If Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, creators of Netflix’s The OA, aren’t readers of the Daily Grail, they should be. I’ve written previously about how they did their homework on the phenomenon of the near-death experience for the first season of the show (which was released back in 2016), but the second season ups the ante on all manner of weird topics that we cover here, from traveling to parallel dimensions, to sacred plants and hallucinatory chemicals, through to hyper-intelligent non-human life. They obviously enjoy high strangeness, as we do here.
So, in this as-much-as-possible-spoiler-free review of ‘Part Two’ of The OA (Marling and Batmanglij dislike the confines of defining TV shows by set running lengths of episodes and seasons), I’ll give fair warning: if you don’t like the weird, then maybe this show isn’t for you. In talking about The OA with others while waiting for the follow-up to its 2016 debut, people seemed to be split between those that embraced ‘crazy’ concepts – like a synchronized group dance that could open up portals to other worlds – and those that thought it was just silly. If the latter group was bothered by part one of the show, then they’re really going to struggle with part two…especially if they stick with it all the way to the ending.
Me? I am all there for the weirdness…let it rain down. Even so, there are a few moments in the eight episodes of part two that were jarringly weird, although perhaps that was more of a consequence of the brilliant story-telling and character development that lead up to those certain points – which over time developed weird ideas like travel to a different dimension – whereas the jarring moments were complete surprises and so felt almost ‘gimmicky’ compared to the other strange topics that had slowly been built into the storyline.
I’m sure a few of those moments will alienate large segments of the viewership, and they might even stop watching – let’s just say the phrase ‘jumped the shark‘ might be updated to a new aquatic species. But personally I think some of those moments are just a natural outcome of having creators who are – as one Twitter reaction had it – “swinging for the fences”. Marling and Batmanglij are not playing it safe, looking for huge ratings; instead they’re throwing in all manner of challenging concepts and twists into the storyline, and in the process allowing them to make art.
And this allows Batmanglij in particular, in his role as director, to shine. There were a number of moments which had me thinking David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick (although also some where I felt like they were reaching for those heights but failing…but as mentioned above, ‘swinging for the fences’). The surreal and frightening experiences that occur at a curious house in ‘dimension 2’ in particular are executed beautifully. But Batmanglij seems just at ease presenting heart-breakingly emotional scenes, such as those that take place at the beach in the original dimension.
The cast are again superb, with most of the actors from part one making an appearance at some point, along with a few new ones with the storyline expanding to a new location – indeed, a new dimension (no real spoiler there folks, it’s in the trailer). Episodes in part two alternate between two storylines, one from each dimension, that share physical spaces at times. The episodes in the original dimension feel very much an extension of part one of The OA, exploring how a disparate group of outcasts, all struggling through their own personal journeys, come together as a family of sorts. Meanwhile, the new dimension’s storyline has more weirdness, and at times seems very much film noir (featuring the archetypes of the outsider private investigator and the damsel in distress leading him into danger and confusion) – there is one scene in particular on a boat that seems shot as a direct tribute to the genre – while at other times it dips into the more modern ‘puzzle house’ genre.
This splitting of storylines between two dimensions, and casts of characters, creates more elements of interest, but also makes part two feel as if it doesn’t cover quite as much storyline as part one…or perhaps doesn’t cover the story in as much depth. I felt like 12 episodes would have been a more satisfying amount to cover the myriad threads being played out.
But overall, part two of The OA was a wonderful follow-up to the original series. Characters continue to be developed, and the story grows ever more complex with each new instalment. The problem for the creators – given the core storyline of moving between multiple dimensions which all mirror each other in certain ways – might be keeping a handle on that plot complexity, while also integrating the surreal and strange elements that make The OA so enjoyable, while retaining a sizeable enough audience to be renewed by Netflix (I think Marling has said previously that it was conceived as a five-part story…and we’re already in deep at two parts).
Nowhere is that more evident than in the finale of part two. It’s final scenes are truly a surreal, fourth-wall breaking, WTF piece of television. It’s pretty mind-blowing as a one-off moment – but how that is able to be translated into a full season of story-telling might be another thing.
But me, I’ll be watching. Let that weirdness rain down.