing the movements anyway. What difference does it make if I just jump at the last second?”
Angie: “What the f–k is it with you? Rachel said only BBA.”
First thought- Who are you calling old, buddy? Second thought- I love it when a character forces another character to talk about what’s really going on. Angie hasn’t gotten much attention, since we’ve spent so little time in this dimension, but she’s been a fantastic addition to this group. I hope we get to keep her in future seasons.
Third thought- Steve continues to be ridiculously insensitive while being mostly well-intentioned. Dude, your girlfriend isn’t going to be thrilled that you all stole her parents car as part of an elaborate scheme to get to the woman you really want to be with, leaving her with your dead or comatose body. That’s just cold.
BBA bustles into the restaurant, having just come from the mechanic. They said it might be the timing belt (it’s always the timing belt). They’ll bring the car to the restaurant when it’s done being repaired.
Everyone settles at a group table to peruse the menu. Jesse tells them that he’s been researching details from OA’s story to try to determine what was real and what was metaphor, but nothing he searched has checked out- no abandoned copper mines fit her description, no Dr Percy worked in an emergency room, etc. Except one thing: Her description of where Homer went during his NDE fits one hospital in the San Francisco Bay area. He wonders if Rachel was there, too. Jesse suggests they go check it out, to help make BBA more comfortable before she jumps, because then she’d know of one certain thing between dimensions. He thinks it could help her find the right place when she jumps.
The others shoot him down without even discussing the idea. Steve says that nothing is for certain. Buck doesn’t think the dimensions will line up that easily. Angie is the only one who makes a mildly positive comment to Jesse.
Then the waitress arrives to take their order and Angie sees a news report on TV saying that Buck’s parents have put out an Amber Alert on him. They flash photos of everyone in the
cult group, especially Buck and BBA. Angie texts everyone at the table to look at the TV without saying anything or drawing attention. French asks the waitress to give them a few more minutes.
BBA looks at the TV just as her photo comes up. Buck explains that his parents think that he’s in a cult and BBA brainwashed him. The kids all confess that they never called their parents. BBA wants them to call now, but the others argue that it wouldn’t help. Steve wants to do the movements now, and let BBA jump to the next dimension, since she’s in so much trouble. Angie tells the others that Steve intends to jump along with BBA.
BBA has an anxiety attack that feels like she’s having a heart attack. She wonders if you have to die to travel. Jesse takes care of her. They decide to get rid of their phones. While the phone are disposed of, BBA withdraws as much cash as possible from her accounts and looks up a bus to her uncle’s house.
A truck on the nearby highway backfires, and everyone jumps. Jesse reacts more strongly, clutching his heart and flashing back to the school shooting. He shows signs of ongoing, untreated trauma, such as nausea, retching, and labored breathing. Everyone ignores his difficulties and pushes him to move on. Later, on the bus, Steve lets Jesse lean against him to sleep.
BBA’s cousin Amy pick them up from the bus stop and drives them to her beach house. She tells the kids that they can sleep in tents on the beach. The kids have never seen the ocean before, so Angie, Steve and French pull off their clothes then run into the waves in their underwear. Jesse and Buck follow them down to the shoreline, but don’t undress. Buck stands at the edge of the water, so that he can be part of the fun, even though he’s not comfortable with taking off his clothes. Jesse sits back in the sand with the discarded clothes. He doesn’t move, even when the others call to him.
BBA goes straight to see her Uncle Carl. He’s barely conscious and unable to respond. She thanks him for letting her and her brother Theo visit him every summer. “You were our saving grace. Our hero.” She leaves Uncle Carl and finds Amy in the kitchen, sharing with her that she just remembered that she and Theo used to call Carl “Uncle Beach Ball” because of the size of his beer gut.
Amy had been making tea, but she pulls out the alcohol instead. They toast to Uncle Beach Ball. Then Amy asks why BBA is traveling with a group of other people’s kids. BBA responds by reminding Amy of the last summer that she and her twin brother Theo spent visiting at the beach house, when they were 16.
Amy: “Oh, sure. I remember the broomstick he threw through the aluminum storm door. You can still see it. There’s a hole, like a bullet hole, clean through.”
BBA acknowledges that Theo was a handful. And their own house was a difficult place to live. The few weeks they spent at the beach house each year were the only time they could just be. She really appreciates having that opportunity.
