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.