Created by Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij
Many of my favourite television series play with my sense of reality. They are built around mysteries that are beyond the understanding of the people caught up in them. The best of them consistently offer reveals that take us closer to understanding the world while carefully, and often brilliantly, maintaining enough concealment to leave us wondering with the characters: Is this a genuine mystery with a supernatural or technological core, or are we riding within the delusion of one who will ultimately be revealed as crazy?
In The OA a twenty-something young woman suddenly returns home--her blindness cured--after having been missing without a trace for seven years. She's unwilling to tell the story of her abduction to any but a group of five disparate and, in their own ways, desperate people, "strong and agile" recruits that are drawn from around her neighborhood – an unsuccessful, aborted housing development.
The OA is about the power of telling face to face stories, our desire to believe in our own special value, and to somehow find it. The format is strange. It's not the first this then that with appropriately timed flashbacks that we’re accustomed to. Each episode (literally) is Prairie sharing a fire with her five recruits while she recounts the story of her abduction. We quickly shift to the dramatization of Prairie’s story but from time to time we’re reminded that five others are listening to “words” and having their own reactions to the tale as they bond over Prairie’s sharing of what amounts to a bizarre, new mythology. In doing so they become something of a tribe – though they don’t really know what a tribe is or what one does – only that it’s better than being alone. And while they can’t deny that Prairie’s story is compelling they’re left unsure if it is really true or real...after all, its just a story she told them.
I really enjoyed the show’s ideas, its interesting mix of characters, and its wonderfully strange choices that at times tilt the story toward the insanity explanation, then swing it around to perhaps a scientific one, and then digs into the practices of ancient tribal religions in a way that flings the supernatural door open. Gaining the big picture is like tilting a wooden maze one way then the other to guide that little metal ball incrementally toward the centre. Best of all, the ending has a great emotional pay off and remains compelling and as satisfying with regard to lore as all that has come before.