Warning: Spoilers ahead for “The OA” season one.
With only two weeks left in 2016, Netflix surprised subscribers with the release of a new cerebral drama series called “The OA.” The eight episode anthology follows a woman who calls herself the OA, though her adopted parents named her Prairie when she was a young girl.
The season finale concluded with a dramatic school shooting, a performance of functional interpretative dance (called “movements”) that can allegedly open a tunnel to an alternate dimension, and the possible revelation that OA was making everything up from the start.
We’re going to dive into the details more, and see if we can discern what was happening at the heart of OA’s story and the divisive way season one came to a close.
Starting at the real beginning
To understand what happened in the eighth episode, we’re going to walk through the events chronologically according to OA’s story. Feel free to skip this chunk if you have an excellent memory.
OA says she was born in Russia in 1987 to a wealthy father who owned a metal mine. She had recurring vivid nightmares about being trapped in “an aquarium” and her nose bled each time this happened. It turns out that these special dreams were really a premonition.
OA’s school bus was driven into a lake — an attack from a criminal organisation called the Voi, who wanted to send a message to the children’s wealthy parents. OA died, but was “sent” to some sort of alternate dimension where a woman named Khatun was waiting for her. Given the choice to stay or return, OA chose to go back to Earth. In exchange, Khatun took her eyesight so she would not have to see the suffering in her future.
OA is sent to America to live with an aunt, because her father believes she will be safer there. She eventually received word that her father was killed, and OA is adopted by new parents named Nancy and Abel.
She continues having dreams/premonitions, and sleepwalks while speaking Russian. Nancy and Abel wind up heavily medicating her for 13 years, under the advice of a doctor.
OA believed her new dreams were a message from her father, telling her he was alive and would meet her at the Statue of Liberty. So she ran away from her overly attentive adopted parents on her 21st birthday, and went to New York City. But her father wasn’t there. Instead she met a man named Dr. Hunter Aloysius Percy, or Hap for short.
Hap was obsessed with understanding NDEs — near-death experience. He convinced OA to come with him for a study. However, when she arrived to his house, he locked her in an underground cage along with four other “test subjects.” She lived there for seven years as Hap killed his test subjects over and over again using a kind of drowning tank.
One day while trying to escape, OA received a blow to the head from Hap. In another NDE, she travels to the same alternate dimension and once again meets Khatun.
This time, OA was given her sight back and instructed to swallow a bird. This act gave OA a “movement,” a series of hand and body choreography accompanied by specific breathing and sound. Khatun warns her that more suffering is ahead.
“All five of you must work together as one to avert a great evil,” Khatun said.
Eventually one of OA’s fellow “test subjects,” Homer, was given his own movement during an NDE. The group’s five movements were supposed to open a portal to another dimension when they were performed together. OA and Homer realise that the movement can also heal people — they bring fellow prisoner Scott back to life and help another woman recover from ALS who ends up providing them with the fifth movement.
But right after receiving the fifth movement, Hap forced OA to leave the house. He dropped her at the side of a road and told her that he was going to move all the others so she could never find them again.
This is where the pilot of the series begins — with OA trying to find a way back to Homer and the other captives. She jumps off a bridge, believing that if she can have another NDE then she might be able to find Homer. But instead she wakes up in a hospital, and is turned over to her adoptive parents who haven’t seen her in seven years.
OA and the new group of five
OA decides that the only way for her to find Homer and the others again is by teaching the movements to a new group of five people. Together, she believes they can open a portal and she can travel to wherever Homer is and be with him again.
Through an odd set of circumstances, OA convinces five people to meet her every night in an abandoned house. Jesse, Steve, Buck, French (Alfonso), and their teacher Betty Broderick-Allen (who everyone calls BBA).
OA tells them her story over the course of several nights, slowly introducing them to the idea of NDEs and the alternate universe she’s travelled to. While she meets with them at night, OA goes to the FBI offices during the day for therapy sessions with a man named Elias Rahim. While we know OA isn’t telling her parents the real story, it’s unclear how much she tells Elias.
What she definitely tells Elias is that she has a mission, and that her premonitions have been returning. At the beginning of episode seven, OA has a new dream/premonition. In it she sees large glass windows and hears people screaming, silverware being dropped, and a gun firing. She tells Elias that she feels “something terrible is coming” and she wants to “just solve the puzzle of the premonition on time.” She doesn’t understand exactly what she’s seeing, but she knows it’s bad.
The group of five get the entire story of Hap and the experiments, and OA teaches them all five movements.
Their efforts are foiled after the four teenagers’ parents find out about the secret meetings, and walk in as OA is dramatically holding a knife and has her dress halfway off while she recounted Hap attacking her. From the parents’ point of view, it looks like a psychotic 28-year-old is messing with their children while a teacher sits by and watches.
The finale jumped in time then, at least a month or two, and we’re led to understand that OA is being medicated again. In the show she says she’s taking “Lyprexya” which might be a stand in for a real drug called Zyprexa used for treatment of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Meanwhile BBA has undergone some sort of legal battle, probably over her involvement with her four students and OA in a creepy abandoned house late at night. The four teens — Jesse, Steve, Buck, and French — have all gone back to their separate friend groups in the cafeteria.
The school shooting and the movements
The final climax of season one was unexpected. A kid — who appears to be male — comes to the school campus with a gun and opens fire. BBA and the four teen boys are all in the cafeteria together, and begin doing the movements OA taught them.
