There’s an undeniable confidence to The OA, co-written by star Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij. Take the cold open for the first episode — it’s 57 minutes long. Only when the scene is well and truly set do the credits appear and the story begins for real.
This conviction runs throughout the show. It’s clearly been designed for binge-watching — there’s little regard for a standard episode length. Of the eight, they range from 70 minutes to half an hour — Batmanglij simply tells the story and when that section is finished, so is the episode. Why should it bother the viewer? After all, the next part is only a click away.
The story, in essence, concerns one thing: what happened to Prairie Johnson? But, in the same way Twin Peaks wasn’t only about who killed Laura Palmer, The OA has far more going on — from vengeful Russian gangsters to near-death experiences, and from other plains of existence to dealing with high school angst.
Much of the plot is told in flashback as Prairie recounts her seven years away to a disparate group from her hometown. But her story isn’t an immediate source of answers, instead it concocts a multi-layered mystery that will have your head whirring with theories, arguments and counter arguments as you try to solve the puzzle about where all this is heading. And, indeed, even what the show’s title means. It’s smartly plotted in that way — rarely, if ever, does it show its hand too early. Instead you discover Prairie’s secrets as her listeners do, including their real purpose in all this.
Another Netflix drama destined to saturate your social media feed.
It’s vital that the opening episodes are so gripping because, about halfway through, Marling and Batmanglij throw in a revelation that requires a leap of faith — are we still along for the ride, or has this all become too silly? You know it when you see it, it involves interpretative dance and has the potential to split viewers in much the same way “it’s a magic island” was basically the answer to the mysteries of Lost. But by this time there are such big questions still to be answered, and the interpersonal relationships of both the flashback and current day are so compelling, it’s ultimately a small leap to take.
There are other quibbles, too, such as the Titanic issue that the person narrating the flashbacks is describing events she wasn’t present for — although for the most part these could be explained away by assuming other characters told her what happened offscreen (we only see a small portion of those seven years, of course). And for the others? Well, who says we can trust everything Prairie says anyway?
And these are just small issues — ultimately, the The OA is a mature and intriguing mystery that begs to be watched in its entirety as quickly as possible, then debated at length afterwards. Another Netflix drama destined to saturate your social media feed. Don’t wait that long — the joy of The OA is the mystery it builds, then slowly reveals over its seven-hour-plus running time.