By Matthew E. Owen, Contributing Media Critic for SatelliteWerx.com
Viewer Comments Welcomed below – If you’ve seen the show, tell us what you think in the comment section below…
“The OA” is a fresh new series from Netflix, and centers around some pretty weird stuff. It tells the story of Prairie Johnson, a blind girl who has been missing for over seven years. The show picks up immediately after her escape, when she is discovered attempting to jump off a bridge. After being retrieved by her family from the hospital, she is taken to her childhood neighborhood of Crestwood, and that’s when things get weird. However, the consistency of the story and character motivation halts this series from every reaching anything above mediocrity. Hopefully this review will show you why.
I won’t sugar coat it; I didn’t like “The OA” by its conclusion. I’ll get around to why that is, but first I want to sing its praises where due. The cast is inconsistent in their performances, but there are a few actors and actresses who clearly outshine their peers. At the center of the show are Prairie and her two parents, Nancy and Abel. Brit Marling, who also had a hand in the shows creation, plays the character of Prairie. Her performance as the mysterious and sometimes mystic Prairie is well executed, but falls flat at key points. I found myself often lacking the empathy needed to immerse myself in Prairie’s plight, as the focus of the narrative is on her kidnapping and time spent in captivity. When I struggle to identify with the protagonist, there’s something at fault. I can’t entirely blame Brit Marling’s performance, as the script can be pretty weak at points. The script was written in part by Brit Marling as well, so you think the writer of the source material would be the best to handle it; you’d be wrong.
The truly great acting lies in the supporting cast. The aforementioned parent characters are played to perfection. Scott Wilson (best known for his work in early seasons of The Walking Dead as the farmer Hershel) plays the father, Abel, and Alice Krige fills the role of the mother, Nancy. Scott Wilson perfectly plays a father trying to keep things down the middle; a supportive figurehead whom shows a cool head when things get rough. Conversely, Alice Krige plays the overbearing mother character of Nancy to the letter. By the later episodes, I was truly lamenting Nancy for her selfpity and burdening of Prairie. Her character is meant to be unlikable and a bit pushy, which Krige handles with expertise.
Prairie finds herself confiding in a group of people from the surrounding community as the story progresses. They meet in an unfinished house around the neighborhood they all live in. It’s within these faux counseling sessions in which we get to hear the horrors of Prairie’s capture. The group of five supporters come from differing backgrounds and are meant to reflect the diversity of the viewership. There’s the successful athlete, the bully, the stoner, the oppressed transgender girl, and the aging teacher. Amongst these, the standouts are the bully character and the athlete. While the rest of the characters are played very well, there’s a certain unspoken background to these two characters that really shine. The roles feel lived in and true. This is especially true of the bully character, Steve, played by newcomer Patrick Gibson. Between him and Brandon Perea, who plays Alphonso, the supporting cast is held up incredibly well. I’m also trying to avoid spoilers, but know that Jason Isaac (of Harry Potter fame) plays the role of the mad scientist Dr. Hunter Hap to perfection.
It’s unfortunate then, that all these good performances eventually become obsolete. It’s hard not to spoil “The OA”, as most of what’s good about the show is the mystery within it. This mystery centers around Prairie’s captivity, and just what happened that allowed her to regain her sight after years of childhood blindness. The show actually balances the modern day well against the flash back of her capture, as you never feel like you’ve missed any major points in either setting. In fact, “The OA” does a great job in helping the viewer wrap their heads around some pretty heavy stuff. The show quickly delves into heavy philosophy and questions about life after death. For everything the script does wrong, it at least manages to be cohesive and explanatory. You never feel completely lost, unless you’re meant to.
This can’t be said for the closing of the show, because that’s where it all falls apart. Like I said before, I don’t want to sugar coat this. “The OA” has one of the weakest endings I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m not talking about a simple let down either. The culmination of the show’s mystery all boils down to the last 20 minutes or so, and it’s utter garbage. As the episodes progress, the narrative a tendency to get a bit silly. I won’t spoil anything, but at times I was stifling laughter because of just how dumb things got. I’m not saying that the show lacks intelligence, but rather comprehension. At times, the script attempts to be clever, but ends up bordering on stupidity. It’s like watching someone attempt a magic trick over and over again and failing each time. At first, it’s interesting if a bit awkward, but by the fifth failed time, it’s hard not to laugh. This perfectly captures the final episode as well, which throws caution to the wind and (in my opinion) ruins the show. The ending is bad, there’s no other way of saying it. It completely undermines the overarching narrative, and renders most of viewer’s compassion obsolete. It’s like a big smack in the face to my intelligence. Character motivation is thrown to the wind, and start falling in line with the script. There’s a couple key moments of deus ex machina, in which things happen purely so the story can function. It’s sloppy writing and sloppy story telling. In the closing minutes, I was literally mocking the show for its failure to complete.
In general, “The OA” is a difficult show to review. I had fun watching it, and found myself interested in the mystery for most of the running time. However, after a completely horrid ending that botches the entire narrative, I can’t recommend it. As a moment-by-moment experience, “The OA” is interesting and even great at times. As a total package, it’s frankly too disappointing to recommend. I was really pulling for “The OA” to defy my expectations and become this year’s “Stranger Things”. Boy, was I wrong. If anything, “The OA” goes to show just how important closure is. If you can’t end a story well, you might want to hold off on telling it. If there was a better conclusion to the season, the show could’ve been great. Unfortunately, the completely botched ending and lack of closure ends up bringing the experience to a grinding halt.