The OA’s crazy ending: inspiring or tasteless and cringe-inducing? (spoilers)

Spoilers for The OA follow
There are spoilers for The OA, Netflix’s latest scifi/fantasy/coming of age show in this post. As the title indicates, the spoilers go to the end of the series so stop reading now if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens. If you want to watch the show and come back, please do. If you’re anything like me you’ll binge it over a weekend.

The OA is a show which is hard to properly describe. Up until about the fifth episode it seems relatively straightforward, and to be about the bonds between people in the worst of circumstances, but then something changes, a man is brought back from the dead, and I wondered whether we’re supposed to believe the crazy tale that Prairie/The OA is spinning and if the show suddenly became supernatural. It’s like the rules were switched midway through and I hated that. The conclusion left me alternately confused and disappointed. It ends with a school shooting thwarted by an interpretive dance, which in theory could be kind of remarkable, but in context seemed cheap and hackneyed to me. (I have a very high tolerance for dance as I dance daily for exercise, but I still found the movements silly and the ending arguably offensive.)

Plus the ending was ambiguous. We heard the whoosh when Prairie was in the ambulance, we can perhaps assume that Prairie dies and goes to a white room at the end (when there were no white room NDEs up until that point) but we still don’t know what really happened to her in those seven years she was away. How did she regain her sight? Was she out on the streets that whole time and how did she get those scars on her back? Is she so lost in her own visions that she doesn’t even know? Also, is The OA psychic or is she just so masterfully in tune with the environment that she picks up on clues before everyone else, as the FBI counselor suggests? Homer was a real person, Prairie pulled up an interview with him on YouTube, but did she know him in those seven years she was away or did the YouTube video and her interest in NDEs inspire her to invent a relationship with him?

The Daily Beast has an interview with Brit Marling, the star and co-creator (with Zal Batmanglij), and she kind of blows off the question about whether her character was telling the truth about her experiences. She has her reasons for the school shooting at the end too:

And of course the main question by the end is whether or not the OA was telling the truth about where she’s been for seven years.
With the end, the question certainly remains about whether she’s telling the truth, but I think the larger thing is that whether her story was a metaphor for traumas that were darker and harder to put into words or whether it was a literal truth matters less than the fact that this girl experienced something and survived it and came back and told a story that, in its telling, healed her and prepared these boys to face coming of age, which is its own kind of trauma. There was something at the center of her story that was nutritious, that was something the boys needed. To me, that’s where it leads.

Back to that ambiguous ending: I’m one of those who thinks Prairie’s story was more metaphorical than literal, but there’s no way to know for sure. What did you want audiences to feel at that ending? Are you OK with them being frustrated?
Yeah, I mean I think the great thing about long-format storytelling is that you can keep telling the story. It would be unfortunate to wrap everything up in a bow because then where [do you go from there]? So I think that’s there by design but I think the core emotional story is actually resolved. There’s a group of lost boys who are looking for something and, very oddly, this strange outsider girl who’s experienced something traumatizing, in a kind of Scheherazad style, begins to tell them this story over many nights and the story ends up stitching a community and a sense of tribe where there wasn’t one before, where there was just alienation and awkwardness and violence and confusion. And then that tribe ends up becoming important and meaningful to them in the last moments of [episode] eight. So I think in that sense, the main thrust of the story really kind of opens and closes in that season. But yeah, in terms of whether everything in her story was true or not, (laughs) you’ll have to wait until next season. Hopefully we’ll get to do another season. Who knows?

You have answers laid out for reveals in the second season?
Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Why make the final confrontation a school shooting? It’s obviously such a fraught, raw image in America, and a delicate thing to work into a TV show.
I think it’s something that’s really on all of our minds now. It just seems like this sort of crisis that keeps occurring, and it seemed pretty honest as something that this group of boys might face. It’s honestly really hard to talk about. I think the whole thing is largely building to that last chapter. [The OA] tells this wild story and it asks the boys and the audience to continually make bigger and bigger leaps of faith with her. But there’s ultimately something in its center, something about faith or belief that enters those boys and their teacher and ends up really connecting them and giving them something in that moment that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That’s a very complicated and delicate moment to build to, but it’s also something I don’t think I can add anything to. Meaning like, I don’t think I could tell you something about it or give a point of view. It sort of is the observation. Does that make sense? I think that’s why it enters wordlessness. It enters that weird language of poetry or cinema. It’s about the juxtaposition between nihilism and… whatever the opposite of nihilism is. (Laughs)

And finally, will we find out in Season 2 what Elias was doing in Prairie’s house? Or what Steve was even doing at school on the day of the shooting, when his parents had been about to send him off to military school?
(Laughs.) Yes. And I love that you hit on exactly all the things. That’s my favorite part. Yes, those are all the threads that it would be very fun to continue but you’re going to have to wait and see.

