Here's what happens when abduction becomes an adventure through the very planes of existence
Netflix’s newest dip into the sci-fi/fantasy realm is a heavy one indeed. The OA stars Brit Marling as Prairie Johnson, a woman who’s been missing for seven years but has much more than an ordinary abduction story to speak of. From grappling with the tortures of a mad scientist to coasting through the very planes of human existence, her story is fascinating… but she’ll only tell it to a few. On Dec. 16, Netflix dropped all 8 episodes of this series, and we’re bingeing and recapping all the episodes now. There is one episode recap per page, so dig in and read along while you watch.
The obvious first question about all of this is, “what in the world is an ‘OA’?”
The answer, it seems, isn’t going to come to us as easily as we might like. What we do find out in the series opener is that this title is the preferred moniker of a woman named Prairie, who used to go by Nina. She’s obviously unstable, but is there something real to her wild imagination? This is why we came here, it seems.
The episode opens with a found footage-style cell phone capture of a blond woman in a wispy nightgown who decides to hop off a bridge, and, although she manages to go video viral because of it, she isn’t successful at killing herself. She’s none too pleased about having survived her fall, but her lips are sealed as to why. All the nurses can figure out about her is that she doesn’t like to be touched, and she has some wicked scar patterns on her back.
Thanks to the power of YouTube, though, her story comes to the attention of her adoptive mother, who introduces herself to the formerly missing (for seven years!) Prairie, but letting her touch her face. Turns out, Prairie was once blind but has regained her sight thanks to the magic of … well, we don’t get to find that out either.
Prairie’s not open about the details of her disappearance (except she tells authorities that she, in fact, did not disappear and was “present for all of it — all seven years, three months, and 11 days”), but she’s desperate for a wi-fi connection to search for her long-lost hero Homer, who everyone suspects is the man who must’ve captured her. She does reveal that she and whomever she was with all these years have all died more times than she can count, which rightly freaks everyone out. (By the way, Homer was a former football stud who broke his back and was minutes from perishing but had a miraculous recovery somehow; that’s all we know right now.)
Her mom is hesitant to share the password to their router because the hospital told her not to, but she’s willing to bend on some of the other suggested policies, like unhinging the doors and not letting her out of sight till she’s “cured” of whatever attendant psychosis has come with her perceived kidnapping. Google? A no-no. But random walks out in the nothingness by herself are just fine. Okay.
This brings Prairie into contact with Steve, a guy who likes to do handstands on the very high roofs of abandoned buildings and linger naked by the window (HELLO, gratuitous butt shot) while his dad warns him about his bullying behaviors. She gets his attention — well, beyond the notoriety that she’s already carrying around the neighborhood for being the long-lost abductee come home at last — by biting his guard dog into submission after he sics the pooch on her for getting too close for his comfort.
RELATED: Brit Marling on what went into the making of The OA
Steve’s a prototypical jerk who sells drugs to other students and is on the brink of expulsion thanks to punching a prized chorus singer in the throat over the fact that Steve’s friends with benefits, Jay, might have a thing for him. He needs Prairie to pretend to be his stepmom for a parent-teacher conference, and he’s willing to hook “Crazy” up with her much-fussed web connection in some Strangers on a Train-style favor trade in return for it. But her price is steeper than some mere modem. She wants him to rustle up some of his pals to meet her at one of the empty spec houses they’ve colonized for their meet-cute at midnight and leave their front doors open in the process. And no, she’s not answering any questions about the reason for that either except to say that she “need[s] to cross a border that’s hard to define.”
Prairie is successful at convincing poor Ms. Broderick-Allen that she should give Steve another chance because he’s a kid who can really learn something from her (HA!). But the jig is up as quickly as it went down because the teacher runs into Steve’s dad at the warehouse supermarket soon after, revealing Steve’s lie.
Prairie then takes her campaign for help to YouTube, which Steve’s friends all see, and after he realizes that she gave him some good advice about not being such a superficial jerk all the time (something about finding his “invisible self”), he decides to go for it and show up to her little late-night story session after all. He’s probably going to get shipped off to military-style reform camp anyway, so why not, right? The only surprise attendee is Ms. Broderick-Allen, who happens across her plea video online after searching for the meaning of “OA” just like the rest of us have probably done by now (it’s the name she gave her during their con meeting). With her squad of five — a VERY important number, for some as-yet-unexplained reason — she fires up some candles and finally starts to dig into some meat about herself.
