Less than six months after the release of its smash hit Stranger Things, Netflix quietly dropped another fascinating sci-fi series about interdimensional travel. Well…kind of about interdimensional travel. It’s also about a mad scientist, a family of misfits and interpretive dance…but I won’t spoil too much for you. The elevator pitch version of The OA is that a blind girl named Prairie Johnson goes missing for years and then comes back with her sight, much to the confusion of everyone in her hometown. How all the aforementioned elements fit into that narrative is for you to find out.
There are plenty of reasons to watch The OA: developed characters, non-traditional yet fully believable relationships, beautifully crafted worlds, and a manipulation of suspense to rival the best detective stories. The plot, revealed through flashbacks triggered by the words of a potentially unreliable narrator, requires active analysis from the audience rather than a simple suspension of disbelief. To top it all off, the casting directors just get representation: for example, the Vietnamese-American transgender character is actually played by a Vietnamese-American transgender teen, something that is (sadly) refreshing.
Still, there are areas where the show is lacking. One of the more frustrating flaws is all of the “Jack and Rose could have both fit on the door!” moments in which the characters fail to take the obvious course of action. For example, the protagonist does not seem to have any problem lying; yet, when people bombard her with questions about her disappearance, she acts mysterious and even goes around insisting that everyone call her “The OA” without explanation. Additionally, the show consistently baits viewers into expecting a big reveal and then lets them down: either the reveal turns out to be rather uninteresting, or it just never happens at all. Even the season finale reveal, which has been the point of much criticism due to its portrayal of a disturbing event, appears out of place and shallowly rooted. The logic of the story also seems questionable in many aspects – how could the OA have known about a meeting between two characters if she had never been anywhere near it? It seems that, at least part of the time, these apparent flaws are intentional artistic choices. After all, the show does seek to explore manipulation in storytelling, and many of the plot holes could be the set-up for a possible second season. Still, the show contains so many iffy details that, for now at least, I’m convinced that these problems are an indirect consequence of the ambitious concept and plot.
In the end, I would recommend giving the show a try. Even though I’ve emphasized a lot of what still feels confusing or unsettling to me here, the show’s good moments tend to rival and even to outshine its bad ones. In watching it (okay, binging it), I was fully invested and felt the whole range of emotions. Sure, the show had its frustrating moments and I think that the writers could have done better in some parts, but overall, it was a unique and surreal experience.