This is where the show threw some viewers for a loop. It may have seemed out of left field; however, it was technically teased back in episode five in the subtlest of ways.
While getting ready in her house, BBA had the radio on in the background. A newscaster says: “Police are saying seven people were killed after a shooter opened fire inside a shopping mall on Tuesday evening. Authorities are searching for the suspected shooter, whom they say left the scene before police arrive. He was last scene walking towards…”
The audio trails off there.
But back to the school shooting. OA’s group of five perform the movements, and the shooter stood still watching them. Eventually, one of the cafeteria workers takes advantage of the shooter’s distracted state and tackles him. The gun goes off again in the struggle, and when the camera zooms out we realise that OA was standing outside doing the movements too. She was shot in the chest when the shooter was tackled.
The scene cuts to OA being loaded into an ambulance. She looks at the group of five and says, “You did it. Don’t you see? I have the will. Can’t you feel it?”
And then, as ambulance begins to drive away, Steve hears a whooshing noise. This is the exact sound Hap described hearing when he first realised that some form of consciousness would leave the body when you died.
Steve says “it’s happening” and runs after the ambulance, yelling for OA to bring him with her. Then everything goes black and suddenly OA is in a brightly lit room. As the screen goes dark again she says “Homer?”
So what the heck just happened?
Your interpretation of the ending depends entirely on whether or not you believe that OA’s experience was real. If you do believe her, then it means her premonitions she has had since returning home were about the school shooting and she was inadvertently preparing the group of five for facing their own “great evil.”
We know the movements have a healing power, so perhaps their combined efforts were enough to momentarily heal whatever it was that led them the shooter to their murderous rampage. It’s also probably not a coincidence that the two times we saw the fifth movement completely, someone was shot and killed immediately afterwards.
The first time was with Evelyn, the sheriff’s wife with ALS who Hap forced OA and Homer to heal. Evelyn showed them the movement, and then almost immediately Hap ran into the room and shot her. Here’s how Redditor 713hobofredo explained it:
[Evelyn] does the movement then hugs her husband and then gets shot. The motion of hugging her husband would end up with her hands over her heart just like the OA’s hands were in the last scene when she was shot. So maybe the fifth movement is not only the initial movement, but also requires the hands over heart/killed with a bullet part.
Prairie’s death was probably an essential part of moving through the tunnel of time space to find Homer again — that’s why Steve said “it’s happening.” Their efforts had worked, and she found Homer again in the end.
But what if the truth is much less fantastical than that? What if OA really did have some kind of mental disorder, and her version of reality doesn’t match with everyone else’s?
In the finale we saw French break into OA’s house while she’s staying with her parents at a hotel. He went into her room and found a violin in the closet and a box from Amazon under her bed. The box holds several books — volumes on the Russian oligarchy, NDEs, angels, and a copy of Homer’s “Odyssey.”
This might lead you to believe that OA was fabricating her story for the group of five.
But there’s an alternate explanation. Redditors have already begun speculating that Elias, the FBI worker, planted those books and the violin in OA’s room. Why else would he be in their house in the middle of the night? And why was he so concerned with whether or not French was with other people?
Perhaps the FBI didn’t want any credibility given to OA’s story, and Elias was there to make sure she wasn’t taken serious. Several things are suspicious about the books, anyways. For one, they don’t look like they have been read very much, especially by someone doing research who would probably need to take notes or mark pages.
Plus, OA was talking about Homer before she had access to the internet. And the second she did have internet, she looked up “Homer Roberts” on YouTube and found a news video featuring him. Though you could argue that she was imagining things, we’re more inclined to take that scene at face value and say that Homer exists outside OA’s head.
The timeline also doesn’t add up for OA to have crafted that story based on books she ordered online. She received internet access from Steve and either that same night or the next, she began telling her story to the group of five. There simply wasn’t enough time for her to order books, have them delivered, read them, and piece together a made up story.
But the show’s creators, Brit Marling (who stars as the OA) and Zal Batmanglij, told Variety that the ambiguous ending was intentional.
“I think there is something really delicious in the mystery about questioning the storyteller’s truth,” Marling said. “[…] I think the place it kind of ultimately arrives at is that it maybe doesn’t matter as much the details are true, because there’s some essential core that she’s imparting that smacks of honesty.”
There were elements of her story that must be true — like her Russian childhood (remember when Abel recorded her speaking Russian in her sleep?) and the scars on her back. Plus Elias tells OA that her medical reports back up her story of imprisonment because she has Vitamin D deficiency and other symptoms of malnutrition.
Her blindness is the focus for many when it comes to discerning the truth, but you could explain the supernatural experience away by saying that her blindness was imagined or psychosomatic.
Co-creator Zal Batmanglij throws some weight behind this idea.
“I guess I believe the trauma in her story is true,” Batmanglij told Variety. “Maybe she couldn’t tell her story as it actually happened, but she experienced something. I don’t think the details matter. I think that there are lots of different interpretations. I think that’s what’s going to make it fun, if people do connect to it.”
So do you believe OA? Or do you think the series was a deeper look into the perspective of someone struggling to cope with a mental disorder? Either way, we’re all eager to hear the response to OA’s final question: “Homer?”
NOW WATCH: This is a $350 steak
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.