It’s only then that we finally get the opening credits, a whopping 55 minutes into this business.
There are some obvious calls back to Eleven from Stranger Things here right away: Girl whose nose bleeds as an indication of some inner power pulls together a team of curious kids — Steve, Jesse, Buck, French, and their teacher — to transport herself to another mind realm. The only thing missing is telekinesis and a box of Eggo waffles, really, but anyway.
Turns out, she grew up as the daughter of a Russian oligarch and could see just fine and got to ride a fancy bus to private school every day. Her dad was her sole parent, after her mom died in childbirth, and he had some questionable tactics for helping her get over her nightmares — instead of a trial by fire, his method is of the icier variety. That approach comes in handy for her, though, when her bus goes off a bridge and lands at the bottom of a chilly river. While the rest of the czars’ kids are stuck beneath, Nina/Prairie/OA swims her way through a hole and comes face to face with a bright light.
“We were a message, you see? From the void to our parents. A message that said you are powerful to be sure, but you are not all powerful. The youngest sons and daughters of every Russian zion was on the bus that day. They all died. Every single one of them, including me.”
She finds herself transported to a starry realm where a woman offers to let her surface to safety in trade for her sight — this angel (?) tells her she doesn’t want her to see those horrors ahead of her. When she comes to on the beach, where her father is shaking her back to life, she’s blind. And with that, we’re left with far more questions than answers …
Episode grade: B
NEXT: So, that‘s Homer…
Now we’re starting to get into some real details.
It’s still hard to know for sure whether OA’s childhood memories are at all reliable or if her doctor’s right that she’s concocted some kind of Little Princess-style delusion, but it’s all we’ve got for now.
A second session of Prairie’s midnight storytelling is called to order, and the entire congregation joins — although French takes a little convincing from Buck because he’s got a scholarship character clause that might be violated by his being caught in a known drug house, and his family situation is obviously held together solely by his (drug-assisted) success. It’s here we learn that Prairie was not abducted — well, not at first.
Her adoptive parents, Nancy and Abel, sprung her from the black-market orphanage her aunt apparently runs in the States after they went to buy a baby and found her living in shambles. It’s a far fall from where she’d been before — at a cozy boarding school for the blind that her father secretly stowed her away at while he was ducking the Russian mafia. But once he died (which she doesn’t believe actually happened), his money ran dry and she had to live in her aunt’s attic while she made do by selling unwanted children, including herself.
Nancy and Abel were kind to her, but they got understandably weirded out when they caught her ranting Russian in her sleep while grabbing for a butcher knife. Prairie’s psychologist wanted her medicated, and Nancy was hesitant but ultimately convinced it was necessary because of her flashback flip-outs over being submerged in water. The meds helped keep her numb and all, but they did nothing to stave off her sureness that her dad was still alive out there and waiting to meet up with her just like he’d promised.
Instead of giving up on the ghost, she ran away to New York and dutifully waited at their planned meeting spot near the Statue of Liberty on her 21st birthday. But of course, her dad never showed, so instead of returning to the safety of her home, she opted for the vagabond life of playing her violin in the subway in hopes that he’d hear her play as only she could and come running back into his life. This was successful in attracting the ear of someone, but it wasn’t her dad.
Instead, Dr. Happ, a physician who swears he heard someone’s soul leave and re-enter a person’s body on the table one day, comes into her life and can tell just like (*snap*) that she’s had a near-death experience. His specialty and passion, he says, is studying people who’ve been through such a thing because they always come back with extraordinary talents, and he’s just engrossed with the idea that they’ve left this plane of reality for another and lived to talk about it. Somewhere between his kind words about her weirdness being quite alright, his cool heartbeat-hearing machine, and a plate of french fries, she decides to join him in his underground lab full of fellow NDE-ers, and she seems to have a sense of purpose for the first time in who knows how long.
It all seems swell until she gets to her “room” in his little lair and hears the clink of her cage locking her in. That’s when the panic sets in and a neighboring captive’s voice tells her that, yes, what she thinks is happening actually is happening right now. Oh no! Who would’ve thought that accompanying a strange man she just met to his magical hideaway would be a terrible idea?!
“It may be a while before he comes for you, and as you think about every step that led you here, you’ll eventually realize it’s no one’s fault but your own. Your thoughts are going to try to take you down but don’t let them. You’ll find your freedom in sleep in your dreams. It’s how we stay sane.”
