So far all of my posts have been of films and series that I like, so it’s time to shake things up a bit.
The OA is a series on Netflix which consists of eight episodes, with only one season having aired so far. The plot revolves around a woman named Prairie/The OA (Brit Marling) who reappears after having been missing for seven years. At the time she disappeared she was blind, but now can see since coming back. Throughout the season she tells a story to five random people about how she became blind, how her life changed as a result, and what happened over the last 7 years to help her regain her sight.
Mild spoilers from the first two episodes follow.
First, the positives. All of the actors (with one exception) range from competent to excellent in their roles, with my two favorites being Phyllis Smith as the schoolteacher Elizabeth and Jason Isaacs as Hap, a doctor running experiments.
Smith’s character has an extremely sympathetic and effective character arc throughout the season and I wish that she had been the protagonist, maybe someone who had been through Prairie’s story in the past and it came back to haunt her. Her sadness and hope to make circumstances better for her and those close to her stands out throughout the season.
Isaacs brought a charisma, intelligence, and ruthlessness tempered with slight compassion to his villainous character which often made me want to see him succeed in his work, which is especially impressive as he is written as a reprehensible human being.
End of spoilers for now.
Also, Prairie’s story of what she had been doing for the last seven years is interesting enough to make me curious about what happens next season. I’m not sure that I’ll watch though, because of…..
The bad stuff:
As I said before, there’s one performance in this series that I can’t stand, and it’s a big problem that it’s the main character Prairie herself. This character largely disregards her parents when she reappears, with little concern for their feelings for losing and finding their daughter; she won’t even tell them or any officials what has happened to her while she was away. Yes, there is something revealed later which makes her mother seem selfish, but it pales in comparison to how her daughter treats her like a stranger for a lot of the series.
Prairie acts very aloof and pretentious when interacting with most characters when she reappears, one example being when she lies to Smith to get another character out of trouble for injuring someone. A lot of time watching this character was grating, and I found her to be less sympathetic than the villain.
I wish I could say part of it’s the writing and that Marling herself was giving the best performance she could, but considering that she was also the co-creator and executive producer of this series she likely had a lot of input when writing her dialogue.
The other character I didn’t like was Steve (Patrick Gibson), someone who starts out as a bully at the high school he attends. He’s the character I mentioned who attacked someone, specifically damaging the voice of a choir singer because he’s friends with a girl that he’s sleeping with. He also uses his attack dog on Prairie when she walks in on him dealing drugs.
I know that they’re trying to redeem him throughout the season by showing circumstances at home and how he feels out of place, and he does have some redeeming qualities like helping a transgender boy with his hormone therapy, but I felt very little sympathy for this character. The two big differences between him and Prairie, however, are that 1) he doesn’t act as though he believes he’s above everyone else, and 2) Gibson emotes much more during his performance, trying to make the best of the writing for his character.
The execution of the story and its basis are deeply flawed. Prairie claims in her story that she was one of a group of people who has experienced near-death experiences and were being held and experimented on by Hap, who is trying to gather evidence of the supernatural. The premise involving near-death experiences is interesting at first, but later abuses the suspension of disbelief with the plot point that people who have had them can be killed and resuscitated repeatedly without ill effects. If you’re drowned and revived repeatedly over a period of years there are going to be problems with your body.
There’s also a scene where a character should have been able to easily escape and have authorities take Hap into custody, but instead something even more ludicrous happens. There can be some additional leeway given to this if they’re going for a supernatural angle with this series, but the answer to that is frustrating as well.
One of the final reveals of the season is that Prairie may have made the whole story up using story elements from books around her room. She was telling the story to the five people who saw her web video and teaching them supposedly divine moves to open a gateway to save the people still in captivity, but her therapist says it was her way of dealing with her trauma. There is no answer as to whether this is the case or not by the time the season ends, and I’m stupefied at how the moves she taught them were used in the end.
The people she taught the moves to used them to stop a school shooting. Yes, you read that right, the unstable gunman was so confused in the middle of his rampage by a few people doing what looked like a dance that, instead of shouting at or shooting them, he stands there and gets tackled. One of those doing the dance was a teacher and I don’t think that suddenly standing up and making quick movements is what should be done in a hostage situation.
This series was incredibly frustrating to watch, yet I did so for a payoff which never came. Most of the actors do a good job and the basic premise could be made to work, but the execution here leaves much to be desired. If you’re expecting the next Stranger Things you’ll be highly disappointed, and I would only recommend watching if you’re prepared for a lack of closure.
Rating: 2/5 ★★