A woman named Prairie is discovered after her seven-year-long disappearance, after jumping off of a bridge, and having her sight miraculously returned to her. And yet, The OA packs these revelations into the first ten minutes of the first episode! What unwinds through ten tantalising episodes are two simultaneous plots – Prairie’s life and subsequent kidnapping, alongside the collection of five misfits from Prairie’s home town in the present, in order to tell her story. Spoiler alert however, this is about to get confusing for those who haven’t seen the show.
The OA and its premise take a deep dive into what happens after we die, the complexities of human connections, as well as the importance and prevalence of sensation and feeling. Prairie, without her sight, can be clearly seen as a prophet, one who can see in a different way, perhaps into the future. And yet, what seems to be her most powerful quality is her ethereal and calming effect on those around her to make them listen to her story. We sit, alongside the gang of misfits, a perfectly accepting audience for Prairie’s strange story, as she carefully weaves her tale of loss and suffering. Weaves is the correct word to use here, as it is questioned within the plot itself and the show’s presentation of Prairie as to whether her story is merely that, a story, or something to be believed in. Similar to Cassandra in Greek mythology, Prairie’s words are bound to fall on some deaf ears. However, the five who are willing to listen become so closely interconnected that by the final episode, their simultaneous enactment of Prairie’s five movements help stop a school shooting, either by confusion, or true mysticism.
Perhaps then, the philosophy of this show lies in its depiction of Prairie’s ‘religion’. Her captivated audience, her transcendent behaviour (hugging Steve when he stabs her instead of responding with pain) and prophetess nature (her frequent and premonitory dreams) all implicate her as the apparent leader of her group of believers. She has surpassed death itself, many times, and has chosen to come back and tell the tale to those who will listen. What must then be decided is whether this message presented in the show is one of warning against religion, or in favour of its openness and acceptance.
The viewer is questioned, as we see that much of her story links closely to Homer’s Iliad, with the key love interest of Prairie’s even sharing Homer’s name. Her captor, Hap, cannot be found at all, and other aspects of her story seem tenuous after some of the gang do some digging. What’s even harder to swallow is when Prairie finally reveals what the OA means: The Original Angel. Whilst we revel in her mother slapping her for implying such a thing, it begs the question; is Prairie merely delusional, suffering from PTSD – a child who has lost her way and has used her vivid imagination to survive?
Or, perhaps, is it something more special? Writer and lead actress Brit Marling explains in The Atlantic that ‘she’s inviting them to let a new thing in’, to open themselves up to the possibility of something more that connects them all together. The gang leave their doors open when they are going to hear Prairie’s story, perhaps a visual representation of their free and open minds, ready and willing to receive knowledge of what happens beyond death. As Plato wishes us to escape the cave, Prairie is reaching out a hand to help us out of darkness and into enlightenment.