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The OA - Season 2 Review: The House of Many Ways (Some Spoilers)



SEASON 1 RECAP:

Briefly, the first season was an interesting foray featuring a young blind women returned home after she had been missing for seven years to her more or less elderly and homely adoptive parents with none other than a child-like disposition and with regained sight!


What made the first season so engaging is it's overall design. Coming off much like a great psychological thriller and physiological drama, where our protagonist Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) recruits a small group of socially dysfunctional band of unlikely heroes (let alone friends) and tells them her lifelong story starting in Russia, once being the daughter of a wealthy Oligarch to later being abducted by Dr. Hap (Jason Isaacs) when she left for New York City on her 21st birthday, only to be taken captive for Near Death Experience (NDE) research!

The season teased viewers with the possibility of metaphysics and an afterlife, as Prairie comes to explain her own NDEs to her new friends, with Marling proving to be a powerful story-teller providing much voice-over transitioning from present to flashbacks, which are well-used to showcase two wonderfully juxtaposing stories.

For Prairie, her mission statement becomes clear, as she reveals not only a harrowing love story between her and one of the other captives named Homer (Emory Cohen), but that while in captivity they discover that their NDEs could provide them with "movements" that defy physics, including reversing the effects of death from one of their friends' and fellow captives named Scott (Will Brill). --And in theory, these five movements should also be able to allow them to, in some way, travel across space-time! Prairie hopes that she can teach her new friends the movements, so she can go and rescue Homer, before it's too late. Oh, and she's also possibly the Original Angel!! Whatever that exactly means?!


It's true that by the time viewers come close to the end of season one, it's not perfectly evident that everything Prairie has said or has been shown to the audience is true. In fact the penultimate episode does try to convince viewers that Prairie is nuts, but if you're watching a little more closely, there are some clues (easter eggs), like the name "Rachel" spelled out in brail on the wall of the FBI building Prairie meets with her alleged FBI councilor, Elias. Rachel is the name of one of Hap's other captives Prairie becomes friends with, but oddly the only one in the set that has yet to receive any movements!

Lots of conspiracy theories could be derived from this information. Is Rachel an FBI informant? Does she know Elias? Or IS Elias really FBI and not perhaps some kind of agent in an "angel-seeking" organization?? Is he there to protect her or help her? If Prairie's ability's are true, is she meant to show the world something or only use it sparingly at her own discretion? Does being the original angel mean she is reincarnated passing through the "life times" of Prairie and/or are there other kinds of angels out there? Is Prairie meant to lead a bigger spiritual movement?? So much we really don't know!!



REVIEW:

Setting aside the opening scene featuring the possible death of skateboarder, caught on camera, the second season's story shifts as it follows a private investigator named Karim Washington (Kinglsey Ben-Adir) trying to get to the bottom of mystery involving an oh-so-familiar girl named Michelle.

In fact not until 33 minutes into the episode does the relevance of the new story line become clear, when we catch up to character that looks a lot like Prairie, but at first isn't, whose breaking-up with another new, but much more mysterious character named Pierre Ruskin (Vincent Kartheiser).

The women falls to ground appearing like she's had a heart attack, but the women keeps saying she thinks she has been shot.

What's really going on is that Prairie has come through to the other side and the other side being, a parallel universe (also refereed to another dimension) where she just took over her counterpart's body! It doesn't take Prairie long to figure out what has happened, but in doing so begins the adventure of discovering that Russian heiress Nina Azarova had very different life, one where she never had an NDE as child, but as a consequence of Prairie's unraveling of these details, she also was easily manipulated into being institutionalized for 14 days at a clinic on  Treasure Island.

Karim in the meantime is taken on a wild goose chase where he comes to a beautiful, but seemingly abandoned house that Michelle was said to have resided at. He finds her phone and learns that she was playing an augmented reality game, quietly refereed to among it's young players as The Q Symphony, that also happens to pay a player quite a lot of money if they could solve these puzzles.  Karim doesn't find Michelle there, or anywhere else for that matter, instead after witnessing an attempted suicide at the house, he comes to learn that the man who may be behind everything is a tech tycoon named Pierre Ruskin. His quest to find what going on takes him to a hidden collective dream research facility!