Amy says that the local sheriff called her yesterday, looking for BBA, after the Michigan police contacted him. She told the sheriff that Betty is probably in shock from the school shooting. She says to Betty that she knew her cousin would protect the kids during the crisis. But she thinks Betty is confused and thinks that she’s still protecting them. “Is that right?”
BBA tears up, but doesn’t answer. Amy was supposed to inform the sheriff as soon as BBA got to the house, but now she doesn’t know what to do. Betty promises that she’ll be out of Amy’s hair in the morning. Amy doesn’t like the sound of that, and asks about the reports that they were part of a cult with OA.
BBA says that it wasn’t a cult, not the way that the media reports mean it.
Betty: “Before I met OA I had resigned myself to missing certain things in life. Certain emotional things like Theo’s funeral. And like… Well, lots of things. I thought life was too much for me. But I was wrong. OA showed me that, that-”
Amy: “Wait, OA is the blind girl, the one who was killed? Yeah?”
Betty: “She wasn’t killed. Not really. She…”
Amy turns away, says, “I can’t,” and the part of the interaction where she tries to understand and empathize with her poor, misguided cousin is over. She does care about Betty, still agrees to give Betty until the next morning before she calls the police.
French and Buck put the finishing touches on the tents out on the beach, while Steve and Angie sit nearby on the sand. Steve is still worried that BBA won’t be able to manage the jump, but Angie reminds him that she ran to the cafeteria for them during the school shooting. She’s braver and stronger than she seems.
Betty is in her bedroom, and hears a muted male voice. She softly calls to Theo, wondering if his spirit has come to her again, after her dream of him in the doorway. She stands in the doorway of her room and listens more closely. She realizes that it’s Jesse, speaking to Uncle Carl.
Jesse: “Warm, fuzzy. All the weight lifted, not a care in the world. And my dad was still around, and we’d go visit his family, in Canada, but just across the bridge. I don’t remember any of the names. They had some land, a pool, always a crazy long day. After dinner, the grown-ups would smoke and talk for hours. I’d fall asleep in front of the fire, listening to their talk. I didn’t really wake up, when it was time to go. All the same, I could feel my dad lift me into the air. I’d float out to the car in his arms, into the backseat. The quilt would come out of nowhere, warm and heavy. I was sleeping and not sleeping. Floating. The car moving down the highway. Street lights flowing over me through the window. That’s what it’ll be like. That’s what heaven will be like.”
Jesse speaks in a rhythmic, meditative voice. By the time he finishes, both Betty and Amy are standing behind him in the doorway, listening. Betty tells him it’s time for bed. On his way out, he slips a few fentanyl pain killer patches under his jacket. Amy says that his words were lovely, and that maybe Betty is doing something right with the kids.
Betty finds Jesse on the deck, watching the sunset over the ocean. He remarks on how quiet it is there. Betty says that it’s only busy in the summer. Carl is one of the few who still lives there year ’round. Jesse asks if Carl is going to die soon. Betty says yes and thanks him for spending time with Carl.
Jesse tries to say goodnight and go to the tents. Betty asks him to tell Steve that they have to do the movements at sunrise. She wants her last view of her home dimension to be nice, and she wants to be gone before Amy wakes up. She tells Jesse that Amy thinks she kidnapped them. Jesse notes that it’s more like they kidnapped her.
He looks teary eyed, like he wants to say something more, but he doesn’t. He walks to the waterline and looks at the ocean, holding the patches in his hand, making his decision.
Later that night, Betty dreams that she’s holding a program from something she and Theo did together as children. There’s a photo attached, which should show both twins, but Theo has been erased. She hears creaking from behind, and turns to see the figure in the doorway who she’s dreamed of before, who says he needs her help. She asks if he’s Theo, but doesn’t get an answer.
This is the same dream that she had in episode 3, Magic Mirror, but that time it ended here.
This time, she hears Jesse say, “Pull me in,” in a scared voice. She turns to see him lying in a bed, with the patches on his exposed chest. He begs her to help him. Betty startles awake and runs down to the beach to find him.
He’s alone, in the tent on the end, with the patches on his chest, just as she dreamed of it. Steve runs over and pulls his lifeless body out of the tent. French begins CPR, but Angie says that he’s cold and she can’t feel a pulse. It’s too late for CPR. Buck reminds them that they could try to save him using the movements.
He and Steve do the 5 movements over Jesse for a long time, with no results. When the sun is fully up, Betty relieves Steve. Amy wakes up and discovers what’s happening. She calls an ambulance. French tries to stop her, but no sane adult would listen to him at that point.