[From The Daily Beast]

Of course The OA will get a second season, most shows do on Netflix. Although there are no metrics for how popular Netflix’s shows are we do know that people are talking about this and that’s half the battle. A journalist at writes that a second season of The OA would ruin the ending and prove that Netflix only cares about eyeballs, not their audience. When I think about Netflix, I remember Aziz Ansari saying how much freedom they give creators to do their own thing, so I don’t think you can blame Netflix for this, they didn’t write the show.

I feel like half of The OA delivered, up until the miracle healing, and the second half was kind of a mess with some plot holes. I still wanted to watch it and I don’t feel betrayed like I did by The Walking Dead, which became crap after seven seasons. This was eight and a half hours and for the majority of it I was entertained. I’d continue watching this show. It was cheap to use a school shooting for the conclusion (The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg called it “one of the most tasteless things I’ve seen a television show attempt in some time“) but I still want to know what really happened to Prairie, and how she got her sight back.

LACMA Art + Film Gala 2015

SDFF - Variety's Night of the Stars Tribute - Arrivals

photos credit: WENN and Getty

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29 Responses to “The OA’s crazy ending: inspiring or tasteless and cringe-inducing? (spoilers)”

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  1. Jenns says:

    I HATED the ending. And I pretty much hated the show. I’ll give Netflix and the creators credit for trying something different, but besides a few scenes, none of it worked for me. Not to mention that Brit Marling has a habit of casting herself as a savior.

    But the dances moves at the end to stop a school shooting? COME ON. Ridiculous and offensive.

    • Rachel says:

      We literally laughed out loud during the school scene. It was just utterly ridiculous. Which might have been the point as it stopped the gunman long enough for someone to tackle him. Who knows?
      I thought the show was OK. But I’m also a fan of Brit and Zal’s work. All of their films are kinda trippy and open-ended.

    • Beer&Crumpets says:

      I’m with you. We’ve been mocking the 5 movements hard around here. I tried to perform them with perfect feeling to help me escape that show- it did not work, you guys. My dude made me watch it and the only reason I didn’t make him move out is because I got to look at Jason Isaacs. That man is a sexy beast.

  2. Rocio says:

    While “the five movements” were kind of weird, I kind of like the whole things. Most Brit Marling works deal with this idea of science / or pragmatic thinking versus supernatural.

  3. Luca76 says:

    Personally I loved it I mean the dance was ridiculous but it was also such an odd and intense story. I get why some people would find it dumb but I found it inspiring in some odd way. And I do want to find out if any of her story is real and what happened to Homer.

    Also I’m pretty sure she was at least kidnapped because the FBI specialist specifically said she was Vitamin D deprived and hadn’t had sunlight for years.

    • QQ says:

      I found it even beautiful for the actors to undertake this modern dance situation with aplomb and honestly Beauty to the whole thing I’m in the loved it pile, it can stay as is or she can tell me more if she wants to. I totally told my bf “If they dance I’m Crying, Sir!”

  4. Little Darling says:

    I loved, loved, loved this film (not a film but I viewed it as such), and wound up watching all of Brit’s other films as well. Sound of My Voice, Another Earth and The East. All have the same themes and very ambiguous endings.

    With the school shooting, crass as it was, it was also relevant to our times and to society. I hated that scene, but I didn’t think it was entirely tasteless, having all of the kids high school students definitely set some unease with her actions and also with the plot of the film. Something big was always going to happen, and it was always going to involve the students. I was crying when they danced, and didn’t care if it was magic or what it was. They risked their lives believing in something greater than themselves, and that is what she gave to them, that unity and strength as a team.

    I’m definitely looking forward to another season, and to have more explained. But I went to watch one episode and wound up watching the entire thing in ONE sitting, ending at 5am.

    • pinetree13 says:

      I thought that the fact that they never showed the shooters face was a good way to present it. So he wasn’t glorified in any way and seemed more irrelevant if that makes sense. I didn’t find it tasteless at all.

  5. menega says:

    in my opinion, a school shooting is no more tasteless than so many other things shown on tv. in this case at least it was of immediate concern to the people involved (schoolkids and teacher), in that it was in their closest environment (that was not their home) and they were actually empowered to do something about a threat and make a change. i thought that was fitting.

    • nemera34 says:

      I loved the ending. And the school shooting was not tasteless. It is sadly something that happens. And since all of the 5 were connected through the school; it made since on some level that that is where they would come together. And watching them do the movements was very chilling. I enjoyed it and look forward to the next season.

      Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B (Dede/Jeremy) are doing some interesting things. I hope they do more on Netflix. I think they have another show coming out this year. So all good

  6. QQ says:

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED that f*cking show and Brit Marling, ever since Another Earth she hung the moon as far as i’m concerned, She has an eye a pOV and by god she just,, UGH I can’t even talk about her without STANNING! …., the fact she is writing this stuff and getting it done is still something to behold to me

    • Spiderpig says:

      I completely adore her too! Since Babylon, though I later discovered her own stuff.

