It’s never easy to predict exactly what you’re going to get when you sign up for a Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij project. Their first together was the astounding, ethereal Sound Of My Voice, a film that marked its star and co-writer Marling as a fascinating talent with a presence both soothing and unsettling. When they reunited in 2013 for The East, SOMV’s eerie, spiritual sci-fi was replaced with a tense undercover thriller with an environmental slant, like Donnie Brasco with a Greenpeace membership, but the unsettling calm remainedm
The first season of The OA was closer in spirit to the former than the latter but shared both films’ fascination with identity and belief. Marling’s cult leader in SOMV, her undercover FBI agent in The East and Prairie in The OA all claim to be something that others struggle to believe. Blind faith, these works suggest, can either lead to the truth you hoped for or to oblivion. Sometimes, the two are one and the same. There’s almost a religious devotion to it, even down to Prairie’s followers being tested by doubts, contradictory evidence and the fact that they might be believing because they so desperately need to believe.
We often lament how Netflix’s dominance has led to a glut of TV shows with little quality control or nowhere near enough time to even consider watching them all. The upside to that is a show like The OA, which couldn’t have existed in any other circumstances. It’s just too weird and too bold for even the braver networks to have taken a chance on. Its story of alternate dimensions, suburban kids and an ethereal stranger that throws everything into question drew enough Stranger Things fans, even if the interpretive dance routines, angels and [SPOILER ALERT] school shooting finale drove many of them away.
Batmanglij and Marling’s second part to the story shifts tack slightly, but doubles down on the weirdness. Part 1 ended with Prairie’s life in the balance, shot in the chest after her friends used the movements she taught them to distract a school shooter. Those movements were designed to help souls to jump from one dimension to another and Part 2 wastes little time in showing us that everything Prairie claimed was true. She is indeed in another dimension, but she hasn’t made the jump alone.
The deeper she goes into the sinister events in this new dimension, the weirder and weirder it gets, from tech billionaires creating ridesharing from the dreams of teenage girls to giant psychic sea creatures. But Marling and Batmanglij are experts at knowing how far they can push it before they need to pull back. Just when The OA threatens to teeter over the edge, each episode lands a cataclysmic cliffhanger that cuts through the strangeness and sinks the show’s hooks even deeper. By the time it gets to the stunning conclusion, you’ll wonder how you ever doubted it.
The OA Part 2 is streaming on Netflix now