Everyone but Steve loses confidence that the movements will work for Jesse. Betty and Buck slow down, then stop. Steve pleads with them to keep the faith, since it took all night for OA and Homer to heal Scott. He can’t imagine giving up on Jesse. “He’s a baby. He didn’t know!”
French takes over as the voice of reason, gathering everyone together to get off the beach before the police and ambulance arrive. He explains to Steve that if they don’t leave right away, BBA will get arrested, and then they won’t be able to help OA. Then it’s all over. But they won’t leave the beach without Steve. They can’t do anything more for Jesse, but they can still help OA and each other.
French leads everyone toward the road, leaving Jesse’s body alone on the beach, a heartbreaking sight. He sneaks into Amy’s kitchen and steals her car keys. She can be heard in the background on the phone in another room. They take her car and get away before the police arrive.
They meet the ambulance coming in the other direction. When French pulls over so that they can go by, Steve jumps out of the car and follows them back to the beach. The others decide to let him go. He blames himself for Jesse’s death and needs to do more than he has.
The paramedics can’t revive Jesse either. Steve stands alone in the sea grasses at the edge of the beach and does the movements intensely all day long, until sunset. By the time he finishes, the movements are much smoother and he seems more at peace.
Did the movements help him move to a new level, did he feel them help Jesse, or both? The success of the movements does seem to depend on the level of confidence, belief and practice of the participants. This day of intense practice, while hoping to achieve something he felt a desperate need for, probably ingrained the movements into him in a way that they haven’t been up until now.
The others drive for a while, then get a room at a hotel so they can plan their next move. Once they’re in the room, Buck breaks down. French uses a payphone to call Elias Rahim, OA’s FBI counselor from Part 1, who he met in OA’s house at the end of the season when he found the books under her bed.
When Steve is done on the beach, he sneaks back into Amy’s house. She’s a trusting soul, because she’s not home, but the back door is unlocked. He gets a drink of water from the sink and picks up Jesse’s jacket from where it’s lying on a kitchen chair.
Steve finds electric clippers in the bathroom and gives himself a buzzcut, the universal TV sign that a male character has now gone emotionally hardcore. In women, the emotional buzzcut is called a full Britney and means the woman has lost her mind and stepped outside of normal societal rules in a bad way. In men, it means they’ve lost their mind and stepped outside of normal societal rules in a good way. The woman will likely be heavily sedated (Britney herself was in and out of rehab after her haircut), while the man will be cheered on as he violently makes his way through his action sequences.
I’ll let you think about that for a moment.
In the hotel room, the other kids and BBA talk through their feelings about leaving behind Steve and Jesse. Angie is upset that they ignored Jesse so much. Buck wants to go back and find Steve. They all know that they can’t do the movements without him. BBA thinks she’s losing her mind and is planning to turn herself in. She doesn’t want anyone else to get in trouble.
Just in time, there’s a knock on the door.
It’s Riz Ahmed, which is never bad news! It’s Elias, who’s flown in on his archangel wings from Michigan to California, to answer French’s distress call, because that’s just the kind of spirit guide he is.
French tells Elias their story, up through Steve jumping out of the car and the rest of them coming to the hotel room. Elias clearly isn’t sure what they want from him as an FBI agent, since French just confessed to multiple crimes. French called Elias because he has an unshakable faith in male authority figures. And Elias is the only one who knows OA and her story who also might be at all sympathetic to them.
Elias brings up the way that he and French met when they ran into each other at OA’s house in Part 1, episode 8, The Invisible Self. He says that French never asked him what he was doing there. French takes the hint, and asks him now.
The night they met, French had climbed in through a window to look for clues that would confirm OA’s story. He found the box of books that corresponded to subjects she’d talked about, and assumed that she’d used those books to make up her tale. He also looked in her bathroom mirror and saw Homer looking back at him. When French went downstairs to leave, he found Elias there.
Elias was nice to him, comforting him about OA and how much French and the others had helped her, just by listening to and empathizing with her story. But Elias didn’t give French any factual information or straight answers that night.
He’s only slightly more forthcoming this time. He answers the question, “Why were you at her house?” with another question: “What is a house?” French isn’t the creative thinker in the group, so he’s not the one to ask, but eventually he comes up with “space”. Elias accepts the answer, but he has more questions. He begins directing his words to Betty, as well as French.