That voice, she informs her rapt audience in the abandoned house, was Homer’s. Dun dun dunnnn…
Episode grade: B+
NEXT: An escape plan…
If only Pat from The Chicago Tribune were one of the chosen five, she might just get her story. But, alas, there will be no healing biopic book from Prairie Johnson just yet, no matter what kind of loot it might bring Prairie’s financially strapped family. See, the difference between her other captives who choose to be written about is that her story doesn’t have its ending just yet. I’ll say.
Reunion numbers three and four of the midnight storytellers brigade (of which Steve and French have come to major blows and Mrs. Broderick-Allen is dealing — or not dealing, as the case may be — with the death of her brother) takes us deeper into Happ’s lair, where we finally get to learn a thing or two about Prairie’s fellow captives, Homer, Rachel, and Scott.
“We were the living dead, right next to each other but alone,” she says. “There’s nothing more isolating than to not be able to feel time, to not know the distance between hours, days.”
To break the silence and separation, the four start talking to one another. Homer reveals that he’s not so much concerned about being rescued from their little prison as he is making sure his baby son knows he didn’t abandon his mother during her pregnancy. The whole reason he’s in this mess to begin with is that Dr. Happ (if that’s even his real name) offered him $500 to do a medical experiment on NDEs, and while he did pay up, the money never got to his ex-girlfriend or child. It’s still wadded up in a crinkly ball of cash down there with Homer, completely useless to everyone.
Just before Homer was abducted, he reveals, he got a sneaking suspicion that things weren’t what they seemed and hid his championship ring in the doc’s bathroom before being stowed away in his glass cage for who knows how long. Why is this information useful, you ask?
Well, Prairie here has gotten on Happ’s good side by making him a sandwich with the giant butcher knife she comes across in the kitchen, instead of trying to stab him to death. Happ gave her a hall pass to get a split second of sunshine because, as a blind person, she needs that more than everyone else for some reason. Why he’s taken a liking to her above the others isn’t clear, but she suspects it has something to do with the fact that she can’t see and tell what he’s up to (or where he’s up to it, for that matter).
This eventually progresses into a full-on gig as his house elf, and although she’s cooking up her own plan for finding a phone or some other means of escape, Homer just wants her to snag that ring and a piece of mail that they can use to send word to Mandy and everyone else that the quartet is alive and well and needs help (although Homer himself isn’t as concerned with that last part of the equation as everyone else).
Prairie finds out that the good doctor has to take sleeping pills and decides to squirrel them away, one by one, until she’s got enough to poison his batch of stew, and while she’s sweating and suspicious as she can be when she pours him a bowl, he still feasts on a few spoons of the beet-filled soup (an ingredient which serves as a nice metaphor for her, actually, as it’s favored by Russians for surviving the frost). He starts to choke more quickly than she expected, but it’s not because of the meds she’s sprinkled into it; turns out, he’s allergic to the tomato paste that’s in the stock, and he’s having a severe allergic reaction as a result.
He sends her to his restroom to get his EpiPen from the medicine cabinet, saying if he doesn’t survive, the other three will be stuck downstairs and starve to death. She dutifully retrieves it but still hesitates to deliver the life-saving device, especially after she feels the hair of a dead girl lying in his bathtub. Turns out, the woman Rachel was screaming for, August, has been dead since before Prairie arrived. Dr. Happ doesn’t tell her why, but Prairie knows it has something to do with the gas that’s been sprayed on Scott, and although it looks like he might bite it without his shot, especially since she started this story with “it’s really hard to kill a man, it’s even hard to allow a man to die.” But because that would be too easy, he mud-crawls his way into the bathroom and sticks himself to safety.
Despite her failure to kill — or even subdue — the doctor, she does manage to snag a piece of mail addressed to Verizon, along with Homer’s ring, and together they compose a letter alerting whoever receives it to everything they can remember about where they are, who’s down there with them, and who should know about it. This could work because it’s just being written on an already-outgoing statement, but the class ring bulge could also totally give them away. In the end, the wisdom of the plan doesn’t matter because even though their idea is to slip it under the little shale stream they all share is solid, it floats past her hands and into oblivion, mixing with whatever river the stream ultimately runs into.