The connection to Prierre Ruskin no doubt is the piece of the puzzle that eventually leads Karim to Prairie at the clinic where their stories converge, but first Prairie is given a rude awakening when she is introduced to her doctor, Dr. Homer Roberts, whom doesn't seem to remember her at all. Prairie is then taken by Roberts to the clinic's director, and it's is non other than Prairie's version of Dr. Hap!

In this universe, Hap's counterpart was psychologist and wrote a famous book called Quantum Psychotic, but the real kicker is that Homer's counterpart is enamored with Dr. Percy and is seemingly the only one of Hap's captive-group members not to have consciously time traveled through to this other reality. The others Scott, Rachel (Sharon Von Etten), and Renatta (Paz Vega) are all there, but not without some side-effects. Rachel's stuck in a body that has dysphagia, making it difficult for her to communicate. Renatta seems to be forgetting, but tends to be extra spiteful. Scott however has clean appearance, sharper mind, as he resides in a much healthier body.


For some viewers this ongoing plot for Prairie to find Homer might seem frustrating, pushing towards something exhaustive, but given a clear season one reference, it's possible that this love story is meant to feel like an Odyssey and that is exactly what the second season beautifully offers not just for Prairie, but for the new character Karim, Doctor Hap, and the characters remaining back in the first reality.



Speaking of which, episodes 2.03 and 2.05 continue the story of Steve (Patrick Gibson), "French" (Brandon Perea), "BBA" (Philys Smith), Buck (Ian Alexander), and with Steve's season 1 girlfriend tagging along as the fifth movement wheel, as they deal with the fallout of Prairie's death. French finds himself the most disillusioned, at first completely believing that the books he saw under Prairie's bed last season was indicative proof that Prairie was mentally ill. Steve however finds himself taking on a much more serious leadership role, developing into a better man. Buck, about ready to separate from the group, finds himself experiencing a temporal phenomenon in his bedroom mirror causing them to reunite together for what should of been a small road trip to retrieve the mirror from Good Will that ultimately turns into a bigger one taking them across country to California so BBA can say goodbye to her dying Uncle, before departing from this reality.


It's Jesse (Brandon Meyer) though who ends up struggling the most, and it's perhaps because of his unique dynamic to Rachel, that allows for his parting piece of information about needing to go to their version of the Treasure Island clinic, that makes things so poignant, despite that a silver lining confirming this idea surprising comes in the form of Prairie's former FBI councilor, Elias when French calls him after reaching a dead end, now being on the run!

Episodes 2.04 and 2.06 fixate on Karim's and Prairie's search to find Michelle and the secret entry way into Nina's house. At one point Karim explains it was built by couple during the Victorian era: an engineer and medium -- and that the whole house is some kind of puzzle! Without giving too much more away, I'll just say that these episodes really switch up the format and genre and introduce some pretty insane things. The club sequence in particular is delightfully memorable, but some viewers may be turned off at the sheer audacity of such a quip, --but besides "it" being apart of the The OA's nautical themes, it's a prelude to a more charmingly whimsical version of the same idea that turns up apart of the house's puzzle!


The OAs second season's alternate reality brilliantly uses it's eerie or hazy dreamscapes and occasionally meandering puzzle pieces along with it's augmented reality element to convey a perfect metaphor for beautiful layering of story telling the second season carefully places atop it's first. It all ingeniously plays on darker themes about addiction, tunnel vision, mind games, escapism, but yet also conveys a very touching message about love, pain, and the vulnerabilities we expose to ourselves on our quests in caring for the love others.


In some ways it's captivating and breathless visuals and psychedelia-rabbit-holing plots could be compared to something like FOX's Legion, but where Legion sometimes lacks in being too reliant on supposition and mystery for it's own good, leaving viewers not being able to trust much of anything, The OA never forgets to reground it's self in the nuance of it's unique and complicated characters and their identities, allowing their stories to take way more precedence than the mysteries around them and making them all the more relatable, especially because the mystery itself does rely on who they are now vs who they are elsewhere. Their experiences are not yet lost to mysteries they exist in, but rather it exposes them by challenging them and having them experience these incredible together. It also helps that some scenes remain gritty or come with a sense of the everydayAnd for all of the out of this world things brought into the story, there is always a contrast to old school technology, such as all of the Nina's dream sessions being recorded and displayed on hundreds cassette tapes, rather than being digitally stored on some smaller device or on a server somewhere.