Elias: “What is a space? A house? A school? Church? Motel? A clinic? Part of you knows. Part of you has always known, hasn’t it?”
Betty: “I saw something in the TV. Something I was afraid to admit. We were in that room, but others were, too. Even right now I can feel the truth of it. We’re not alone in this room. That’s how they’re connected, isn’t it? The dimensions. Through spaces?”
Elias nods his head yes. “Now you’ve got what you need.”
Betty: “I thought I was losing my mind.”
Elias: “You’re not. You’re just finding new rooms inside it.”
Betty: “We are meant to go to Treasure Island. Why are you helping us?”
Elias: “I’ve been sent to help her. She’s gonna need it.”
Outside the hotel room, the lights flicker, a sign of paranormal activity.
Few gestures are as symbolically rich as the shaving of a head. That’s what monastics do when they reject the flesh to dedicate themselves to the spirit. In boot camp, soldiers lose their individuality with their hair. Delilah cut off Samson’s to make him defenseless. The French, after the liberation, shaved the heads of collaborators.- NYMag
Which was Steve’s reason? It’s not clear yet. Something has definitely changed inside of him. Losing Jesse the way they did will change all of them. Right now, if I had to guess, he shaved his head as a gesture of atonement. From now on, he’s dedicated to saving and protecting the people who are important to him. No more worldly distractions. Ironically, considering what head shaving usually means when men do it on TV, for Steve it will mean putting aside his anger to focus on others, what they need, and what he needs in order to help them.
Since we know that OA’s story is objectively, mostly true, the fact that Jesse couldn’t find anything that matches her details suggests that she’d already switched dimensions at least once between the experiences she was describing and when she told her stories to the group. There must be hundreds of dimensions that are only a hair’s breadth apart from each other. Shifting between them might not be noticeable to most people, and could be triggered by relatively small events, such as moments of spiritual openness or growth, or events which shock us out of our normal state of experiencing the world.
OA jumped off the bridge in P1Ep1, hoping to travel- maybe she did, but didn’t realize it, because the dimension was such a close fit to her childhood world. Elias originally could have been helping to cover up that dimensional jump so that OA would be able to go home anyway, without arousing even more suspicion.
Liminal= 1 : of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response; 2 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : IN-BETWEEN, TRANSITIONAL;
The noun limen refers to the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced, and liminal is the adjective used to describe things associated with that point, or threshold, as it is also called. Likewise, the closely related word subliminal means “below a threshold”; it can describe something inadequate to produce a sensation or something operating below a threshold of consciousness. Because the sensory threshold is a transitional point where sensations are just beginning to be perceptible, liminal acquired two extended meanings. It can mean “barely perceptible” and is now often used to mean “transitional” or “intermediate,” as in “the liminal zone between sleep and wakefulness.” — Merrian-Webster.com
This episode is about liminal spaces and times, and people in a liminal state of being. The gang is on the road, and can’t stay in one place very long, because they’ll be caught, sent back to Michigan and BBA will be arrested. Betty, Jesse and Steve are all contemplating leaving their current lives behind forever. Uncle Carl is hovering on the edge, between death and life. Amy is indecisive, hovering between calling the sheriff and listening to Betty. Elias is a victims counselor, who helps people transition back to regular life after being involved in a serious crime.
Much of the episode takes place at sunrise and 2 sunsets, over the course of a couple of days. Jesse’s version of heaven describes the liminal state between being fully awake and fully asleep.
They stay at the beach, where the land and water meet and in a hotel, where the road and settled places meet. People stand in doorways throughout the episode.
In the end, we learn the reason for this liminality. Betty has been gradually becoming aware of other dimensions, her sensory perceptions of the occupants moving from subliminal to liminal to full awareness over the course of the episode. Elias gives her permission to acknowledge her perceptions.
The message of the episode is Elias’ message to Betty, at the end. Every place, every person and every time is liminal. The other dimensions are always around us, and now she has become open to those vibrations.
Aunt Lily was right that there are mediums in the group. Buck is one, too, but less developed. I suspect that empathy is his strength as a medium.
They are all needed to be OA’s support team, but part of giving that support is to follow their own paths of growth, so that they can keep up with her. They are all angels, with something to contribute that needs to be awakened inside them.
Who is Elias?
