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Reviewed by:
  • The OA
  • Marta F. Suarez (bio)
The OA (US 2016–19). Netflix Originals. Distributed by Netflix.

The OA is a Netflix Original television series that engages with multiverses, interdimensional travel, near-death experiences, angels and invisible connections across universes. Season 1 sets the narrative in motion with the story of Prairie (Brit Marling), a young blind woman who reappears in San Francisco after being missing for seven years. When she is reunited with her adoptive parents, they discover that not only does she now have unusual scarring on her back, she has also mysteriously recovered her sight. She now refers to herself as 'OA'; she claims to have been kept captive but refuses to give details to her parents or the police, who interpret this refusal as a post-traumatic behaviour. Unbeknown to them, she initiates secret meetings with a selected group of five local misfits, to whom she narrates the events around her disappearance and her childhood. The group of five is formed by Betty Broderick-Allen ('BBA', Phyllis Smith), a teacher battling grief; Steve Winchell (Patrick Gibson), a teen with anger issues; Jesse (Brendan Meyer), an orphan who deals drugs; Alfonso 'French' Sosa (Brandon Perea), a promising student with an alcoholic mother; and Buck Vu (Ian Alexander), [End Page 165] a female-to-male transgender boy who, unbeknownst to his family, is illegally buying testosterone. As OA explains to them, she was held captive with the other four people by Dr Hunter Aloysius 'Hap' Percy (Jason Isaacs), a researcher studying near-death experiences (NDEs). Convinced that NDEs are glimpses into the afterlife, Hap repeatedly experiments on his captives: Homer (Emory Cohen), OA's love interest; Scott (Will Brill), a homeless drug addict; Rachel (Sharon Van Etten), a young woman grieving her brother; Renata (Paz Vega), an excelling Cuban performer; and OA. During one of these NDEs, OA encounters Khatun (Hiam Abbass), a mysterious angel with braille markings on her face, who offers OA knowledge 'beyond the human experience', including travel to other dimensions and the secrets of life. When she awakes, OA informs the other captives of this encounter and tells them that the visions they experience are not of the afterlife but of other universes, to which one can travel by mastering 'the five movements', primal body expressions performed with exact precision, harmony and purpose. Performing these movements is the task for which the new group of five is recruited, who will help OA to be reunited with the captives, now in a different multiverse.

The narrative in the first season plays with ideas of deceit and delusion that often question the plausibility of OA's account. The audience is also drawn to having reservations about her account of events, as they are presented as exceptional and fantastical in the world she inhabits. These include, for example, claims that she is the only daughter of a Russian oligarch killed by the Russian mafia, or that 'OA' is short for 'Original Angel'. In fact, the opening credits for the first episode do not roll in until she starts telling the five her own life story towards the end of the first episode. At this point, the shots suddenly become more stylised, with long establishing shots and crisper colours that contrast with the grainy film stock that opened the series and the dull lavender colours that permeate the scenes in her hometown. By doing so, the cinematography creates a contrast between narratives, which might suggest that her account is fiction, by opposing the more realist style of the first half of the episode against the fantastic and stylised aesthetics of the second half.

All doubts regarding OA's story are dispelled in the second season, now relabelled 'Part II'. OA jumps to a dimension where she had been raised as the Russian heiress Nina Azarova. This is the dimension to which Hap jumped with the rest of the captives, who found themselves in the bodies of either the medical team or the patients of a mental facility. This season also follows different narratives: Hap's pursuit of gaining control of multiversal travel, Nina's assistance in a missing-girl investigation (Buck, now as 'Michelle'), [End Page 166...


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pp. 165-169
Launched on MUSE
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