A woman turns up 7 years after going missing, with secrets, change and genre twists in order.
It would be an understatement to say that the place where the first episode of The OA ends is a world apart from where it begins. So much so you could be mistaken for thinking your TV had just switched channels on you.
But there’s much about this new series that is a deliberate, convoluted odyssey.
The OA launched with minimal fanfare from Netflix. There was bugger all notice, a sketchy synopsis and a title that leaves you guessing. What the hell does it all mean?
But this is one imaginative concept and you’re asked to suspend disbelief as you travel down the rabbit hole.
The opening scene involves a young woman apparently attempting suicide off a bridge who turns out to be Johnson (Brit Marling), who disappeared seven years ago. But when her parents (Alice Krige, Scott Wilson) are reunited with her recovering in a hospital, they make a startling discovery.
“Seven years ago when she went missing, she was blind,” they say.
But Prairie, or The OA as she oddly refers to herself, isn’t divulging much about where she has been for the past seven years to the authorities, her parents or the camera crews parked outside the family home.even She stays silent about heavy scarring on her back.
When she isn’t busy making private videos she is desperately trying to get wifi (aren’t we all?) to leave messages on YouTube, but doctors have conveniently instructed no access during her fragile recovery.
“I didn’t leave you behind. I would never. I am coming for you,” she divulges to her private video camera.
Local bully Steve (Patrick Gibson), who is close to being kicked out of his local school, eventually comes to the party with a router but wants something in return and unexpected alliances are forged. But The OA also has a higher plan that requires the assistance of 5 people….
To reveal much more would be getting into spoiler-territory. But this is clearly a complex labyrinthine saga that is not too far removed from The Leftovers and The Returned.
Co-created by its star Brit Marling, and director Zal Batmanglij, this has something of a Scandinavian-feel about it. The colour palate is drained of rich hues, and the suburban setting is wintry and cool. It charts a moody, languid pace but is balanced with sufficient highs to sustain the curiosity.
Marling maintains the mysterioso well in the opening chapter, with Patrick Gibson as the other early key character. Alice Krige as Prairie’s mother keeps things grounded, but I get the feeling will serve as a supporting player here. The series will also feature Jason Isaacs (Dig), Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, Brooklyn) and an appearance by Aussie Nikolai Nikolaeff (Sea Patrol). Brad Pitt is one of the executive producers.
The challenge for a genre that wraps itself in a veil of secrecy and elusive, atmospheric clues is to deliver enough turning points and action to hold our interest.
But the opening episode (which includes something I’ve never seen done with opening credits before) is bold enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The OA is now screening on Netflix.