Elias only gives as much information as he absolutely has to. In a round-about way he said he was in OA’s house that night in P1Ep8 because the dimensions meet there, but he didn’t tell us what was so important that he needed to be there for it in that moment. Was French finding the books a potential turning point? Was Homer’s appearance in the mirror actually an NDE or some other phenomenon we don’t know about yet? Could dimensional travel or communication through mirrors be possible?
The last image we see of Steve is his mirror image in Amy’s bathroom, after he’s shaved his head. Elias spent the entire hotel room conversation sitting in front of a mirror, but he was situated so that we couldn’t see his reflection, as if he’s one of a kind and doesn’t exist in other dimensions. Or as if he wasn’t physically there at all. That would go back to the archangel theory I discussed in Part 2 Episode 4, SYZYGY. The guides who have been sent throughout the season to help OA and Karim may all be angels/archangels.
Elias could also be Rachel. Her name was written in Braille outside of his office in Part 1. I believe that the disembodied souls of the dead are able to travel in a non-linear fashion, backwards and forwards in time, easily jumping between dimensions and bodies at will when needed. Rachel died in Part 2, episode 2, Treasure Island, an episode that is filled with callbacks to Part 1. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll eventually find that it’s also filled with foreshadowing for part 3.
In this episode (#6), Elias came right out and said that he’s not who he seems to be. So far, there’s no rule that says a soul can’t share a body with another person and integrate the two personalities together. He could have gone to OA’s house that night in P1Ep8 because he was meant to meet with Homer through the mirror, in an event that hasn’t happened yet for us.
Whether Elias is just himself or also another character that we already know, there’s also the question of who sent him to help OA. And who is sending all of the other guides to help OA and Karim in the other dimension?
The lights flicker and then go out at the end of the episode. Was that the shared vision/astral projection of Elias leaving the hotel room?
Mount Hood and Love Triangles
Mount Hood is a potentially active volcano. It last erupted 170 years ago, but in the intervening period it has had signs of volcanic activity, such as clusters of earthquakes, fumaroles and hot springs.
The origin of the Native American name for the mountain, Wy’east: The Multnomah name for Mount Hood was Wy’east. In one version of the legend, the two sons of the Great Spirit Sahale fell in love with the beautiful maiden Loowit, who could not decide which to choose. The two braves, Wy’east and Pahto, burned forests and villages in their battle over her. Sahale became enraged and smote the three lovers. Seeing what he had done, he erected three mountain peaks to mark where each fell. He made beautiful Mount St. Helens for Loowit, proud and erect Mount Hood for Wy’east, and the somber Mount Adams for the mourning Pahto. -Wiki
The gang breaks down near a volatile mountain named for a fierce, violent love triangle who swept up everyone in their vicinity in their struggles. An equally violent patriarch solved the problem by turning them all into volcanos, ensuring their troubles would continue to plague the world.
There’s a lesson in that somewhere, probably for Hap. But the OA and Homer of the triangle got punished, too. For peace to happen, they probably need to find a way for all 3 to be satisfied. Not wildly happy, just satisfied.
Steve, OA and Angie are also a bit of a love triangle if looked at from the right angle, and it’s Steve that we see being volatile when the gang is in front of Mt Hood, suggesting that his impatience could cause issues, especially with the patriarch. Hap is the only character who fits the definition of patriarch.
I feel like the volcano has something to do with BBA, as well, but I’m not sure what, other than the inherent liminality of a mountain that brings the inside of the earth to the surface and the growing tension from being on the run from the law and the kids’ parents. That whole situation builds to the eruption of Jesse’s death. More truths begin to surface in this episode and the characters begin to understand themselves and their roles more clearly, but it comes at a terrible price, like an erupting volcano.
Betty’s Belief System
Betty developed her beliefs about herself as part of a family system which convinced her that’s who she was, and Amy is part of that system. They were the ones who taught her that she couldn’t cope with the hard parts of life, and shouldn’t even try. Her twin, Theo, was also taught he couldn’t cope, and turned to addiction. Betty was taught that she’s barely mentally competent and will lose her grasp on sanity if she stresses herself too much.
Amy is primed to believe that BBA has mentally snapped from dealing with the shooting. She won’t listen to anything that contradicts her image of BBA or her own view of the world. Amy might believe a man rose from the dead three days after he died, but she won’t believe that anyone else could have any mystical experiences. Or that certain beliefs can be helpful whether they’re scientifically true or not, if those beliefs are outside the mainstream.