Prairie’s hesitation to deliver the EpiPen earlier doesn’t cause her any problems with Happ, somehow, because she’s back in his service soon enough. Homer gives her a nice pep talk about how to survive their epic letdown of an escape attempt, and Rachel reveals her crystalline post-resurrection vocal tones (and her backstory of returning to her body after a gnarly car accident with her little brother). This gives Prairie a pair of wings, so when she has a chance to, she throws Dr. Happ down the stairs and makes a break for it.
She gets through the window by bashing it out with a frying pan and runs as fast and far as she can before coming upon a giant cliff — how Scott and Homer arrived via car makes no sense on that note — before being knocked out herself. By whom? Good question. But somehow, I get the feeling her teacher’s pet card has just been revoked. THIS IS GETTING GOOD.
We still have zero idea what “The OA” is, why there have to be five people for her to talk about her past, why the door has to be open for each of them, or where the scars came from.
Random curiosity: What’s with the wolf hoodie being such a happy-maker?
Episode grade: A
NEXT: Happ’s experiment is revealed…
Away. OA. Ohhh Ayyee. Away. That’s what it is. That’s what it means. We know that now. But now a whole new can of questions has been opened about what in the world that means.
Our story group is going through some changes as Prairie lays out her crazy narrative. Jesse’s coming to terms with his mortality (and what happened to his mother and sister Ali), Steve’s giving being less of a d-bag half a chance, and Ms. Broderick-Allen is finally dealing with the death of her brother, who nicknamed her “Otter” in the hopes that there was something more to this life.
Meanwhile, the picture of what went on with Prairie in Happ’s little neverland below has just taken a grim turn.
Turns out, it was Happ who incapacitated her after her escape attempt, and she died as a result of her injury. She returns to the place with many stars and meets her angel, Katoon, once again. Katoon gives her the option to go after what she’s been in search of nearly her whole life: a future of peace with her dad. He’s there, too (guess he really did die after all). But she can’t leave existence just yet because she’s got three others to think about. This, Katoon tells her, is a sacrifice worthy of a gift, a life bird that she swallows, which makes her feel alive and “away.”
Happ’s just thrilled that she came back from her outside death because it means he’s got something new to study; he hooks her up to his heartbeat monitor to make sure she’s not lying to him and asks her to tell him all about her “choice” to rejoin the living just now. She smartly turns the quiz on its head and tells him to ask her specific questions rather than expecting an open-ended narrative, which means she gets to skirt the whole issue of the angel and the life-bird and (BAM) the fact that she’s now regained her sight. You might think she’d use that little nugget to her advantage, but not so much.
Instead, it’s Homer who rises to the occasion and decides to be brave for everyone (Scott doesn’t want anything to do with their plan of sucking away all the gas to allow him to stay awake during Happ’s cart-away process). They quickly learn that the gas doesn’t make you sleep soundly through his experiments, but to be compliant. They call it “Devil’s Breath.” The girls happily suck down gulp after gulp of the stuff for years on end until Homer’s finally able to get to the experiment chamber wide awake. Even then, it takes endless efforts to get through what he’s actually doing down there because OH MY GOD THIS GUY IS A FREAKSHOW.
He’s drowning them. He’s DROWNING them. All for the sake of recording their hearts and other stats to catch that pivotal “whoosh” he once heard. He’s obsessed with proving that there’s a soul whose departure from the body is the only true sign of death, and he’ll stop at nothing to get there.
Even more obsessed, once he figures out what’s happening, is Homer, who somehow manages to control his rhythms to the point that he can die awake and, taking Prairie’s instruction, swallow something alive in the other world so that he, too, can feel that feeling that she’s got. Alone, her gift is apparently useless, but if Homer has it, they can stop being lab rats and start controlling this experiment. It’s the only way.
Homer’s conviction is ultimately successful, as he manages to die and go to the other side (or whatever it is) and swallow a sea creature. When he wakes, he’s disappointed that he doesn’t feel the feeling Prairie’s gone on and on about — that she and the rest are all angels that just need to realize it. L. Ron Hubbard would be so proud of her. But then, all of a sudden, he passes out again and when he comes to, GASP! Something’s different. Has he been away? OA? Is Homer another OA?
Episode grade: B+
NEXT: The rule of five revealed…
Ah, so that‘s why she needs five. Prairie has told her new neighborly companions that she needs their help saving her long-lost cellar comrades, but what she’s never really explained to them is how they can be useful, why her friends need rescuing right now when she’s walking freely, and when this is supposed to go down. We’re over halfway through this thing now, so it’s time for some answers.
