Prairie continues to tell the tale of her life on THE OA, but what does it all mean? Has she made it all up, or is there truth to the entire story? The movements she teaches everyone does actually save a great tragedy from occurring. Is it just coincidence, or does she have the power to transcend dimensions?
One of the interesting things about the final stretch of episodes in The OA is the disparity in running times. Most of the episodes are an hour long, a little more, or a little less. But suddenly the sixth episode is only 31 minutes, and the seventh is 41. This is clearly not something you could do on network or cable television, and it’s the freedom Netflix gives it’s creators that allow them to have the episodes only as long as each chapter needs to be. You’d think it would feel odd that suddenly an episode is only half the running time of the others, but it works. It doesn’t feel disjointed or abrupt in any way, in fact it feels natural. Perhaps shedding the rigid one hour show/half an hour show format of standard television will result in a more pure storytelling experience? It’s an interesting exercise and works incredibly well.
Dr. Hap is a man of mobility and secrecy. He’s somehow able to travel all over and acquire people to take part in his experiments without getting caught. His newest target is a Cuban woman named Renata who after having her own NDE has a musical ability that’s astonishing. The problem is he can’t convince her to take part in his study. She blows him off completely, so he has to come up with a different plan to get her back to his lab. She seems to enjoy the company of young men, so Hap does something unthinkable and takes Homer to Cuba to help kidnap the woman.
After being caged for so long without interaction with people, a view of the sun, real food, or human contact, Homer is overwhelmed by it all. He’s basically been in an underground prison cell for who knows how many years, and the taste of freedom is too much for him. He attempts to escape; in fact his racing through the halls of the Cuban hotel is reminiscent of his near death experiences. There’s the same feeling of being chased through hallways filled with doors, unable to find a way out. It’s a nightmare scenario that he’s reliving. No matter how he tries to get help, Hap already has the upper hand. The hotel staff thinks Homer is unstable and calls Hap to get him, and if he did escape it’s not like any police in Cuba would reach out to the United States. The Cuban island and Homer’s experience there becomes an extension of his imprisonment. After a brief attempt to escape he once again becomes compliant, and seduces Renata in order for Hap to drug her and whisk her away to his lair.
The problem is that Homer and Prairie have been falling in love. They’ve never touched, but their cells are side by side, and they spend all of their time together working on the movements, almost connected at the soul. It makes Hap incredibly jealous. For some reason he thinks Prairie and himself might become romantic. In order to destroy the bond between Prairie and Homer, he plays the audio of Homer and Renata having sex in the cages for Prairie and all of the others to hear. Homer is the lynch pin holding the entire group together. If Hap can break the group and the bond between the two of them in particular, he can once again gain the upper hand in his experiments that seems to be slipping away from him. Bringing Renata back after what she and Homer have done is a way to disrupt the group’s focus.
The group of boys and the teacher Prairie has put together does something incredible for each of them. Not only is the act of telling her story cathartic and healing for Prairie, but it’s also filled a void each of them has in their lives. It changes them, makes them stronger, more self-assured, like they are a part of something bigger. They become the family they all need but are lacking. Outside of the meetings in the abandoned house they remain close. Sometimes trying to find proof of Prairie’s story, other times just helping each other. Betty becomes like a mother to them all, she nurtures them, helps them, and they help her. It’s beautiful to witness these broken people healed by the power of story.
These meetings harken back to the beginning of humanity. It’s a tradition of something mankind has been doing forever; Gathering around a campfire and telling a story to make sense out of life. There’s a primal quality to what Prairie does that directly links with ancient times and the oral tradition of storytelling. Hell, even one of the characters is named after one of the most famous oral storytellers in history … Homer. Folk tales, myths and legends, they all tie into what she’s doing with this group. Maybe she’s making her own myths and legends for their benefit and as a healing salve for her soul, or maybe there’s truth to it all. Either way she’s carrying on a tradition.
Her meetings with the FBI psychologist Elias are very different from the ones she has with the boys and Betty. She keeps the story she tells at night separate from what she tells him during their daytime meetings. Here she tells him about what’s going on in her life, bits about her captivity, but she withholds the dreams and the movements, and the supernatural elements including believing she’s an angel. It’s hard to tell if he’s as friendly as he seems or if he has other motives. Later in the show something strange happens, and he appears suddenly out of the blue, but we’ll discuss that later.
Hap takes Scott to the NDE machine to give him an experience, but Scott seems to be dying and very unhealthy. He’s not sure if he’s going to make it through this time, so he tries to trade information for mercy. It’s during this exchange that Hap realizes Prairie isn’t blind anymore. She’s been hiding it from him. Scott also tells Hap about the movements, and how they believe the movements will open a portal into another dimension they can escape through. In Hap’s anger he kills Scott, dumps his body back into his cell, and tells Prairie his death is her fault. Scott looks Christ like on the floor, a halo of blonder dreads wrapped on top of his head, with swaddling clothes, and arms outstretched in a pool of his own blood. It’s incredible imagery.