It's parallel universe story also ups the series overall science-fiction, fantasy, and horror elements, introducing so many new interesting little gadgets or WTF entries tethering viewers to a unique pop cultural mash-up of genres with allusions to works like Alice Adventures in Wonderland, The Amitityville Horror, The Hunting of Hill HouseThe ShinningStranger Things, or something like Diane Wayne Jones fantasy novel, The House of Many Ways, while also often teetering on something disturbingly Lovecraftian, but never reaching a completely monstrous conclusion, instead finding ways to revitalize a sense of hope, wonder, or mystical intrigue.

It's true that second season doesn't completely answer everything, including not yet telling viewers why it's important that Prairie is the "original" angel. It does however introduce a lot of new questions and gets into new mythology, but it ultimately continues to examine the construct of ethics of identity.

One of my favorite quandaries comes from a scene where the alternate Homer is having a session with Prairie, as Homer finds himself captivated by the thought of shared delusions he believes she is sharing with Scott & Renatta. In this scene two interesting things occur. Prairie begins understand that this reality is where her version of Homer's former NDE takes place and that he is may still be coming, but the alternate Homer also asks Prairie a question about what happened to Nina? Prairie says matter of factly, "I don't know her. I don't want to know her."


The conversation disturbingly goes on as Homer draws a comparison between her and Dr. Hap, reminding the audience that despite all of Prairie's good intentions that, in some ways, she is like Hap and hasn't really been thinking about the ramifications of her own actions, while also calling attention to fears about loosing ourselves. This also correlates to other scenes like Hap conversing with his new friend, another fellow traveler (surprise!) who clearly has more experience than he or Prairie does. She tells him his fascination with Prairie sounds a lot like love, and although Hap tries to deny it, he does come to admit it and the audience has to once  again wrestle with the idea, if Hap can ever learn how to ever really love another person vs how Prairie's love for Homer is also in it's own ways as reckless as Hap's love for research or the twisted way he aches for Prairie. This is all pointed out again later, when the same traveler, now calling herself a messenger, tries to help Prairie understand she needs to integrate with Nina and that Hap is an integral part to the traveling dynamics and "echoes" of certain universes.

But more over, the series once again makes a point that Hap isn't necessarily the bigger villain here, but the mysterious figure Pierre Ruskin and Hap's counterpart, Dr. Percy could be. The season was careful to introduce them both in the most shadowy ways possible, an invisible self that is important to this story, but constantly pushed off to the sides until the final two episodes. It's Ruskin and a fellow traveler though that pushes the whole story forward, or dare I say, to the next level, when it's revealed that there was a fourth dream relating to the secrets of Knob House that point to Karim Washington specifically, and where it's revealed that Ruskin somehow has Michelle's body and her experience with the rose window has been recorded, but it's up to Karim to solve the house and find Michelle's consciousness!  As for Prairie, she has to face her fear's about Nina so that she can save Homer or so the traveler said.


But the reason this Karim Washington reveal is so important, is because it gets back to the heart of that "who is the villain of the piece" conversation, as Ruskin purposes in a Hap-like fashion, that it doesn't matter how one gets there, as long as they do. Ruskin uses the moon landing and all of it's failures as a comparable example to the kids exploring the house, but Karim believes that it's the "how" one gets there that determines meaning, making it fundamental both to identity and morality.  In addition even though Ruskin is played by a different actor, some may see that he also shares characteristics not just with Hap, but the Homers too.

Kingsley Ben-Adir was also a great addition to the cast. More than all other new characters, Karim Washington adds a new crime drama element that helped to kept things fresh, but also allowed for a  new kind of story telling device with a convergence of his story onto Prairie's that let Prairie begin to thrive and come more out her shell. He was like the good stable pillar of strength that was missing in the previous reality that seems to symbolize an important stepping stone of overall character development and perhaps represents some of moral implications that Prairie and audience should be asking, even though it's true Karim has his own fears and flaws.

What the second season accumulates to is something much more meta than probably most viewers would be willing to imagine, but it's still crazy-brilliant in how it lets three of it's stories overlap across space and time, leading us to something akin to scenes in Black Mirror's interactive film, Bandersnatch.

