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Series / The OA

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The OA is an original science fiction series that ran for two seasons, from 2016 to 2019. It was created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij in collaboration with Netflix.

After disappearing for seven years, a woman named Prairie Johnson (played by Marling) suddenly resurfaces in a YouTube video where she's seen jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. She is reunited with her parents, who notice that she's a very different person from what she used to be - the most noticeable difference being that she used to be blind, but now can see perfectly. She's also developed an aversion to touch, has mysterious scars on her back, and goes by the name "The OA".

The OA refuses to speak to the FBI or her parents about her experience, though she claims to be on a mission to save others. In order to do so, she needs to find five people willing to not only believe her, but also willing to help her.


  • Academic Athlete: French is a star lacrosse player and has excellent grades. He's being courted for a full athletic scholarship.
  • Ambiguous Ending: If Marling is writing, you know the end will leave questions. At the end of part 1 it's not clear whether the OA was making everything up, as suggested by the books under her bed, or if the five movements really did work in saving lives and sending her where she needed to go.
  • Alternate Universe: Season two ends with the main cast jumping to another dimension very similar to the viewer's, in which The OA is a TV series starring Brit Marling and Jason Isaacs. However, in this universe, they're married.
  • Arc Number: Five figures doing five movements.
  • Ascended Extra: Angie has a minor role in season 1 as a girl who flirts with Steve, but in season 2 she has joined the five as a full member.
  • Back from the Dead: Each of the angels.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Cryptic messages in Braille are scattered throughout the show.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the season 2 finale, the main characters jump to a dimension with which The OA is a TV show and they take over the lives of the cast.
  • The Bully: Steve's father says his teacher "used the word 'bully'" when describing him. In the beginning of season 1, he's verbally and physically violent toward other students, but manages to calm down by season 2.
  • Character Development: Steve goes from an at-risk bully to the de facto leader of the five.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Steve is a fitness nut, amateur stuntman and aspiring personal trainer to the stars. He helps the OA train the others on the five movements.
  • Closed Circle: The main characters are stuck in Hap's underground lair. Much of the tension comes from characters engaging with Hap's experiments in the hope of finding a way out.
  • Cooldown Hug: The OA gives one to Steve's dog and later to Steve.
  • Cute and Psycho: The OA cuts symbols into her back and claims to do interdimensional travel through expressive dance. This is lessened when it turns out that interdimensional travel is possible.
    OA: (to Karim) I'm not mentally ill, but I don't believe in logic.
  • Death Seeker: The OA is one at the beginning of the show, hoping to flatline to go to another dimension, where she can help her friends. She later decides that recruiting followers to perform the five movements is the only way to go.
  • Death Is Cheap: Each of the angels, but especially Scott.
  • Demoted to Extra: OA's adopted parents in season 2.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Threatened by Hap multiple times. If anything were to happen to him, the other captives will remain locked in their cells and will starve to death when the automated feeding machine runs out of food.
  • Dimensional Traveler: Its revealed in season 2 that this is what the movements allow you to do.
  • Easily Forgiven: Prairie befriends Steve despite the fact that he sicced his dog on her the first time they met. She then convinces his teacher to not expel him, even though he punched another kid in the throat for giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. That said, his parents are not as forgiving and arrange to send him to reform school even after he began improving his behavior.
  • Extreme Doormat: The whole NDE crew comes off as this. They resist enough to avoid the gas’ influence, yet when they’re in the perfect position to exploit Hap’s assumption the gas works, and subdue him, they don’t.
  • Everyone Has Standards: While Hap is an immoral kidnapper, he still risks exposing himself to free his late rival's test subjects.
  • Flatline Plotline: Hap's captives are all people who have had near-death experiences, and he notes that those who have had an NDE are much more likely to recover from subsequent "deaths." He then repeatedly drowns his captives in his experiments to find scientific evidence of the afterlife.