Amy represents the kids’ families and the general public, whose opinions have been mostly missing from the Dimension 1 side of the story this season. Betty and the kids have been sent guides and rescuers, showing that they are on the right track. But Amy is the first real threat to their progress. She asks the question- are you strong enough to stand up to the opinions of your family, friends and society when they turn against you for your beliefs?
A traveler ultimately travels alone, and may not find any allies in the next dimension. To survive, you have to be able to withstand the witchhunt and get to the next level, based on your own resourcefulness. We’ve watched OA go through this multiple times now, in multiple new environments. BBA has to be able to stand up for herself, not just to others, but in the sense of believing in herself and her truths, before she’s ready to jump. This is what Jesse was trying to say when he suggested they go to Treasure Island. He wanted to help boost Betty’s confidence level. Elias’ visit gave the nudge to her confidence level that she needed so she could trust her own perceptions and move forward.
Phyllis Smith plays Betty with so much honesty and authenticity that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever doing Betty justice. Her virtuoso performance gives Betty delicate nuance and makes her relatable to anyone who’s struggled with their self-confidence, which is to say, virtually everyone. Betty is that sensitive, forgotten child who’s remained alone in the world and was never taught by anyone that sensitivity can be a strength rather than the weakness which others exploited to abuse you. She’s a late bloomer, but she’s figuring herself out now, when the time is right.
In Part 1, episode 3, someone drew a suggestive image of Betty on the whiteboard in her classroom. She looked at it, then drew a cube around it, and sat and stared at it. She was staring at it when she called Steve in to make sure he was going to his in-house punishment. The OA likes to frame the characters in boxy lines, but, after Betty’s reaction to that drawing, it seems to mean the most when she’s the one shown in more boxes.
The initial image was meant to spoof how unsexy the artist thought that the teacher was, in a cruel, misogynist way. There were layers of meaning in that caricature that the artist was leaning on but likely hadn’t thought through. The image is meant to dehumanize and humiliate Betty by reminding her that she doesn’t have the type of body that would attract a teenage boy, and it’s likely she never did.
The artist instinctively knows that Betty may have momentary power over him, but he’ll win in the long run. Betty’s box symbolizes the limitations put on women. If you don’t fit into a very narrow range, you are outside of the box. Betty is contemplating that box, the box that would require her to pack most of herself away. She’s realizing that she did, in fact, pack large portions of herself away to survive her family’s dynamic. Even though she didn’t attempt to fit in the sexy woman box, she still tried to fit in the dutiful female relative box. She transferred that persona to her job and became the dutiful female employee. In Part 1, she broke out of those boxes and was punished by mainstream society, but experienced personal growth and found a new family in exchange.
Here she is again, in her beach house box, the box where she’s felt the most comfortable in her life. But even in this box, the walls appear to be closing in on her. She’s outgrowing these boxes, and no one from her life before OA can accept who she’s becoming, or how she’s getting there. The beach house is the box where she’s always felt the most safe and accepted, but, even here, she’s expected to keep herself in a diminished form.
The only splash of color comes from the flags, which sit between Betty and the boys and water. The prominent colors are green, red and white, the colors of the theological virtues of hope, charity and faith. These three colors and virtues reappear over and over this season. They correspond to the deadly sins of envy, wrath and pride. Putting aside anger, envy and pride allows faith, hope and charity, an open, platonic form of love, to come in, which then allows spiritual growth, and, presumably, dimensional jumping.
Betty’s boxes have clear sides, which allows her to see what’s on the outside and what she needs to work toward. Betty is open to change and growth. These days, she actively strives toward it. In comparison, Elodie’s cubes are opaque. They snap shut when not in use, with no visible means of peeking inside. Elodie resists growth and strives to maintain control in her encounters. She doesn’t allow people or other living things in her boxes.
OA not only has clear sided boxes, she tends to find aquariums and other containers of water. Growth and change are coming for her, whether she wants them to or not. She’s on the fast track.
All of the boxes also show how mistrusted women are, no matter their circumstances. Those boxes can be protective, in either direction. Keeping a woman in a box, whether she’s scary because she’s young, attractive, and possibly seductive, or older and powerful, or older and socially unacceptable, therefore unpredictable, protects other people from her female wiles. The women can also use the box as a shelter and camouflage, when necessary, to protect themselves from witch hunters. But that comes with the price of potentially becoming trapped within the box and losing themselves.
Why Didn’t the Movements Work?
There were many differences between Jesse’s death and Scott’s, but maybe the biggest difference is the way they died.