We don’t get much out of Prairie’s second psychology session with Riz Ahmed (The Night Of, Rogue One), but we do learn that her pals have removed themselves from the game board of life somehow and she wants to get back to them (which he, understandably, perceives as another suicide attempt in the making).
Just as the Prairie quintet are starting to raise eyebrows around school — even the guidance counselor’s perplexed by their common thread — they’re finally reaching a point of making sense to one another. French has everything going for him on the one hand, but his mom’s doing her very best to sabotage his success, then, isn’t she? And Buck is, in a very literal sense, finding a voice. Their development parallels nicely to what’s happening beneath/in Prairie’s past.
At this point in her story, she and Homer have both reached a state of higher post-life consciousness thanks to their in-limbo animal consumption, and they’ve fallen madly, deeply, weirdly in love with one another, despite the glass wall that separates them. Their fascination with each other gives Happ a terrible idea.
With the departure of August (did she just decide against coming back for the umpteenth time?) there’s an empty space in the cage, and Happ’s had his eye on a Cuban guitarist whose NDE was a drowning. Unfortunately for Happ, the woman’s completely resistant to his charms and wants exactly nothing to do with his little experiment offer. She’s instead got her eye on a sweaty club boy who likes to grind on the dance floor, and while Happ’s visibly jealous, it doesn’t take him long to put two and two together. He’s seen those bedroom eyes flashed around before, and he just so happens to have a pair-wearer tucked away in his little collection of humans.
What a great way to get back at them for their little dance rebellion, right?
Naturally, Homer’s shocked to bits about every moment of the outside. He’s shaking, can hardly stomach the non-pellet food, and doesn’t even know how to run to get away from his captor before being caught on the street. His mission is to seduce Happ’s newest person-prize so that she can be taken back with them.
In a way, Happ’s a lot like his subjects here; their philosophical freedom comes at the cost of taking a life in their little celestial tunnels, and Happ, too, needs to feast on new lives to feed his own appetite for existence. Why he doesn’t at least give these people the instruments he so admires them playing makes no sense at all, but it’s probably got something to do with the fact that he’s a hideous excuse for a human being and gets worse with every breath drawn.
Happ’s plan to capture the Cuban woman works out unfairly well because even when Homer does have a change of heart and encourages her to go from his shady hotel room, this show of vulnerability is attractive to her. Happ is listening to everything, of course, but decides to spread the wealth of this very audial copulation session with his friends back in the basement.
Naturally, Prairie’s left heartbroken by what she hears, and, once our new friend joins the fold, she’s even more furious at what Homer’s done.
Meanwhile, Scott’s hatred of the gas has become a source of terrible irony because once the pipeline breaks and he’s taken to the lab, fully conscious of the water that’s filling his face tank, he kind of wants that gas back. But despite his willingness to barter some crucial details — about Homer and Prairie’s space dance, the fact that his golden girl calls him the “angel hunter,” and, oh, that she can see again — Happ still drowns him. And what’s worse is that accidentally launches some kind of ear-brain piercing devices in the process, so Scott’s really done.
Happ drops off the soggy, blood-soaked body to Scott’s old sector and tells Prairie it’s all her fault for lying — ’cause his sense of logic, reason, and synthesis of cause and effect apparently do not exist. And while she had her feelings hurt by Homer’s cheating (?) with their new Cuban friend, she picks herself up off the floor and starts doing those dances, this time with some extra conviction, once more. And guess who joins them for a new round of Dancing with the Scars? Homer.
As they engage in what can only be described as some kind makeup air sex routine, Scott’s blood starts to seep back into his body, and when he comes to, he laughs at his own doubt or betrayal of the two crazies who’ve been breaking down all the while. They’ve been right about that tunnel of destiny this whole time, and if resident basement skeptic Scott can be convinced, that means everyone’s in. With the addition of a fifth, they’re suddenly more powerful than ever.
Which brings us to a point of actual utility — the whole reason Prairie has called these meetings to order is that she wants to teach them all five of the life dances (numbers four and five must have been later discovered by the other two tank tenants). That way, she can go into the tunnel and spring her friends at long last. It has to be five, though, because her angel pal said so, and Scott reiterated the number after his latest return from the beyond.
There are still some maddening questions on the table right now like:
●Why do the front doors have to be left opened?
●What happens if someone else closes them during one of these meetings?
●Why have they had to do it this whole time, instead of waiting to leave their doors open until the ritual thingamabob?