  • For Science!: Hap believes that any suffering his causes his test subjects is worth the advancement of science. This stands in contrast to his scientific confidant, who is more interested in getting rich.
  • Found Footage: The opening scene in the film is footage from a cellphone that depicts the OA running through traffic and jumping from the Golden State Bridge.
  • Hates Being Touched: In the present day of the first season, OA reacts violently when she's touched, which stems from spending seven years without touching another human being.
  • Hypocrite: The OA points out that if Hap thought his experiments were really worth all of the suffering, he'd put himself through them.
  • I Have Many Names: The main character has gone by Nina, Prairie and the OA.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Steve asks the OA to fake being his mother and speak with his teacher so that he won't be expelled from high school, and she does. The teacher then encounters Steve's parents.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Betty tries to bail on a phone call (that she initiated) with the school principal by saying she has to go because she's "eating a sandwich".
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Hap keeps promising Homer the NDE crew will starve to death if he doesn’t cooperate. They have running water, so they can live up to a month at least. He doesn’t consider doing a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique on him.
  • Lima Syndrome: Hap occasionally shows fondness for OA while he has her under his control. She does not return it.
  • Mad Scientist: Hap kidnaps anyone that has had a near death experience to do morally questionable experiments on them. In season 2, he keeps his victims locked in an insane asylum so he can learn how to control his jumps across dimensions.
  • The Mafiya: OA's father was in a deadly feud with the Russian mob.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The show dances around this issue occasionally, though it does ultimately answer some questions.
    • The five stop a school shooter with the five movements. The five later wonder if this was due to the power of the movements themselves, or if the shooter was simply confused by what they were doing. In season 2, it remains unclear what effect the movements had on the shooter, but they did allow the OA to jump to another dimension.
    • People question what power the house really has. People hallucinate and go mad while inside the house, but it's later revealed that everyone who goes inside gets poisoned by mercury vapor. However, but the end of the season, Karim does see into another dimension and rescue Michelle while inside the house.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Homer's unusual name is a possible indicator that the OA's story is made up, and she named him after the author of The Iliad. This is later revealed to be untrue.
    • The OA's name is revealed to have two meanings: It sounds like "away" and stands for "Original Angel".
  • My Beloved Smother: Nancy.
    • Hides the note Prairie left behind when she ran away 7 years ago. Later claims it was to protect Abel, because Prairie said she was looking for her father.
    • Slaps the OA at Olive Garden after the OA calls herself the original angel.
    • Adopted Prairie over the first candidate solely because they hoped a blind child would need them for their entire life.
  • Once More, with Clarity: In the second season, BBA keeps having a vision of a man in shadow with close-cropped hair and a leather jacket asking for help. She thinks that this is her late brother Theo, but it turns out to be Steve, with a new haircut and a stolen jacket, when the moment actually happens at the end of the season.
  • Our Angels Are Different: According to the OA, angels are people who came back to life after death and can do supernatural things through special movements. Season 2 reveals that anyone can become a "traveler" and cross dimensions with the help of the movements.
  • Pet the Dog: The first moment when Steve seems to be settling down is when he picks up Bettie's keys after she drops them and opens her door for her. This after she tried to have him suspended.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: The OA experiences these when she has prophetic dreams.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: All of the OA's followers come from vastly different backgrounds and social circles and have serious problems in their lives.
  • Red Herring: There are occasional clues that everything supernatural going on has a mundane explanation, but they are all eventually contradicted.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere:
    • Hap frequently reminds his captives that even if they got got a phone call or letter out into the world, the room they are all sealed in is so far out in the middle of nowhere that they can't possibly describe how to get there and no help will ever be able to find them.
    • To a lesser extent, part 2 has the asylum on Treasure Island.
  • Separated by the Wall: OA and Homer
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Hap and his scientist colleague make lunch on a morgue table as they talk about their immoral experiments.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To The Oligarchs and The Iliad, among several other works, teased as being possible inspirations for the OA's stories.
