No Way, OA

Image by Bradley Stephen Wise

Warning: This article revolves around the ending of the popular Netflix series, The OA, and thus contains spoilers.

Following The OA’s opening episode, Homecoming, I was hooked—so intrigued to know what was going on, so impressed at the creativity of imagery and storytelling and not showing the credits until halfway through when we jump into flashback.

After the first episode, my wife and I said to the other, jokingly, “We could stay up until 4:00 AM and just finish it.”

After the second episode, we said, “We could stay up until 3:00 AM and just finish the whole thing tonight.”

By the end, we were desperate to move on to the next episode, but kept ourselves from binging and stuck to a max of one episode a night.

Less than two weeks after starting the show, we had completed seven of the eight episodes. I’d loved nearly every minute of the show—that’s nearly seven hours of screen time without really being disappointed in any meaningful way. I was ready to go tell the world. The OA is the best show ever! It’s better than Stranger Things! It’s better than Kimmy Schmidt! It’s better than The Night Of! It’s better than True Detective! It’s my favorite show EVER!

But alas, I did not post.

Instead I began the finale quietly from the same indentation in the couch in which I had melted during the show’s previous seven hours.

The episode started.

Then kept going, nothing really happening.

Then all of a sudden … ten minutes remaining! WHEN THE HELL ARE THEY GOING TO THE OTHER DIMENSION?

Five minutes remaining! Jeez, better wrap it up.

Oh, I see. She made the whole thing up! But also had the premonition to go the school where her five new friends used her chaotic movements to save the school from a shooter, only to get shot by that same shooter.

Or wait, did the guy from The Night Of plant the books under her bed in some massive conspiracy scheme? Because, seriously, how did she learn enough of the written English language in, like, a couple days, to be able to read the Iliad?

The real answer to all these questions, the real ending is, It’s up to your interpretation.

Look, I used to be all about that type of ending, and I honestly didn’t hate that approach for this show. There’s some form of creativity that can be worked into leaving a story’s meaning open to interpretation. And it can also be used to demonstrate that the ending isn’t the important part of the story.

And that’s exactly what I think this ending is about. Think about it …

It honestly makes no difference if the story happened as she said or not. It was a distraction from the important story that was actually unfolding—that she used her story to heal five broken people.

That makes the motivation for ending the show cryptically kind of a cool idea, a nice device to help highlight the important story within the story.

And they totally botched it.

I’ve thought and thought and thought about this. I’ve tried to be OK with it, because I loved this show so much. But I can’t get over a few characteristics about the ending:

  • A school shooter? Reallllly? Come on. If the point of the story is to show the coming together of these five broken individuals, it didn’t need to depict something so dramatic to highlight that. No matter which way I look at this it just feels … hokey.
  • The books? Yeah, she could have ordered them. She could have had her sight return to her when she was in captivity and have learned to read then, but that’s a fairly substantial leap, given what we knew. Yet, there’s not much evidence to support Elias planting them. So why did books have to be how she is assumed to be lying? Even something that seems hokier, like an article left on the computer that can read to her, or a YouTube video left open—in those cases we wouldn’t have to argue about her ability to consume the information, but could focus on a discussion about her intentions while consuming. Something that wasn’t a pile of advanced reading would have been less distracting and more powerful, IMHO.
  • No one in the school gets shot except Prairie, who is standing outside? Right, OK, that’s definitely not like how everyone on The Walking Dead has perfect aim, but it kind of is. It’s a cafeteria filled with students, and somehow, in the chaos of being tackled, the shooter lets a few fly and one hits Prairie and, as far as we know, no one else. While the ending moment is powerful, again, getting there by being shot by a school shooter is a little … we’ll call it contrived.
  • Is she dead? Did she meet Homer? By the time the final scene comes around you’re so caught off balance by the events of the last few minutes that whether or not she meets Homer becomes insignificant. The thing about Homer is we know he is real. That’s the one piece of verified evidence that connects between her story and what we see outside her story. But whether she met him at the end, whether she was dead or inside another NDE—those are really cool and interesting ideas and could lead to great discussions. But it felt so insignificant, so overshadowed by the other absurd events of the ending that it played out far less powerfully than it could have.

I had a music teacher once recite a quote from a famous composer:

All that matters is how you begin and how you end. What happens in between in arbitrary.

Or, something like that. I can’t find the quote so now I’m kind of thinking he made it up. But still, I like it.

The OA was a fantastic show. The beginning was captivating and the journey was so fun to watch. I would recommend it to anyone who asked. And I would gladly talk about the end with that person. I only wish my disappointment could have come at some arbitrary point in the story and not during its climax.

But in the end, it makes no difference, because I’ll forget about it, and Netflix will have something else for us to talk about next week.

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