Holiday Binge-Watch: The OA

This is the new show that just dropped on Netflix. It’s eight episodes about a woman who turns up in a hospital after being missing for seven years. The big twist: before she went missing, she was blind. Now she can see. I’m going to discuss spoilers, but try to keep them vague, so it’s up to you to decide if you’re okay with that or if you’re very spoiler-sensitive and you want to come back after you’ve seen it.

From the beginning, this struck me as the most Netflixiest show to ever Netflix. Which is to say, I think with this series Netflix has really cemented what their drama brand is. (Superhero shows aside.) Stranger Things, Sense8: mystery shows that start with one character who knows what’s going on, slowly unspooling the supernatural truth over 8 episodes as we explore more of the side characters and bring them together as an ensemble. The differences with The OA include that we’re not actually sure there’s anything supernatural going on, and the exploring of the side characters is… inconsistent. There are some great moments, but I’m hard-pressed to say there were any side stories given as much care and depth as the main story. Not that I expect them to get as much time, of course, but for instance: Buck is given a conflict in episode 1. It’s never addressed again.

So, yes, we’re not sure there’s anything supernatural going on. The OA tells us there is, but she’s an unreliable narrator at best. And the thing is, I’m fine with stories where the central mystery is not actually the central mystery. I love K-Pax, and in that story, it really doesn’t matter if Kevin Spacey is an alien. But that’s because there’s another point to the story which is much more important. In The OA, it sort of feels like they forgot another point. The entire thing really does hinge on whether there’s something supernatural going on, and then they leave it ambiguous on purpose. They say they have a plan for a season 2 (for any show to get picked up they have to have a plan for at least a couple of seasons) but I’m not sure how they could do that without immediately answering that central question. Which is maybe the point? They think of it more like a cliffhanger? Who knows. But it means the ending feels a little flat because it hinges on a single event that doesn’t revolve around any of the main characters. So if whether or not there’s something supernatural happening doesn’t matter, then what matters is the person in the middle of that event and that’s not someone we know or care about.

My mother had an interesting take, which was that she saw it as the story about the beginning of a cult. A charismatic leader claiming special powers gathers a group of misfits and trains them in a special vocabulary and series of movements. I haven’t seen any interviews with the creators that indicate that was their intention, but it would certainly be an interesting direction for the show to go in. Especially since Netflix kept the show basically a secret until a few days before releasing it, clearly in the hopes that it would amass a cult following. But it would require one major sacrifice on the part of one of the creators. To say more would be too spoilery, but it would be the sort of thing I don’t normally see happen and the sort of risk I’d love for Netflix to take.

If you’re a writer and considering pitching a show to Netflix, this is definitely something to watch to help understand their brand. Otherwise, your enjoyment might depend on your patience and interest in parsing details to create theories, whether or not the show ultimately validates them.

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About Generation Coax

I am an aspiring TV writer, amateur photographer, and craft hobbyist.
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