Instead of sadness and despair, and even though Prairie’s mad at Homer, she begins to do the movements in a reaction to Scott’s death. Homer joins her. The moves are like an interpretive dance, but raw, primal, and animalistic. It’s during these movements that an exchange takes place between Prairie and Homer, all done through their faces and expressions in a tour de force of acting. At first there’s anger coming from Prairie toward Homer. His is an act of contrition and appeal for forgiveness, she fights it at first holding onto her anger, but gradually a forgiveness and reconciliation take place. The movements continue through the night and into the morning, but something happens. The blood around Scott begins to recede back into him. His wounds heal, and finally he’s resurrected in better shape than he was before. Hap runs downstairs dumbstruck but what he’s witnessed on his video monitor. While Scott was gone, his spirit guide has given him the third of the five movements. Soon Renata receives the fourth movement, and now Hap is obsessed with studying and learning the movements himself. It becomes a race for who can get the fifth and final movement. If they receive it before Hap does, they can escape through a dimensional portal, and he wants to keep that from happening.
Steve’s past behavior threatens to break up the group. His father has to shell out money for medical expenses for the boy Steve punched in the throat, and even though he’s clearly changed and become less aggressive, his parents have had enough. The military reform school goons come and take him away, and Betty see’s it happening as she drives by and follows them. If for some reason Steve is broken from the group, they’ll be without the fifth member. They need all five together so they can open a dimensional portal for Prairie to go through to rescue Homer and the others. Betty attempts to rescue Steve, but it goes all wrong until she offers up a cashiers check from her brother’s estate if the goons will let Steve go. It’s interesting she’s giving up her brother’s estate for Steve, since earlier when Steve helped her gather all of her brother’s belongings, he put on an outfit of her brothers and looked just like him. They take her offer, and her sacrifice saves the group.
Hap isn’t the only person doing NDE experiments on people. He visits his mentor Leon who’s taken up residence in an old abandoned morgue of a hospital, doing the same kinds of things Hap is doing. To cover his tracks, when his test subjects die, he incinerates them, cremating their ashes and covering his tracks. The two men are rivals in this forbidden science, and when Leon finds out Hap has made a breakthrough, he pulls a gun on Hap to force him to tell him what he’s learned. The men struggle, and Hap is shot, but kills Leon and has the police called. Hap escapes. It was a close call, but not the last one.
There’s a sheriff who knows Hap is living on the old abandoned mine. He drops in one day and almost hears Haps captives screaming for help, but Hap drowns out their pleas with heavy metal music. The sheriff’s wife has advanced ALS and he wants Hap to help them. Hap promises to look into it. Another night while Hap is studying the movements with headphones on, the Sheriff comes in through an open door, see’s what Hap is doing, and puts a gun to his head. He’s going to turn him in. Hap pleads with him, offers him a deal. If he can heal the sheriff’s wife, the sheriff will look the other way and leave him to do his experiments. If he can’t heal her, he can arrest him and shut it all down. When his wife is brought to Hap’s, they grab Prairie and Homer to heal her. Homer doesn’t want to do it, but Prairie encourages him to help this woman. It works, when she comes to, she tells them about her own NDE and the fifth movement she promised her spirit guide she’d teach to save two angels.
The sheriff runs into the room, he’s ecstatic and has let his guard down. Hap runs in with a gun, shoots the sheriff and his wife, and takes Prairie away. He knows the fifth movement now, and doesn’t need her anymore. He abandons her on the side of a road. The scars on Prairie’s back are her road map back to her friend’s. They are notations of the movements, and now she teaches them to her own group of five. Can she get back and save them all from Hap?
Elias encourages Nancy and Abel to do something fun with Prairie, so they go to a hotel. Alfonso looks for proof of Prairies stories and breaks into her house. Under her bed he finds books about Russian history, NDE’s, Angels, and Homer’s Iliad. Was it all a lie? Weirdly he runs into Elias in the house. What’s he doing there? Did he plant the books under her bed? There’s definitely something strange going on with him.
Alfonso shows everyone the books, and they all loose faith in Prairie and believe what she told them wasn’t true. Things seem to drift apart, time passes, but Prairie has another dream and nosebleed in the tub. She knows what she’s supposed to do, and runs off down the street. At the school a gunman shows up and begins shooting people. Everyone’s hiding in the cafeteria when he walks in. He’s about to kill a bunch of people with an assault rifle, but Betty runs in, and soon Steve, Alfonso, Buck, and Jesse all stand up and begin doing the five movements. It stops the gunman in his tracks either because of the power of the movements, or he’s dumbfounded by what these five people are doing. It gives enough time for a cafeteria worker to tackle the gunman, but he shoots as he falls. Prairie is standing by the cafeteria window, a bullet hole in the glass in front of her; she’s been shot in the chest. When she comes to again, she’s in a white room and says Homer’s name. Credits roll.
Did it work? The five movements did stop a great tragedy from taking place, but was it all a coincidence or did they actually open a dimensional portal Prairie entered during an NDE? I’d like to believe she was telling the truth, but I know a lot of people are going to be polarized by the open ending of this show. You’re either going to love it or hate it, and I’m in the love it category. For all of its faults or unexplained plot holes, The OA is one of the most moving and intriguing shows I’ve seen in a long time.
Season 1, Episodes 5-8 (S01E05-08)
The OA streams on Netflix
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
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Jeff Iblings | Contributor