The OA, Netflix’s bizarre, otherworldly drama, first appeared on our screens in 2016. It was a whirlwind ride of near death experiences, strange dance moves and teenage angst that ended on a cliffhanger which allowed it to transcend its mythical realm and echo terrifying real life trauma. Cut to three years later and the series has finally made its eagerly-anticipated return but it’s more confusing than ever and strangely detached from its predecessor.
Brit Marling’s sci-fi drama series was gone so long that, much to the relief of its returning fans, it began with a lengthy reminder of what took place in season one. We were collectively reminded of Marling’s Prairie / OA, a beguiling young woman who returns to her small town after disappearing for seven years. Season one mixed two major storylines: flashbacks to OA‘s life as Hap‘s (a brilliant Jason Isaacs) prisoner and her new life in the present among a mismatched group of outsiders. The formula worked well but series two loses itself to big budget moments, forgoing the touching dialogue and in-depth study of human nature that season one thrived on. Instead, this new incarnation takes us on a confusing journey towards giant octopus, interactive games and mysterious houses. It’s still engulfing as a narrative, but feels, oddly, like a totally different creation from that of the first season. The only moments that echo the first, in terms of direction and narrative tropes, are the three episodes that centre around BBA, Steve and gang, and the whole piece suffers because of this.
While the effects are impressive, and something to be marvelled at, they don’t feel as though they belong in this piece. Series one was so gritty and played on this idea that certain aspects could indeed happen; it mixed harrowing drama with fantastical elements and turned out something that scared us with a strange kind of sci-fi realism. Series two loses touch with its humanity, instead focusing on seemingly unrelated (not to mention unexplained) sub-plots. While the season suffers because of this, it redeems itself with the return of the fabulous Phyllis Smith and the introduction of Kingsley Ben Adir as new character Karim. The best moments of this suspend-your-belief series come from both actors and Adir is a total joy to watch as he steps his way to stardom. There are moments of horror in this new series too, but not the real-life kind, the best-of-the-genre kind. The slow-creeping dread and jolting scares are effective and enjoyable and make for a welcome addition to a show that tries to cram a lot of unnecessary moments into what was, initially, a relatively simple starting point.
The OA is still an interesting watch; Brit Marling is a fierce talent as writer, actor and producer, alongside artistic partner Zal Batmanglij. The pair dive deeper into the unknown, exploring the multiverse with probing interest which translates enthusiastically, if a little confusingly. The heart of this show lies with OA‘s motley crew from series one and with not one scene shared in series two comes a lack of sentimentality, not to mention apathy.
Still intriguing, if a little misjudged, The OA will return for a third series but will its viewers? I for one am no longer sure.