It's also true that second season of The OA adds whimsical grandeur to it's metaphysical overtures taking viewers to some rather outrageous places, but it's still much more of an intimate spiritual and psychological story about social inclusion and exclusion in the wake of finding ourselves within each other, as the characters venture to fringes of the unknown, allowing the viewers to become cosmic voyagers along side them.

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij just went from creating a an interesting cult series to something that is much closer to master-class story telling with the addition of it's second season.



The OA surely won't be for everyone, mostly appealing to those that like something of the psychological, the spiritually occult, or visually artistic, but it's a series that has advanced so much from one season to the next, that I highly recommend it to anyone with an open mind and a need for an interpersonal mind-bending adventure. With many of mysteries left up in the air, I hope very much that Netflix allows the series to continue, as season two opened itself all up to have so much more potential.



Interesting Through Lines:

-Sea creatures: Homer's former NDE, Homer's counterpart date sequences where he nearly chokes on seafood while telling this to his date, to Prairie's experience in the club.

-Season 1 Woosh + windy tree scenes to season two's "brain seeds", Nina's digital windy tree in her apartment, to the special tree apart of the house.

-Both season open with camera footage that both involve Prairie & NDEs. Season two's being about Praire nearly killing someone else, rather than herself.

- French connection: In the second reality Nina was with Pierre Ruskin, whose first name is French and has some Homer characteristics, more or less mannerisms. The new traveler seemingly is French and she gives information to Hap & Prairie to help the, while "French" receives information from Elias (and remember French has connection to Homer).

- Eating odd things to get cosmic information. Season 1 Prairie and Homer eat light-bird and sea erchent respectively in NDE experiences. Season 2 Hap eats Stigma of plant.

Stray Observations:

Karim's boathouse door is near identical to door in one of Prairie's NDE's; the one where she gets her sight back and the first movement.

-New Traveler seems more cynical than Hap, however can't deny that Hap doesn't deserve to be set up. However, I wonder how she knew as much as she did. In some ways the traveler feels like Renatta 2.0, but one Hap sleeps with, unlike last time with Renatta, but both revolve around Hap's feelings for Prairie. Traveler also visits Prairie to give her information to help "balance" things out.  But how is she's there with another body, if she left the other one behind?????

-Nina's apartment - two birds like her childhood.

- Prairie realizes her alternate father lived to an older age, but is told he just recently died. This goes back to what Khatune told Prairie she had to give up, when she chose to come pack for Homer -- She apparently doesn't get to meet any version of her father. As a side note there's something about this that reminds me of the deal made between Ariel and Ursula the sea-witch in The Little Mermaid, although I have yet to think of Khatune as villain.

- Cool tech: The dream device, the augmented security systems at Kury and Nina's house, magnetic floor tiles, dancing cubes. (No seriously, who in the heck invented those cubes!??), The eye-ball key chain doubling as a flash drive with a key to another mystery, etc.

- Pierre Ruskin's name is not just a connection to French-themed characters, but there is some kind of name play on Pierre Ruskin and Prairie Johnson. Even more interesting there is a real life Victorian English art critic of the Victorian era named John Ruskin. He was also a philanthropist and art patron who who wrote in various styles on various subjects from geology, architecture, botany, ornithology, myth, political economy, literature, and education! He also fell in love with a young lady called Rose La Touche whom he had proposed to on her 18th Birthday. La Touche rejected him and made him wait three years before giving him her answer, but sadly she became ill and died. This lead Ruskin to mental illness and chronic depression where it was said he had delirious visions. Ruskin then turned to the spiritual, believing he could communicate with the dead. He became obsessed, needing to prove that universe he lived in had meaning, as he searched for an after life! Ruskin left behind an inspiring legacy having a great influence on politics and architecture, but even the famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, cited Ruskin as, "One of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times."

- The purple/white/gray/black color schemes take a bit of a back seat as rusty oranges and red-light on black takes bigger precedence similar to how NDE are set aside for dreams and a house puzzle. Given that Prairie is also institutionalized with the new color schemes, I am again wondering if there is an intentional shout out to Legion here?

- Nina'a clothes are pretty cool. I really love the dress she wears to club the second time/the one she wears into the bathtub.


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