    • When Steve starts flirting with a girl, she tells him that it better not end with her getting pigs blood poured on her at prom, a reference to Carrie. Steve doesn't seem to get the reference but responds with a quip anyway.
    • Jesse's sister is seen watching an episode of Stranger Things in season 1, and someone references "the Upside-Down" in season 2.
  • A Simple Plan: “I say they’re touching my dick and you come and get me.”
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The Season 1 ending implies that the OA was simply reading books, twisting their plots around, and using them as her backstory. This is ultimately a red herring.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: The OA recovers her sight following another NDE after getting hit in the back of the head with the stock of a rifle.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The OA always calls herself "the OA," though her followers address her and sometimes refer to her simply as "OA."
  • Spiritual Successor: The plot bears a number of similarities to Sound of My Voice, a previous collaboration between Marling and Batmanglij. Marling stars as a mysterious woman associated with a disability who collects followers based on claims of extraordinary knowledge and teaches them a specific sequence of bodily movements. Her claims are ultimately never resolved.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Averted. Hap's captives all hate him and eventually even Prairie, who's usually willing to see the good in people, comes to believes he's a monster with no redeemable traits. When she sees him again for the first time in season 2, she physically attacks him out of sheer rage.
  • Stepford Smiler: Betty references smiling until you feel happy.
  • Straight Gay: French is revealed to be gay in spite of having no stereotypical gay mannerisms. In season two, he has an dalliance with another example, a beer-drinking blue-collar man with pocket knives and hunting trophies on his walls.
  • Truth in Television: Homer's inaction in Cuba is an accurate depiction of how much abusers can control their victims; their helplessness is so ingrained that, even when free, they feel like there's nothing they can do.
  • Twice-Told Tale:
    • To anyone familiar with Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid (NOT the Disney Movie!), The OA's backstory is awfully familiar. Khatun and the prices she charges are reminiscent of the Sea Witch. The imagery of Air, Water, Love, and Blood are really hammered home in both stories. The five man dance troupe serves the same plot function as the Little Mermaid's five sisters. And dancing, both stories are just full of dancing.
    • To anyone familiar with the Homer's The Iliad, Homer's backstory is going to seem awfully familiar. A man, swept away from his wife/pregnant girlfriend and son/fetus by war/kidnapping and absent for years/years and finally returns/ possibly doesn't exist. Also, The Iliad has a very prominent chapter dealing with mermaids/sirens.
    • To anyone familiar with the legend of Oannes, the constant water imagery, Khatun, and the name OA are going to seem perfectly straightforward. Again: mermaids, mermaids everywhere.
  • Unique Pilot Title Sequence: The pilot episode's title sequence doesn't begin until 45 minutes into the episode when Prairie begins telling her story. The rest of the series opens with the title card.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Hap genuinely believes that his torturous experiments will change the world for the better.
  • Wham Episode: The finale of each season is one.
    • In Part 1: the OA appears to have made up her entire story after Alfonso discovers some of her books. She's also hit by a stray bullet and apparently dies in a school shooting. Part 2 reveals that her story is true, and that she goes to another dimension after getting shot.
    • In Part 2: All of the main character travel to a dimension much like our own, in which their history has been a television show, and they take over the lives of the show's actors.
  • Wham Line: “Tinnitus is a side affect of ‘traveling’ (jumping dimensions).” Said in episode s2e4, by someone not part of the NDE experiments.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Prairie befriends Steve, a high school bully who punched another kid in the throat for not liking him, despite the fact that he sicced his dog on her. In exchange for helping her gain internet access, Prairie pretends to be Steve's stepmother to convince his teacher not to expel him. When his actual parents find out, they are understandably furious and disturbed.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The other captives are annoyed that the OA didn't kill Hap when she had the chance. Hap points out that they have no real idea where they are, have no way to contact the authorities and they'd all starve if he were gone.