Warning: this feature contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review of The OA here.
Netflix’s latest surprise hit, The OA, is a bold and ambitious show that – depending on your opinion – either falls to bits during its final ending or cements its place as some of the most daring TV around.
But whatever you make of The OA’s unusual fusion of storytelling, PTSD and interpretive dance, the creators clearly made sure there were lots of questions to ask about it when the time was up. Here, we’re going to do our best to present (and answer) those lingering queries.
With massive spoilers for The OA ahead, not to mention speculation about what might be revealed in future seasons, we’ll start with the question everyone’s been asking…
What does The OA stand for?
The closest this show gives us to an answer comes in the Olive Garden scene, where Prairie spills all to her mother and announces “I am the Original Angel,” only to receive a slap in the face. Earlier in the series we learned that she nicknames Hap the “angel hunter” so it’s pretty clear that she believes she and her fellow captives are literally angels. Wherever that nickname came from, it seems pretty clear that’s what it stands for.
But was any of her story true?
Well, there’s the other big question. How reliable a narrator is Prairie? Let’s stack the evidence for and against.
So, Prairie was definitely missing for seven years. Her sight definitely came back at some point during those seven years. When she was rediscovered it’s because she was trying to kill herself (more on that later…) and French and Buck definitely found a video of someone who looked a lot like Prairie playing the violin on the New York Subway. Certainly, bits of her story add up.
But Hap, the other captives, the sheriff and his wife? No-one else could find evidence that they existed. There’s not even any evidence that she’s Russian beyond her word. Those are some pretty big gaps there. And of course, you’ve got the fairly big concerns that angels aren’t (demonstrably) real, and that the dance moves didn’t, as it was hoped, open a gateway to another dimension.
However, I think that everything Prairie said was true. There’s one thing that can’t really be explained away, and that’s what she did when she got home. She expended a lot of effort into getting an Internet connection, purely to see if Homer was real. That wasn’t a performance for anyone, nor was it a second hand account. If she thinks Homer is real – and YouTube seems to confirm that he is – then maybe the rest of her story is too.
What about the books?
When French breaks into Prairie’s house, he finds an Amazon box containing several books covering things like Russian oligarchs, near-death experiences and, perhaps most damningly, a copy of Homer’s Iliad. The implication is that she’s a fantasist dealing with her experiences by spinning an elaborate narrative based on some books she read.
But the books aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. For a start, they appear to be unread. They’re still in the Amazon box, even. And can Prairie even read? She’s been blind since childhood. And how do we know the books informed her story? Maybe she bought the books to better understand her experiences.
Admittedly, I have a hard time buying that anyone born after 1989 would be named Homer, but if Prairie was going to use a book by the Ancient Greek poet as inspiration for her strange story about disappearing for the best part of a decade and trying to return home, well… surely the Odyssey would be a better fit than the Iliad?
The books are almost too neat an explanation for her story. And it seems weird that the first time they turn up is just after French bumps into Elias, Prairie’s FBI trauma counsellor, who is – for reasons that aren’t clear – also skulking around Prairie’s house while she isn’t there…
Wait, what’s going on with Elias?
Good question, imaginary reader. Elias might seem sympathetic towards Prairie, but there are some odd things he does which cast his apparently good intentions into doubt – and that’s beyond the break-in.
For a start, he lies to Prairie’s parents then he tells French he doesn’t know anything about her experience – but he’s already called her The OA, so one some level he’s lying to French too. It’s possible, then, that Elias is trying to discredit Prairie, both by planting books and undermining her. Why? That’s a bigger question. With the resources of the FBI at his disposal he could have corroborated her story and, like Hap, decided he wants a piece of the extradimensional action.
He may even be working with Hap directly. The FBI would certainly have some good reasons to pick up a suspected kidnapper and murderer who spends his time making trips to Cuba…
Now, maybe Elias didn’t plant the books and genuinely does think Prairie’s a fantasist – but that still doesn’t explain what he was doing in her house…
Why did French see Homer’s face?
For a brief moment, French looks in a mirror and sees Homer looking back at him. Homer’s wounds are even replicated on his own face. Was this a literal event, or some manifestation of French’s paranoia?
My theory, and I emphasise theory, is tied to something Prairie tells the others earlier on in the series. She says that her fellow captives are no longer “here”. She’s vague about what that means. I think that Homer is no longer in our dimension, and that French is somehow tied to Homer in a metaphysical way. Possibly because Prairie wanted to use her friends to bring the other captives back, possibly because Homer’s trying to use French to communicate with Prairie.
But why would you think this?
The thing is, the story of Prairie’s escape is massively incomplete. There’s a huge chunk of time unaccounted for between Hap dumping her by the side of the road and her reappearing at the start of the series. So what happened in that gap?
My explanation is that Hap dumped Prairie, returned to the other captives, then executed the dance moves with them (or tried to) which allowed them (and him) to cross over into the other dimension. Or, alternatively, he killed them and then himself safe in the knowledge that they were going to some kind of afterlife. Or possibly the rings of Saturn.
Whatever Hap did, Prairie returned to find the others gone (or dead) and, realising what had happened, decided to reunite with Homer by committing suicide, which is where the series began.
Supporting that idea is the fact that when Prairie’s dying at the end of the series, she speaks Homer’s name as if she’s finally been reunited with him. Even if her story is her elaborate fantasy, she clearly believes that Homer’s in the other dimension, so something must have happened to make her think that.
Why did Prairie ask everyone to leave their doors open?
This is something I can’t explain at all. A trust exercise, perhaps? There’s almost nothing else in the text of the show that relates to the instruction Prairie gives, other than Buck’s family finding the open door during one of the storytelling sessions. It’s possible I missed something, so if anyone’s got any theories about this one, I’m interested to hear them.
Did the dance moves actually work?
Well, they certainly stopped the shooter shooting – though they were supposed to transport him to another dimension or something. Maybe they didn’t work because the shooter got tackled before that could happen, maybe they just proved enough of a distraction to give someone else an opportunity to actually save the day.
One interesting thing to note is that by the end of the series, all five of Prairie’s friends – Betty, Steve, French, Buck and Jesse – are wearing the same color clothing. Whether or not the movements have any supernatural component, there’s at least the implication that the five are linked by them in some extra-conscious way.
But really, the point here isn’t whether the movements actually work or not – the point is that the five characters believed in Prairie enough to try them.
Who was the school shooter?
I’m not entirely sure this one matters, but there has been some discussion around it. If it does matter, the list of candidates isn’t very long. One popular theory is that it’s Prairie’s father – she (and we) are told he’s dead, but never shown why or how. If it’s not him, it might be one of the other captives. It could even be Hap.
Personally, I think it isn’t anyone we’ve met before, or at least no-one important – just another pupil at the school who went off the deep end. None of the other characters have much of a good reason to go and shoot up a school when they don’t even have a reason to believe Prairie will be there.
Was Prairie in the afterlife at the end of the series?
Wherever she was, it clearly wasn’t her usual afterlife dimension. Instead, it was a white room bathed in soft light. You know, kind of like a psychiatric institution or hospital might put you in (on TV, at least). So maybe she’s alive, but has gone crazy and is lying in a ward somewhere imagining meeting Homer. Maybe she’s dead, and that’s her heaven. Or maybe she’s in another afterlife entirely, and has been reunited with Homer.
For the answer to this one – and, let’s face it, most of the others – I suspect we’re just going to have to wait for a second season…