If you haven’t watched Netflix’s new show The OA , go, do that right now. Its classification is a bit nebulous, some calling it a spiritual thriller, others calling it paranormal. To be honest, an argument could be made that it’s simply science fiction (along the order of The Prestige) since it does try to construct an inner narrative based on science albeit one that drifts far off into the metaphysical. In any case it’s an engrossing show, a darker, more mature Stranger Things. And when you get to the finale, you’ll inevitably be scratching your head seeing as it does not answer all the questions we have.
SPOILERS AHEAD—Only go beyond if you’ve finished all the episodes.
Yes, I’m talking about this finale.
Apart from the bravery it took to have a literal flash mob be the climax to their self-respecting season one, the writers created so many more questions than they answered with this scene. As our five devotees perform what I’m going to call The Mystery of the Five Movements. we see no signs of the alternative dimension The OA was describing. Yes it was to be invisible, but we see no bullets “forking” off into another path or even the shooter’s face to let us know that this odd dance is serving as anything beyond simply an odd distraction.
Afterwards, however, we see that not a single student in the school shooting is hurt. Only the OA herself has been wounded and is immediately carted off in an ambulance. A minute later, she wakes up in a room of all white whispering “Homer?” And then the season ends.
Upon my first viewing of The OA (yes, I’ve watched it twice now), I thought that the ending was simply a flat, failed attempt to close out a complex story. I thought maybe there would be a second season. (Based on the amount of viral buzz it’s creating I think there will be). So maybe the writers wanted to leave open ends to explore down the road.
But upon my second viewing with a friend, I was struck at his knee jerk reaction as the finale closed. “I loved it. The OA’s whole story was fake,” he said, and I couldn’t believe his words.
Of course, we were provided evidence to suggest that her story could be fake, but never once did I think that it was fake, or even that the writers thought it was. But as I started thinking about it, I realized maybe I had been played a fool, being lulled into a false narrative a la Life of Pi. But that created some serious issues in my mind, and I’ve organized them below.
Did the Mystery of the Five Movements save the kids at the school shooting?
In order to answer this we have to look at the support provided throughout the season. The answer at first seems clear: Homer and the OA brought Scott and Evelyn back to life with their Movements in Hap’s bunker, so of course the Five Movements had the power to prevent widespread tragedy in the cafeteria.
But immediately we’re faced with another question...
Can we trust the OA’s story?
French explores this question briefly in the last episode, finding a collection of books underneath the OA’s bed which would seem to point to her crafting a tale from her imagination. It’s enough for him to back out of the faith, at least temporarily.
We also learn that The OA has enrolled in creative writing classes and that second-hand trauma could have played a role in her needing to process and pass her trauma onto other people. Perhaps she needed five people to distribute the amount of pain that she felt while being kidnapped and perhaps she needed to convey a fictional narrative in order to do that.
But this forms more questions.
What about the clues which point to the veracity of The OA’s narrative?
She received a premonition of the school shooting taking place in the cafeteria, and as far as I know, the hints dropped throughout the season (at one point a newscaster can be heard in the background from a TV saying that a shooter is wandering around a neighborhood) did not point to the location of the shooting transpiring in the cafeteria. So where did these premonitions come from if not from another realm?
Also we know that the bus crash in her childhood did transpire since Steve and Jesse found an article about it online. We also know that she did lose her sight at some point in her childhood since Nancy and Abel adopted her blind. We also know that she regained her sight at some point in captivity, and I don’t think any physical attack from the back of a gun could feasibly do that without the assistance of the metaphysical.
So we’re now left with hints on both sides of the debate, which then leads to question
Why did the writers construct the story this way?
I understand when stories such as Life of Pi decide to drastically change the perspective at the end that they’re doing so to make a point: Should we believe a fanciful story or one more based on logic? But when the writer does that, they are more than obligated to provide alternate theories for every event that transpired in the made-up narrative. In Life of Pi every fanciful character had a real-life counterpart. For The OA, however, we really aren’t given any evidence that she was lying... until the last episode comes along.
There’s a clear narrative momentum going into the finale that seemed to suggest, even despite the information French had gathered to the contrary, that The OA had been telling the truth the entire time. From a narrative perspective, we were going to be rewarded with a clear demonstration of the spiritual as the five devotees gathered together to perform the work of their faith. Instead we are given a tepid dance routine, swelling strings and timpani, and little else.
I can fully respect when the writer wants to end their story ambiguously to spur questions on faith and logic, but here it feels like the gut-wrenching narrative we suffered through with The OA was invalidated for a cheap gimmick trick at the end.
I don’t know, what do you all think?