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Brit Marling goes meta in Season 2 of The O.A.

(contains spoilers)

No one is supposed to be this good. Brit Marling and her co-writer Zal Batmanglij are simply writing at a higher level than everyone else. If you haven’t seen any of their work, run to your couch and start streaming Another Earth, Eye Origins and The Sound of My Voice, and Netflix’s chiller The OA, in which a blind woman named Prairie (Marling) is abducted by a crazed doctor named Hap (Jason Isaacs) who holds her and four others underground for seven years, forcing her and the captives to have near death experiences (NDEs) over and over again and documenting the results.

It’s like Flatliners but good!

As the experiments proceed, Prairie becomes convinced that she’s not just another person. She believes she’s an angel sent to help the others and that the key to their freedom is a series of bizarre movements she learns each time she dies in Hap’s experiments. Over time, she becomes a spiritual leader the other captives call OA (Original Angel)

When Hap, who videotapes everything the captives are doing, starts learning the movements, you can tell it’s more than just obsession for him. He’s in love with Prairie in the sort of twisted, I must own everything I love sort of way that only truly great villains can pull off.

As a viewer, you don’t know if Prairie is crazy or not until the first episode of season 2.

Season 2 does the unthinkable: they follow Prairie to another dimension where she and Hap, who jumped on his own, inhabit slightly different versions of themselves.

Think forking timelines and alternate history.

In this world, Hap is psychiatrist who specializes in shared delusions. All her old friends from underground are imprisoned in a psych unit and he quickly maneuvers to have Prairie committed. The parallels are more than striking: there’s even a fish tank shaped exactly like their underground enclosure!

It shouldn’t work. It’s nearly the exact same idea, yet Marling and Isaacs are so good on screen, and the dialogue and story beats so perfectly drummed, I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.

It makes me think about what makes truly great writing. It’s not a new story, it’s about making a story new again, and Marling and Batmanglij have that down to a science. Check out some of the ingredients of the OA and you’ll see Marling and Batmanglij are playing with their favorite toys; alternate realities: Another Earth; reincarnation in different bodies: Eye Origins; compelling cult leader: The Sound of My Voice. And I could go on. These are their standard plot ingredients and they are masters of combining them in new and compelling ways.

And that’s why I think Season 2 of The OA is more about their creative process than one might think. Throughout the Season, Prairie struggles with learning who Nina Azarova, the person whose body she inhabits, is. Prairie tracks down secrets and navigates experiences unique to Nina, like performing with Old Knight, a giant octopus that wraps its tentacles around her wrists and uses Nina to speak through her, or navigating a puzzle house built by a wealthy but strange architect, and it isn’t until she finally is told by a mentor that she must assimilate with Nina by feeling her deepest pain, that she is able to face Hap in the final confrontation of the series.

Does that sound like the Chekov method of acting to you? It sure does to me. And what’s more, she tells us at the end with a stunning conclusion in which she and Hap jump to another dimension. This time, they’re both actors, going by their REAL actor names.

She is Brit, on the set of The OA, and Hap is her husband, Jason Isaacs.

It’s bizarre to think that maybe the whole show is a metaphor. The captives in season one have to die over and over to learn the moves and they have to believe not only in the story Prairie presents, but in themselves.

Maybe that’s why Marling and Batmanglij are so damn good. They are completely in tune with their character’s deepest pain and willing to die just a little bit to make sure they get that secret ingredient.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending of Season two, but something tells me season three is in good hands.


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