Review: The OA (2016)

When I’d first heard that Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij were producing a television show for Netflix, I was over-the-moon about it. And it deliveredThe OA sports wonderful performances paired with a thoroughly intriguing narrative that skilfully treads the intersections between science fiction, reality, and spirituality. Spoilers ahead.

Marling’s and Batmanglij’s collaborations have always involved the unexplained, the cult, the inexplicable relationship between sci-fi and spirituality… and it’s fabulously done. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll provide us with any answers, but in hindsight, you just never stop thinking about what went down for the last 8 or so hours. It’s quite like the genesis of a belief system – if you believe in this show, you’re more likely to see the little details that create small niggling theories about its universe and what it’s trying to say about the real world.

I view The OA as an extended, fleshed-out version of Marling and Batmanglij’s 2011 feature film, Sound of My Voice. Many of the themes in the show line up precisely with the ones in that film, and it even ends the same way – was the OA’s story true in the first place? Is she a con artist? I have to admit that I am biased. I spent the better part of 2016 arguing the validity of the spirituality in Sound of My Voice thanks to a thesis I had to write, and honestly feel it’s the same argument here: while many of the threads of story remain unexplained, that’s precisely what tests the beliefs of viewers. Hints are given in the background of scenes – scenes that are impeccably shot, I might add – and nothing in the material world of the show should be taken for granted.

Perhaps this isn’t so much a review as it is a write-up of everything I felt while watching this show. By the time it got to the cafeteria stand-off in Episode 8, there were simply goosebumps up and down my arms. Even before that, the moment OA and Homer first touched even just briefly, it was something of a shock and I wasn’t particularly sure how to process any of it. Up until then, I wasn’t really aware that neither character had made physical contact with each other before – that’s how wonderfully the show captures intimacy in relationships. But then that’s taken away a couple of frames later, almost as though over-indulgence in definitives would be too easy for the story.

The performances, as aforementioned, are phenomenal. I’m never surprised by anything Marling does, and she has a wonderful supporting cast backing her up as the five members of her little group. Phyllis Smith is quietly electric as Betty Broderick-Allen, and is by far my favourite out of all of them. Another special mention goes out to Emory Cohen, whose work has captivated me since The Place Beyond the Pines (2013). He proves himself time and time again to be a beautifully sensitive actor; one who is fearless in his emotions.

I’ve always found that Marling and Batmanglij bring a fresh voice to the sci-fi genre, and they are definitely continuing to do so with their focused, dedicated brand of complexity that permeates both narrative and characterisation. The OA is no different. I haven’t even binge-watched anything in at least a year, yet this show just had me craving more. Fingers crossed that Netflix brings it back for a second season.

★★★★½

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