When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.
Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.
Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.
With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.