Part 1 Episode 5, Paradise is the episode that shows both Renata’s kidnapping and Scott’s death and resurrection. When OA tells the Crestwood gang about Homer having sex with Renata, French, who identifies with Homer, jumps up and punches a wall in anger, denouncing Homer’s weakness. OA tries to get him to understand Homer’s mental state at the time, as she eventually came to understand it. She says to French:
“You’re not free just because you can see the ocean. Captivity is a mentality. It’s a thing you carry with you.”
But while she says it, the camera is focused on Jesse. Jesse was chronically depressed, even then. Despite Betty’s dream, he chose his death and didn’t really want to be brought back to the life he’d been living. He’d lost hope that this life could be a good one for him, and that he could be of use to anyone else.
Homer couldn’t escape in Cuba because his mind couldn’t grasp the possibility of freedom. Even in Paradise, he was still a prisoner. Even at the beach, with all of his friends, Jesse was still depressed and thinking of death as a relief from life.
It doesn’t matter that the others actually loved him and felt he was essential. He felt alone, useless and was in constant emotional pain. BBA, his last parent figure, was leaving, no one valued his input, OA was gone, and once BBA was gone, the group would scatter again. He had no one at home who cared. His entire life was a liminal space with nothing to move on to, no reason that he could see to move forward.
On the other hand, before his death Scott was angry and cynical, but still fighting. He was fighting everyone in his life at the point where Hap pushed him too hard and an NDE became death. Scott knew he was physically weak from his ongoing chronic illness and didn’t want to die. He begged Hap not to put him through another NDE. He revealed secrets and traded everything he had in order to stay alive.
Once he was dead, it turned out that this death was important, because he was given the third movement and told that there are 5 movements in total. He came back a changed man, healed of his physical illness, optimistic about the future and filled with purpose.
Jesse chose death, while Scott fought it. The meaning of Betty’s dream isn’t clear, besides the warning that Jesse was dead. It doesn’t have to mean that Jesse wanted to come back to this life, but it does seem like he wasn’t happy with what he found after death. We don’t know for sure what the rules for the dead are in this universe or if there are special rules for the souls of suicides. It may not be possible to bring back those who take their own lives.
We’ve also only seen the movements used twice for healing and in both cases a new movement was about to be given to the captives. It could be that the movements don’t normally heal.
In addition to the metaphysical issues, there were practical differences between the two cases. They had very different causes of death: Jesse had powerful opioid drugs in his system while Scott died from an injury. No one removed the patches from Jesse’s body, so the drugs continued to infuse his system while they were doing the movements.
OA and Homer only did the first two movements for Scott, and they did them passionately, uninterrupted, for many hours. The kids and Betty did all 5 movements for a shorter period of time.
OA and Homer were both very upset at the start and used their emotions as the fuel that pulled Scott back. Bringing Scott back also changed them.
The kids and Betty were also upset, but I don’t think they were able to channel that energy into the movements so that it could be used as the fuel to bring Jesse back. The situation they were in was too personal, chaotic and dangerous to allow them to settle into the proper meditative state for the movements to work.
But when Steve did the movements by himself all day, he was able to achieve something with them and it changed something inside him, too. We just don’t know what he was willing for Jesse and how Steve’s been changed.
Jesse spoke of heaven as being across a bridge over water in another country, Canada, where he could lie in front of a warm red fire and doze, not quite asleep or awake, then continue in the same way on the drive home. The fentanyl patches would give him that dozy feeling at first and he probably wished for his soul to seamlessly slide into wherever souls go after death. But he also included multiple symbols of change and awakening in his imagery, such as the bridge, the fire and the car ride, so somewhere inside he knows that he’ll be back in the same cycle before long.
This episode uses the California flag to show that Betty is still feeling green (hope/thresholds/growth), white (faith/lack of cynicism/purity) and red (love/charity/spiritual awakening), though she’s feeling a bit stuck until Elias helps her.
The Canadian flag, symbol of Jesse’s heaven, is red and white. Jesse still feels love and faith, but his hope and ability to grow are gone. Like Jesse standing next to Betty, the American flag is hung next to the California flag, hanging such that we can only see the red and white stripes, bringing the same message.
Rachel’s spirit didn’t disappear from the show when she died, so Jesse’s probably won’t either. He’ll need to either become a spirit guide or reincarnate. But there should be multiple versions of Jesse for the gang to find as they jump to new dimensions.
Images courtesy of Netflix.