●What’s with the scars?
But we’re at least starting to peel the onion here, so snaps for progress!
NEXT: The other Happ…
OH. MY. GOD. THERE’S. TWO. OF. THEM.
Well, there were two Happs. This is not a drill.
Happ’s Dr. Mengele routine wasn’t just born of his particular penchant for evil, but he actually inherited his perverse vision of the scientific method from his former residency fellow Dr Leon. As in, he’s a protégé of murdering for discovery’s sake, and he’s trying to best his former mentor in a race for the finish line of who’ll prove the afterlife exists first.
These two are stunningly frightening to watch together because they’ve normalized their captivity of these “subjects” to the degree that they can easily eat sandwiches off a morgue table without batting an eye and have to reach deep to even consider feeling sorry for those they experiment on. Leon even more so than Happ: In fact, he thinks of his subject pool like a restaurant manager would — turnover is key to keeping things fresh. The only thing that gets either of them riled up is the conversation over who’ll make use of their findings first. In Leon’s case, he wants to reap the financial rewards, and he thinks he’s really close to getting his hands on some proof.
Happ just wants to be part of that world, Little Mermaid-style, but, as Prairie points out, is too much of a chicken poo to go through with his own self-experimentation and find out what it’s like firsthand. Instead, he’s stuck emulating their little dance moves from his closed-circuit viewpoint and ravenously gnawing on every detail they give him about the experience.
The same is true for Leon, who has a nasty grin about the condition of his subjects but isn’t exactly facing that bright light on his own time. The pair compares notes on what’s ahead for them in the hereafter (chances are, it’s not The Good Place), and Leon’s beside himself over Happ’s suggestion that there may be more than one possible “beyond.” Instead of waxing philosophical again and congratulating each other on being equally awful, Leon gets angry with Happ. To him, his little s-word of an underling has just threatened to take away his stacks of cash on the horizon by besting him for the big discovery somehow (who can possibly keep up with the logic of two psychopaths such as these…).
Leon pulls one of his “look down at that thing over there, WHAM” maneuvers with Happ and a morgue drawer, and Happ surprisingly falls for the elementary attack ploy. He manages to outmuscle Leon, however, and ends up smothering him with a tray of the same purple goo Dead August was bathing in back at home.
Guess Leon got to find out all the answers to his questions after all.
Happ escapes the morgue in a ridiculous incognito scarf and sunglasses ensemble (when did he become so amateur at things!?), but before he leaves, he does do the first decent thing we’ve seen by alerting one of the passing nurses to people in need of help down there at the abandoned morgue. Those would be Leon’s subjects, who’d starve unnoticed without his heads-up there. Has he had some major change of heart? Has Leon’s callous disregard for the purity and higher purpose of this experiment brought him a soul all of a sudden here? Um, NO.
He does offer to take OA away to wherever she wants to go and put an end to the experiment, sending the others to some sort of alternative safety while they practiced healing rituals with the first two dance moves together, but OA declines the offer, telling him in no uncertain terms that she’ll go with him nowhere. Like she’d have a choice about keeping company with him anyway, right? She knows he’s starting to unravel and can somehow sense that he’s just killed someone.
What OA is compliant to is another experiment without so much as a puff of the gassy stuff. She’s fine with dying alert at this point, because now that they’ve gotten the other four moves (turns out, Renata, the fifth wheel, was able to scurry up the fourth after Scott), she wants the fifth so they can soul-skedaddle their ways out of there at long last. Happ wants to see them move five, too, because he’s been studying their routine through his closed-circuit view of everything and wants to experience this alternative reality for himself, so he doesn’t even pretend to be opposed to her goal.
When OA gets to the next level, though, no one’s home. Her angel Katoon is long gone from the starry realm, and OA thinks it’s because she doesn’t want to share the last move and have Happ come knocking on her door next.
OA’s returned to her cell and informs Homer of this new development, and the two console each other with a drawn-out discussion of raising celery stalks, while Happ listens to the sounds of Saturn because he believes that’s where OA was transported during her latest romp through heaven. He falls asleep at the wheel, and that’s when Stan, the policeman who’d moseyed by once before on other business, strolls in and sees his security monitor display of caged humans — and then he puts a gun to Happ’s head.
