The OA Season 1 Analysis and Speculation

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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.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 8: Invisible Self Recap

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This episode brings us to the end of season 1 and the end of the story of Prairie’s captivity. It’s full of endings, and possibly beginnings. We’re left with an ambiguous ending to the episode, after everything Prairie has told us has been questioned, reminding us that her mental health has been in question since Nancy and Abel adopted her. It’s left up to the viewer to decide how much to believe is real, and how much is fantasy, delusion or coincidence.

This episode picks up exactly where episode six left off, with Sheriff Markham walking in on Hap engrossed in listening to the rings of Saturn, while sitting in front of the captive monitors. Hap immediately confesses, but offers to use the captives to heal the Sheriff’s wife, Evelyn, who is dying from ALS. The sheriff appears unmoved as he cuffs Hap, and protests that he doesn’t make deals. Hap quotes his late mentor, Leon, saying that they both know there is no good or evil, only what a man can stand. Sheriff Markham says nothing as he drives Hap away in his patrol car without checking on the hostages. The next scene shows him carrying Evelyn to the car. He’s given in.

The captives get excited when the sheriff brings Hap downstairs at gunpoint, but only Homer and Prairie are taken out of their cages, then forced upstairs. Hap leads them to a bedroom, where he shows them Evelyn lying twisted on the bed, and tells them that he is going to lock them in the bedroom until they heal her. He and the sheriff will be watching through the monitor. He leaves Prairie and Homer alone with Evelyn.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 7: Empire of Light Recap

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

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

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

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The OA Season 1 Episode 6: Forking Paths Recap

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Hap is spiraling out of control, as the captives’ bond grows. He’s forgotten the original premise of his experiments, and become obsessed with Khatoun’s movements. He’s as driven to find the last movements as the captives, and to understand what the movements lead to. His obsession leads him to start making mistakes.

Buck is trying to sneak out to the regular meeting at the empty house, but his parents are still downstairs. He practices the movements until he can slip out unnoticed. On his bike ride to the house, he sees flares lighting the remains of a crash on the side of the road. The others wait for him before they start, even though he’s a little late.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 5: Paradise Recap

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What is Paradise? It’s subjective, in the end. Growing up in one of the snowiest cities in the country, with a depressed, Rust Belt economy, paradise always sounded like a warm tropical island to me. But warm tropical islands have depressed economies and natural disasters of their own, making the people who live there want to find a different sort of paradise just as much. This episode looks at the expectations we have for escape, for each other, for paradise, for whatever we think should be perfect in our lives.

Hap is in a bar in Cuba to listen to a woman who plays flamenco guitar. After the performance, he approaches her on the patio. They chat, and he steers the conversation toward his study. She is an NDE survivor, and only took up the guitar after her experience. Hap makes her his usual offer, and includes helping her escape from Cuba. But she’s not as young or desperate as his other subjects. She rejects him, even though she wants to get off the island. He looks shocked, like it’s the first time this has ever happened. She dances away with a much younger man.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 4: Away Recap

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Sorry for the long delay with finishing this series! Hopefully I’ll be able to zip through the rest of the episodes now that we’re through with sweeps and other shows are taking breaks instead of ramping up. There are only five left in season one, including this one, so my plan is to have them done within the next two weeks, at most. Then we wait for season two, now that we know that a season two is coming.

This episode is a big one. We finally get to see Hap’s experiments, Prairie gets her sight back, we see the beginning of the escape plan form, we see the origin of the name OA, and both of Prairie’s teams begin to grow closer. This feels like a major turning point in the season.

Prairie wakes up on some sort of rocky, mossy plain, with a wide open sky and mountains in the distance. She realizes she’s dead again. There’s an old, red shed nearby. She enters it, and is in Khatoun’s star field. She tells Khatoun that she can see now. Khatoun tells Prairie that she always could, and beckons her over. They debate whether this was Prairie’s true time to die or not. Prairie doesn’t want to abandon the other captives. Khatoun says that as things stand now, the prisoners will never escape. They will all die in Hap’s basement, despite their determination to escape.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 3: Champion Recap

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The beginning of episode 3 looks like a normal family shopping trip out to a discount store, until Nancy Johnson is accosted by a reporter and the illusion is shattered, for her and for us. The reporter, Patricia Knoller, specializes in telling the stories of young people who have been held hostage for long periods of time, and then returned to their families. She wants to turn Prairie’s story into a book. Nancy is unhappy with the intrusion into her family’s privacy, and dismisses Patricia. Before she goes, Patricia gives Nancy a copy of one of her books and her business card. She explains that she works closely with the victim and the family, and tries to make the experience something that is beneficial to the family, especially financially beneficial.

Nancy shops for a little longer, then sees Prairie, who is trying on a sweatshirt that reminds her of Homer. They look at each other across the store aisles. The love shared between the two women is palpable, but so is the concern and fear Nancy has for her daughter. She invites Patricia to dinner to discuss the book deal. Everything is going well, until Patricia mentions the sense of closure that finishing telling their stories can give the victims. Prairie gets upset, and tells her that she can’t give her that. Her story isn’t over. It’s just beginning. Prairie runs from the room. Nancy, Patricia, and Abel all look at each other, confused and worried.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 2: New Colossus Recap

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This episode finds Nina in a boarding school for the blind in America. Her father has kept her survival a secret to keep her safe from the Voi. Her maternal aunt checks in on her periodically, while Nina and her father speak on the phone every Sunday. In the opening scene, the blind students are holding white snakes. Nina is comforting her snake, trying to make it more comfortable with being held. She can hear its heart beat.

Nina plays violin for her father during their weekly phone calls. He loves her playing, and would recognize her unique playing style anywhere. They both live for those phone calls. Every week they shed their skins and renew each other. Her father is in hiding from the Voi, and tells her she must be careful as well. She must stop speaking Russian until he tells her it’s safe again. He’s trying to find a safe home for them, but doesn’t know how long it will take. Until then, they both have to hide.

Nina gets called to the Headmistress’s office. Her aunt is there, and tells her that there was a terrible accident. Her father is gone, and Nina needs to leave the school.  Nina insists that her father has gone into hiding to escape the Voi, and he will come for her. She goes to live with the aunt, but without the money Nina’s father was sending for her support, the aunt can’t really afford to take care of a blind child.

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The OA Season 1 Episode 1: Homecoming Recap

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The OA is the intriguing story of a young woman who returns home after 7 years in captivity. She was blind when she left home, but now her sight has been restored. She’s unable to talk about her ordeal, and seems changed in indefinable, mysterious ways. The pilot, at least, focusses more on character and setting up the mood and world of the show than getting a fast-paced plot going. The feel of the show reminds me of The Man in the High Castle in that way, even though they are otherwise very different shows. It slowly builds tension and doles out clues, allowing us to piece together the mystery and understand the show’s universe.

The pilot begins with a phone video shot through the windshield of a car as it crosses a bridge in St Louis. A young woman in a flowing sundress dodges between cars to cross the bridge and climb over the side rail. She briefly looks back toward the camera with a blank face, then steps off the bridge to let herself fall into the Mississippi River below.

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