The OA returns with bold ambitions in season two, expanding its mysteries with surprising and mildly distracting results.
After the first season released back in December 2016, The OA, created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, has taken longer to return than the average Netflix series. Marling explained the lengthy production cycle last year, stating The OA is different to the ‘pattern narrative’ of other shows. ‘As a result,’ she wrote. ‘At every step along the way nothing can be imitated, it has to be invented.’
It’s understandable when you consider the first season’s juggling act. As Prairie returns home after being missing for seven years, a flashback story unfolds of kidnap victims at the mercy of scientific research. Dr Hunter Aloysius ‘Hap’ Percy (Jason Isaacs) repeatedly kills his captives to test their ability to defy death, all while romances, spirituality, and questions of whether Prairie is making this story up, dance in the background.
There’s no doubt it’s an ambitious show, but it’s often one which believes it’s more important than it actually is. The second season continues to blur genres, jump into surprise directions, and thrill in its visual palette, but an air of pretension, and the occasional baffling moment, holds the show back from entirely resonating on an emotional level.
To explain too much of the plot would ruin the surprises, but as shown by the trailers, Prairie is transported to a new dimension in 2016 San Francisco. While it initially feels familiar, the differences trickle out in increasingly bizarre ways; kicking off with the removal of Barack Obama’s entire existence. As Prairie adjusts to the wealthy lifestyle she’s inhabited as Nina, past faces begin to emerge in unexpected circumstances.
Between this arc is the investigations of private detective Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a new character hired to track down a missing girl who was worryingly addicted to a mobile game. We’re also pinged back to the dimension from the first season, as French, Steve, Buck, Jesse and co. all grapple with the fallout of the school shooting, Prairie’s disappearance, and whether they should have faith in her story.
It’s a credit to the writing and structure that these multiple arcs, even with dimensional travel, never feel overwhelming. Episodes are mostly split between these separate narratives to give them room to breathe, and everything feels methodically and thoughtfully placed to trigger the kind of speculation these shows thrive upon.
The problem with these multiple narratives is one is far more interesting than the rest. Kingsley Ben-Adir is a welcome sharp, grounded presence in a show which threatens to float off into the ether, but as his story intertwines with Prairie’s, the psychedelic weirdness ratchets up. It sounds more appealing than it actually is, and it’s these moments when you yearn for The OA to cough up something more emotionally substantial.
Thankfully, the arc in the season one dimension is where the heart of the show shines. Prairie might think she’s an all-powerful angel, but her impact on other people is more interesting than the character herself. French (Brandon Perea) and Betty (Phyllis Smith) provide this season’s standout moments, with their wrestle with internal demons and belief in The OA playing out more effortlessly than the sci-fi mysteries.
Even when the weaknesses show, however, it’s hard not to admire The OA for everything it’s stirring into the pot. The attempts to explore new territory might leave you wishing for a stronger human connection, but there’s a fearless, captivating thrust pushing this series into a realm of its own.
The OA season two releases on Netflix 22 March.
This Post first puplish at = “https://metro.co.uk/2019/03/15/the-oa-season-2-review-a-fearless-step-into-a-new-dimension-8904616/”