NEXT: Hello Asheville…
It took seven whole episodes, but we finally have an explanation for what “The OA” means: Original Angel. Facepalm. It was there the whole time, wasn’t it? The significance was about more than just its homonym status with “away” after all. We find this out after Prairie/OA is prompted by her therapist to have a dinner out with her “parents,” Nancy and Abel, to try and normalize their home life.
She’s been having some more of those nosebleed nightmares that have, in the past, signified something horrible (the bus crash, her fateful trip to NYC). She’s convinced there’s some puzzle piece she’s missing, and her counselor thinks it’s got something to do with her home life being so out of whack. She needs to accept her pain as it comes this time, he says.
Their dinner out goes over like a lead balloon. It’s fun at first, as they reminisce about an old mustachioed boyfriend who benefited from her sightlessness, but then a rude stranger comes along and snaps an unwanted selfie with Prairie and ruins the whole mood. Nancy has a mini-meltdown over what people are saying about Prairie’s time in the hole — apparently, the kids all think she was sexually violated and beaten to a pulp — and that invites her own questions about what happened to her. Where was she? Where did the scars come from? Who did that to her?
As OA predicted, Nancy does not like the answers she has to give. She tells her that she’s the Original Angel and that she did the scars to herself as a reminder of the dances she needs to do to enter another dimension, and Nancy slaps her right in the face. French is there waiting tables and springs her from the restaurant then and there, but he’s still quick with a pep talk about how maybe, just maybe, the Johnsons are that missing piece she’s been searching for. Her real family. Another “accept your pain” speech, basically, and it couldn’t come at a better time because she’s about to face the wrath of Steve.
See, Steve’s parents have finally found out about his throat-punching incident from the pilot. The school principal found a social media subtweet that linked Steve with the chorus singer’s injury, and he dutifully reported it to the boy’s parents. They then used that as leverage against Steve’s parents, who have to fork over $5,000 for the medical expenses to avoid a lawsuit. If they weren’t serious about calling in the Asheville guard before, now it’s really happening.
And it’s kind of a shame, too, because Steve had some extra pep in his step earlier that day. He’d finally talked to (and kissed) the snarky girl from his alternative learning class, and he was even playing nice with Buck and French. Plus, he’s taken to dance move training like he was made for it. So, when the guard is called in, he’s disappointed that his past has finally caught up to him at a point when he’s finally changing his ways.
Luckily, Ms. Broderick-Allen (who’s going by BBA nowadays because everyone needs an acronym, apparently) spots him being assaulted into the van and comes up with a plan for how to keep him from boot camp. When Plan A — shouting that his escorts are molesting him at a gas station, where no one within earshot seems to care — fails, she decides to make good use of the $50,000 cashier’s check she’s been holding onto.
She may not get the divine answers she’s been seeking out of her brother’s death, but she can rescue this boy she’s grown to care for, and that’s something. But even though he’s saved from his prison ahead, he’s still distraught over the fact that his parents looked the other way while these two men brutalized him in their front yard.
Because Steve is still an unreasonable person at the end of the day, he stabs OA in the leg in a fit of rage. And because OA is still completely weird, she accepts that pain and hugs him ’til he calms down. She tells him the only way she survived for so long in her pain is by having friends. As they say, misery does love company.
And with that, there’s one last session of story time to go before the big dance… “Are you ready?” A thousand times, yes. Well, we’ve gotten this far without knowing (1) how OA escaped, (2) what happened to the rest of them, (3) who found the fifth dance and how, and (4) what’s going to happen to her new friends in the process of this otherly dimension trip. So there’s a lot to accomplish in the final hour, and I am HERE for it.
NEXT: Is this is the end or just the beginning?
Whoooo boy. What a show.
There’s a lot to unpack here in the finale, and part of the difficulty in doing so is that, like pretty much every other installment so far, this episode leaves a lot to the imagination. This was obviously just meant to be a total mind-trip of show that made its audience become both superstitious and skeptical about OA’s story — not to mention completely confused.
Do we take a leap of faith and trust her story, or was Prairie just crazy this whole time? Was she really ever Nina, the child of a Russian oligarch who survived a near-death experience and lost her sight thanks to the interference of an angel, or was she just a blind orphan who spent too much of her youth locked up in an attic? Was her captor really such a maniacal sicko that he drowned his subjects a hundred times over just to see if he could hear their souls re-enter the body? Were there really some mystical moves that could transport her to another dimension?
The only true piece of evidence French can find that any element of her story is true — well, apart from the scars and the fact that she’s been missing for seven years — is some random YouTube video of a blonde woman who looks a lot like her playing the violin really well in the subway. That’s it. Their entire platter of proof right there in one little-seen clip.
