[All images courtesy Netflix]
I literally just finished watching the first season of Netflix’s original series The OA, and I am trying to wrap my mind around it. By the end of the final episode, I was in tears. The story had completely engrossed me. There are many questions to ask and answers not yet given. The show explores if there is an afterlife after death, and whether or not you can return.
In other words, what happens when a person has a near death experience? Where do you go? What do you learn? Is it real? Or something the human consciences creates to help you accept what happen? Or is it a place we have created to comfort us with the scary finality of death?
If they do not order a second season, I will give Netflix their own near death experience.
The show begins with Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) jumping off a bridge into a river. A film of her action is shown on the news. Authorities have no idea who she is and she refuses to answer any questions about herself. When her parents, Able and Nancy Johnson (Scott Wilson and Alice Krige), see this footage, they come to get her. She had been missing for seven years, prompting searches with no success. Where has she been all this time? Why did she try to “kill herself”? And what are the scars on her back?
Yet, more importantly and mysteriously, how is it when she disappeared seven years ago, she was blind yet now can see?
Now home under the watchful eye of her parents, Prairie is obsessed with finding a person called Homer (Emory Cohen), who we discover later was one of the other captives she had spent the last seven years with. She befriends the neighborhood teenage drug dealer, offering to help him in return for five able-bodied people to help her rescue her friend. He uses his connections to pull together a group of four students and one teacher. She begins to tell them the story of her life and what happened to her during the seven years she was gone.
Born and raised by her widower father in Russia, Prairie was in a school bus crash that killed all the students. However, she “traveled” to the other side and was offered the chance to come back to life in exchange for her eyesight, a deal she accepted, wanting to return to her papa. She was sent to a special boarding school for the blind in America. When her father died, her mother’s sister took custody of Prairie and later allowed Able and Nancy Johnson to adopt the blind child, knowing they could financially provide for Prairie better than she could. Nancy felt a special connection to the blind little girl.
Never believing her father was dead, Prairie leaves for New York to meet him at the Statue of Liberty, as they had planned all the years before. He never shows up and she places herself in the subway system, playing her violin, hoping he will hear her and show up.
Instead she is found by Dr. Hunter “Hap” Aloysius Percy (Jason Isaacs). He can tell she has had a near death experience (NDE) because of her ability to play the instrument, expressing a more enhanced emotion through her music than a regular person in this world. He convinces Prairie he can help her learn more about her NDE, why it has effected her, and possibly what it means. However, the reality is that he collects people who have had an NDE, kills them and revives them, trying to find out what really happens to them.
Prairie gains Hap’s trust because she is blind and he does not feel threatened by her. She begins working as his house maid. When Hap becomes preoccupied with a situation with the other captives, Prairie attempts to escape and is knocked out by Hap with a blow to the head, which kills her. She has her second legitimate NDE. This time, she is given the option to either stay with her father or return to help the others. She chooses to let her father go, returns, with the ability to see again. Prairie learns from this NDE that she and the other captives are learning movements from the NDE’s Hap exposes them to. These movements, which look similar to meditation flows used in different Eastern Cultures, have healing powers when done together and eventually the power to travel to another dimension.
Hap discovers this when he sees Prairie and Homer bring one of the other subjects back to life using the power of the movements. He begins to learn them himself. The subjects know they need a total of five movements, done at the same time with five people, to complete the sequence to escape to another dimension. When they discover the final movement needed, Hap releases Prairie, which is where we find her at the beginning of the show, trying to get back into the “other world” to save Homer.
Prairie only shares this with her small group and begins to teach the five of them the movements so they can open that other dimension. To help her and her other captives remember how to perform them, they carved the instructions into their bodies.
The one constancy Prairie experiences after her NDE’s during her childhood, her captivity, and her freedom are reoccurring dreams. She is unable to decipher them but they cause her to have bloody noses. When one her small group break into her house, they discover a hidden collection of Prairie’s books about NDE’s and Homer’s Iliad, a story set during the Trojan War and the effects of when the gods interfere with mortal, with themes of fate and epic homecomings of heroes after test and trials. The five students begin to believe that been tricked and this was all a fake story of a very disturbed girl, until an incident at the school happens: a shooter.
In the exact moment the shooter shows up on campus, Prairie wakes from her dream, realizing what needs to happen for her to reach Homer, and runs to the school. Inside the school, her five followers also have a moment of clarity with the same realization as Prairie. They stand in the cafeteria, face the danger, and perform together. A kitchen worker takes down the shooter, who accidentally fires and shoots Prairie outside.
She wakes in a white environment.
The credits begin.
I’m in tears.
Brit Marling’s delivery is amazing. Her portrayal of Prairie is mesmerizing. Now, I will admit that it did take me a while to get hooked. The first episode did not capture me until she began her story in Russia. Then there was no going back.
Now, as for the subject matter….
A near death experience is when a person dies, experiences an outer body experience before returning back to life. These experiences may include feelings of levitation, serenity, security, warmth, and the presence of a light. NDE’s have been studied since the 1890’s and usually there are common traits, such as the awareness of being dead, positive emotions, the tunnel experience, receiving knowledge about their life and nature of the universe, and being presented with the decision to either stay or return.
The only NDE we see belong to Prairie. Both times she meets with a woman by a pond in some dimension. The first time, the woman tries to convince the young Prairie to stay. But when the child says no and wants to be returned to her papa, the woman takes Prairie’s sight as payment. The second time she is given the choice to stay with her father or leave and save the others. As much as Prairie wants to be with her father, her love for Homer is greater and she decides to return and asks the woman what she will have to pay with this time; she has already lost her vision. The woman tells her, she has been able to see this whole time and gives her a bird, which she eats.
Now, in some cultures, birds are symbols of courage, strength, hope, and love. When Prairie ate the bird, she gained the knowledge of what they needed to do (the five moments) and in returned, became that bird for the others, delivering courage, strength, and hope that they can and will escape. We also finally learn who Prairie is and why they call her OA. She is what the woman calls The Original Angel.
People who have had NDE’s say they have encountered people, family and friends on the other side whom they also identify as their guardian angels. Prairie is the angel for the other captives, protecting them from the depression of Hap’s experiments. She is the angel for her group of five followers, bringing together misfits and uniting them. And, in return, they all by extension become guardian angels to the students at the school when attacked by the shooter.
Then Prairie dies.
The cliffhanger for the season leaves the viewer asking: where did Prairie go? Did she make it to that next dimension? Will she find Homer? Or will this relatively idealized portrayal of an afterlife be blown away and possibly become sinister? There have been no signs of a dark side of their NDE’s; however, there usually is a force that exists to make a balance of good and bad. Which could make an interesting season two.
This first season has set up a beautiful story, exploring a topic that has enough scientific studies to support any odd experiments or theories that are presented to viewers, but still allows them to take what they want from what they see and think about their own beliefs.
I will be disappointed if Netflix does not renew The OA for a second season. Please tell us what happened to Prairie, and can she save her Homer?