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The OA Part 2: An Utterly Mesmerizing, Oblique Experience from Netflix

In the two-plus years since The OA‘s first season debuted, television has experienced radical change. Drama on network television has lost any sense of ambition while streaming networks and cable channels spend billions forming hour-long shows so driven to imitate the “prestige” formula, they forget to distinguish themselves from one another. The OA Part 2, by that measure, arrives in 2019 as perhaps the most unique show of its kind on television, isolating itself from an entire industry with its disdain for conventional design, form, or delivery with a season of television that’s completely free of creative compromise. As maddeningly obtuse as it is unabashedly curious, The OA‘s return is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly homogenized medium, unforgivably dissatisfied with the way television “should” be created, written, and produced – and although it comes dangerously close to losing the connective emotional tissue that makes all the crazy shit on this show work, finds its footing to deliver a satisfyingly strange, emotionally resonant conclusion.

There’s no comparing the first and second season of The OA; sure, there is plenty of narrative and thematic overlap, but the mystery and intrigue of this second season is far more external than in season one. Once it is established that the movements did work in the Part 1 finale, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij drop any notion of being a slow-boiling mystery, and instead dives headfirst into the metaphysical madness Part 1 often alluded to. There is a telepathic octopus, miniature robots who do the movements, and a mysterious house tied into an augmented reality smartphone game; there are no bounds to the bullshit The OA surrounds its core narrative with, and Part 2 only doubles down on the most difficult parts of the show to comprehend, while further minimizing the traditional, commercially viable aspects that would draw in a larger audience. The OA pretentiously wants to be extremely different – but unlike many shows trying to imitate the rhythms of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (*ahem* Mr. Robot *ahem*), The OA never compromises that goal to justify its existence to the masses.

The OA Part 2 is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly homogenized medium, unforgivably dissatisfied with the way television “should” be created, written, and produced.

What that makes for, is seven-plus hours of utterly unhinged television, perhaps the purest artistic expression Netflix has in its now-vast library of original programming. The stories of Hap, OA, and their respective, connected “families” is something to behold, if you’re willing to leave convention at the door. For example, Part 2 has dozens of plot holes and dangling narrative threads added to the pile of unanswered questions from Part 1: while the series certainly begins to answer its central mysteries in major ways in the final three episodes, the smaller, more character-based threads of this season are mostly abandoned and condensed as time passes, and The OA focuses more and more on the metaphysical exploration at its core. Characters like French and Buck have entire plot lines that fade to dust as the eight-episode season progresses – which on most television shows, would be infuriating, making its characters feel hollow in service of an event-obsessed plot.

On The OA, however, every single moment of this show is composed from the exploration of its emotional impact: showing French’s secret nightlife for one scene, though completely isolated from the other stories introduced around him in Part 1, is an effective reminder for the emotional struggle he continues to try and balance in his life. By the same token, James’ arc in season 2 is quick, explosive, and raises more questions than it provides answers – but it serves as an important emotional foundation of the season’s second half, the connective tissue between the internal journey of season 1, and folding that neatly into the symbolically rich, mind-bending final hours of the season. On many shows, Jesse and French’s stories would serve as maddening examples of a show trying to binge eat cake without getting fat: on The OA, every moment is treated as a conduit to a larger idea or emotion, and are often presented as such.

It can be hard to watch The OA Part 2, even more so than the first season: The OA forces viewers to experience it with a full heart and a patient, open mind, in an age where the formulaic has become the most comfortable; in many ways, it is an even riskier proposition than Part 1, which was basically an eight hour rumination on trauma and how it defines a soul – Part 2 asks what happens when society, as a whole, abandons its pretensions of knowledge and opens its mind to the unseen, with a dynamic shift in scope, vision – and ultimately, potential, blending elements of science fiction, crime noir, and supernatural mystery turns The OA into a more powerful visual metaphor than it was in its original form.

Some of that comes at a cost: the deep emotional bonds formed between viewer and character are often not rewarded in Part 2, the whiplash between Michigan and San Fransicso splitting up the show’s focus and emotional allegiance from scene to scene. Additionally, Kingsley Ben-Adir’s addition to the cast as private investigator Karim offers an avenue for the more conventional TV audience to engage with The OA‘s cosmic mysteries – but it often feels like a story unmoored, more of a perfunctory thought experiment or simplistic passage to the season’s central ideas. But there is no denying the harmony of visual and creative aesthetics on display in Part 2 – particularly in the season’s back half, when the larger picture is every so slightly more clear, and how every single ounce of its creation is designed to elicit emotion and thought, making it easily the most carefully composed season of television since 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return.

The OA Part 2 will not be for everyone: even those who enjoy the beginning may hate the ending, and the massive leap of faith it asks the audience to take. But how honest would The OA be to itself if it didn’t take such incredibly short-sighted risks, at all times? The OA, at its most absolute core, is about humanity’s connections, and how, no matter how much or little people have in common, it takes a combined effort, a bilateral suspension of disbelief, to be able to bond with each other. We all come from our own realities, with our own set of beliefs and challenging experiences; The OA suggests the only way to transcend the limited bounds of humanity is to strengthen and explore those shared bonds. In the same vein, Part 2 of The OA challenges the entire medium of television  – and while its answer isn’t for everyone, those who take the journey will undeniably be affected by the incredibly satisfying second chapter of television’s most singularly genuine, unique experience.


Other thoughts/observations:

  • There’s really not enough said about Phyllis Smith’s performance as BBA; she is simply phenomenal, in perhaps the most under-recognized supporting role since Luke Wilson on Enlightened.
  • It is so strange to see The OA drop its stories from the first season wholesale; however, the muted presence of the Michigan Five in this season allows their brief moments of clarity and development to be extremely poignant.
  • Although Karim’s character is more intriguing than he is interesting, his addition to the cast was a smart choice (also, considering how lily white Part 1 was, kind of necessary).
  • Needless to say, I really, really hope we get a third season of this show, even if it takes another two years to get there.

(Editor’s note: the following bullet points contain major spoilers for Part 2)

  • That ending? Whoo boy, people are going to overthink the extremely meta ending where Hap, OA, and company all land themselves in the dimension where OA’s journey is actually a television show (because as a simple Reddit search proves, people will overthink just about everything). As a symbolic device, however, it is a stroke of genius, the kind of chills shows like LOST used to give me.
  • Homer’s story in Part 2 is perhaps the single most disappointing element of the entire season, a seven-hour long tease that mostly exists to keep the show’s story from getting way too big, way too fast for anyone to understand (as much as one can comprehend the batshit developments of this season, I guess).
  • Will we see Elodie in future parts of this show, if they are to happen? If so, I gotta learn how she makes those coordinated robots, and how she gets them to always travel with her between dimensions.
  • Related Elodie note: she gets her time traveling fuel from fucking, which is just… ugh, it is so stupid and yet so perfect. It is The OA encapsulated into a single tiny detail.
  • I’m hoping to see Steven’s arc flourish if there is to be a Part 3 filmed; his character has existed on the precipice of self-discovery for so long, it would be fascinating to see the show engage with that.
  • I won’t even try to backtrack over the details of On Night, and the tentacle porn sequence of “SYZYGY” – it is going to live on as the signature scene of the season, and deservedly so. Nothing else needs to be said.
  • There are a lot of impressive things about Part 2: personally, how Part 1’s exploration of identity is channeled through this second set of episodes to completely different results is the most impressive.
Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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