REVIEWED: SEASON 2 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX
Season One of The OA, the original Netflix production from Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, flew under the radar for many people. Released in the wake of the first season of Stranger Things, and recommended by Netflix's algorithm to those who watched the latter show, it received neither the buzz nor the credit that a show of its calibre deserved. But, regardless, it found an audience who were thrilled and intrigued by its twists and turns, and how much we could trust what we were seeing on the screen.
Season One was relatively straightforward, narratively at least. The twin storylines were separated by time, even if one of them may have only happened in the crazed imagination of the series principal, Prairie Johnson, played by series co-creator Marling. Prairie was the girl who, born Nina Azarova in Russia, died and came back to life, before being adopted by American parents and was eventually kidnapped by Hap, and imprisoned underground for seven years. (SPOILERS!) Despite Prairie dying at the climax of the first season, Prairie is back in Season Two, but everything else we took for granted is immediately turned upside down.
The first moments of Episode One introduce us to Karim, a private investigator hired to find a missing teenage girl. So far, so simple, except the missing teenage girl is a dead ringer for Michelle/Buck, one of the Crestwood Five from Season One. From there it soon becomes apparent that Karim - and this Michelle - exist in another dimension, and that Prairie has made the jump over, landing in the body of a Nina Azarova who never had a near death experience...
From there, the story once again adopts competing yet linked narratives, from three to two, and then eventually to one, leaving the door wide open for a third season (which has been confirmed by the show’s creators, if not commissioned by Netflix as yet). Along the way, new characters are introduced, and many of the faces from Season One are brought back, as Marling and Batmanglij weave in sinister tech billionaires, dream analysis, underground psychic cabaret, and the plot of an indie road movie. One thing, though: re-watch the first season before watching Season Two, or at least read a synopsis to refresh your memory on what happened!
Brit Marling and Jason Isaacs are once again compelling leads, but the breakout star of this season is Kingsley Ben-Adir as Karim. A British actor who cut his teeth on the likes of Vera and Midsomer Murders, Ben-Adir fills the screen in his first US TV role, creating a fully-rounded hero to whom the season’s really perilous moments are reserved, and leaving you begging for a spin-off show.
And, of course, like Season One, this second octet is beautifully shot, as much evocation as exposition, and accompanied by a moody soundtrack put together by Zal Batmanglij’s brother, Rostam, a former member of the band Vampire Weekend. This - alongside the sheer fact that experimental and off-the-wall TV can actually exist, free of having to sell commercials to car manufacturers and insurance brokers - is the triumph of the Netflix era; television has become a mainstream art form, and many glorious and handsome things are being done with it.
The OA may still struggle to find as big an audience as Stranger Things or the Marvel shows; it’s often a challenging watch, which merits close attention and keeping an open mind. Marling and Batmanglij have created an intriguing universe, populated with sympathetic and real characters. Ultimately rewarding, The OA makes you feel proud to be TV viewer.