THE OA

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - jonathan pile

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.

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.

Ver­dict 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 sev­en­hour-plus run­ning time.

She could see now, but she’d sprung a pretty se­ri­ous leak.

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