Meanwhile, there’s a cache of books about the history of Russian oligarchs, angels, and near-death experiences, along with Homer’s Iliad, under her bed. You might think, well, maybe she just did some research on all the things she’d been through OR you might think, hey, this girl went nuts in captivity and came up with a story so that her lost lifetime would be a lot more fascinating than it was. Which do you choose? Her five high school buddies aren’t so sure, either.
They hear out her final chapter, which reveals that Officer Stan agreed to forget about Happ’s torture chamber in exchange for him forcing his charges to cure his ALS-stricken wife, Evelyn. Homer knew that if they didn’t cure her, Stan would get frustrated and call the law on Happ, but Prairie didn’t want to leave the poor woman in her body-trapped condition like that.
So, they did the dance, and Evelyn was made mobile again. It was the right call because, as Katoon once said, getting these move codes entails a serious sacrifice. Their decision to forego freedom so this woman could be healed would certainly qualify, and guess what? She just so happened to be an NDE survivor herself who had the fifth code all ready for them (and the ever-looming Happ) to learn. With that, their window to the other side was then fully open, and Happ didn’t need Prairie around anymore to get there — he could be the fifth. He obviously felt spiteful of her for lying to him and turning him down for a different life and jumping on the chance to finally touch Homer’s skin in the extra room. So, he ditched her on the side of the road, which is exactly how she ended up in her flimsy dress jumping off a bridge in the very beginning of the show.
Somehow, the tail end of that story was overhead by the kids’ parents, who are livid about the fact that their children have been spending all this time with this half-naked weirdo woman who’s telling everyone she’s an angel. The Johnsons try to take her away to a motel they can’t afford, and as remuneration for their trouble, she finally fills them in on a few details about her time away. That’s when Nancy reveals to Abel that there actually was a runaway note and that she basically kept it from him all those years because she didn’t want him to realize they chose the wrong kid that day at the orphanage. Ouch.
While they’re arguing, Prairie resorts to prisoner breakout mode and tries to call information to connect her to her new friends but realizes she doesn’t know enough about them to even get their numbers. What’s French’s last name? What’s Betty even stand for? She knows exactly nothing about these people whose lives she’s royally messed up.
In the end, the five basically break up. Steve’s got a new girlfriend and is hanging out with his alternative education classmates; Buck’s back with the quiet boys; French is joking around with jocks again; Jesse’s spending time with the stoners; BBA is clearing her desk thanks to her unethical involvement in all this abandoned house brouhaha.
Meanwhile, OA’s medicated and spending her time gardening with Abel and taking bathtub naps when her nose starts bleeding and she figures out what she’s supposed to do. With Abel’s blessing, she breaks her obvious house arrest and runs to the school where an active gunman has just come on campus and is making his way into the crowded cafeteria.
The five somehow all converge again and do their dance, and just as the fifth move is finally on, the shooter’s been distracted long enough for a school employee to tackle him from behind. Is this the kind of life-saving maneuver she meant or mere coincidence? Only a few stray bullets are released in the takedown, and one of them hits OA square in the chest just as she’s finishing up the moves outside the window. As the ambulance carts her away, Steve hears a “whoosh” noise and is convinced that she’s finally making her way to that fabled other side. For him, it’s real.
Indeed, we see OA wake up in a bright room and mutter the word “Homer?” to leave us on a major cliffhanger. Is he alive? Is he dead? Are the others with him? Is Happ there with them?
Other lingering questions: The open door policy was pointless, right? Obviously, the five didn’t all leave their doors open that day, so what was the reason for that piece of random again? Whatever happened to Katoon? Did Homer’s kid ever get word of his condition? Rachel’s family? Did Prairie ever bother telling anyone that their people were with her down below or give the FBI any insight as to how to find them? What do the Prairie Five do now?
Overall, The OA was an ambitiously original show that didn’t hesitate to embrace its own oddities (those dance moves, in particular) while keeping almost everything within the plausible realm of skepticism. The use of the therapist as a source of normality is a rewarding tactic because it blurs the line even further between her truth and their reality, which is delightfully frustrating. The show was messy at times, but that only made it even more surprising throughout, and the constant tonal shifts were equal parts irritating and engrossing. If there’s a season 2, it’s gonna be bonkers.
Another Netflix Original win.