    • Little Darling says:

      QQ yes yes yes! I love that she’s not only writing and directing, but that she’s bringing forth phiosophical ideas, ideas about science vs spiritual, regrets, trauma…she covers it all with a hint of mysticism, a hint of sci fi and a hell of a lot of emotion.

      • QQ says:

        OMG Thanks for reminding me Little Darling cause YESSSSSS and the subtle stuff about people with disabilities still wanting self reliance, Gender non conforming teen presented with ZERO fanfare zero explanation zero to-do about It !, I honestly love her entire situation and also Big Ups to Netflix for putting something like this on for us to watch ( that truly was the thing for me: OMFG People are Binge Watching this !?!?! OMG This is Amazing MAYBE we deserve better than a monthly Superhero movie with all the usual bits spelled out for us)

    • Little Darling says:

      YES! I mean, I LOVE movies where you actually have to think a little, where it’s open ended enough to make you want to go back and look at clues. I loved, loved, loved The OA, and wound up watching all of Brit’s other films as well. Sound of My Voice, Another Earth, i Origins and The East. If you don’t like her films, you won’t like The OA, if you like plain plots, this isn’t for you. If you don’t like cliffhangers it isn’t for you. But for ME, it was waaaaaaaaaaaay for me.

    • KCpostulate says:

      I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this show and can’t wait to check out more of Brit Marling’s work. Full disclosure I’m a fairly militant atheist and the spirituality of this show moved me, specifically the ending. Does it matter that the movements “worked” (objectively, by creating a distraction)? Does it matter more that the five *believed* it would work? How many people in that cafeteria might start believing in the movements? I do believe my opinion on the show was absolutely shaped by a book I was reading during the same time frame so I wonder what my interpretation would be otherwise.

  7. jess1632 says:

    Didn’t she get her site back after she ran away and got hit over the head? Although that doesn’t make sense in reality. I didn’t mind the show but it’s also cuz I find Brit marling highly intriguing in everything she’s put out. The ending I thought was also not tasteless, it’s reality.

    • nemera34 says:

      yes her sight returned when she was hit while in captivity. No different than her losing her sight after the near drowning.

    • pinetree13 says:

      I was going to post, the hit to the head brought back her vision (plausible though not probable). Also Celebitchy, they covered the scar thing in the show! Remember? They made those symbols up and they carved them into their own backs with their finger nails. Remember, there was a scene of Homer bleeding while he is twisting in an effort to scar his own back with one of the symbols? So yeah, her scars were self-inflicted.

  8. MellyMel says:

    I don’t know…I loved it. It’s weird and a little out there but it’s good. The dance at the end threw me a little bit but it was actually a very beautiful moment. I think we’re to believe that OA dies and Homer did too since she sees him or someone who could be him in the white room. But that room may also be the portal she was referring to so they could both be alive? Idk.

  9. moon says:

    what happened to emory cohen? is he gaining weight for a role?

  10. Sirius says:

    I loved Another Earth and Sound of My Voice: have long thought Brit Marling was a remarkable talent. I do not think her storytelling skills translated as well to an extended format. My biggest complaint is that the show was not well crafted. It required way too much willing suspension of belief, like when they resurrected the guy. My eyes about rolled out of my head at that point. And yes, also at the end, when they got up and did their dance. The storytelling craft was not tight enough: Stranger Things was much better, overall. There were too many rabbits being pulled out of hats and not enough truth in this show to make it feel real enough. For instance, why were there 5 movements, and why did she need 5 people when one person could do the 5 movements? The reference to Saturn was very cool, because Saturn is known as the death star, or the black sun, and that played off something real. But if you don’t reference mythology or science, it isn’t science fiction: it’s just fiction.

    I would put this show at about the level of Jessica Jones, or a notch below Mister Robot (although the second season of that dragged badly). It can be tough, I think, for writers to extend their ideas to an episodic format. Perhaps Brit Marling will get better at this . . . I don’t know. I thought the show was disappointing but I will also watch next season to see how she goes about answering all of these questions.

    • Rocío says:

      I don’t know if it was written by her, but my personal favourite is I Origin.

      • Little Darling says:

        I just saw i Origin last night, and funny enough it was my least favorite, I think. I lovesd the concept though, and was equally engaged in all of her films.

        i Origin was written and directed by the same guy who directed Another Earth, and possibly co-wrote Another Earth with her. I don’t remember, but I know all three films have her partnered up with both guys.

        It’s funny, because I also felt the opposite about The OA and her medium clearly being a free for all like Netflix offered her. I felt this was where she truly shined!

        But, I’m a fan either way because I really enjoy the concepts she throws out.

  11. pinetree13 says:

    Fan Theory: Why was the FBI guy in her house at the end? That made no sense. UNLESS he was SENT there to PLANT those books to discredit her story. Think about it! We know Homer exists because of the YouTube video of him as an injured athlete so that doesn’t fit with her grabbing the name from the book. Plus all the books looked super new and all too conveniently placed. There’s no other reason for the FBI guy to be in her house. And her premonition did come true, she did somehow know something was going on at the school.

    • pinetree13 says:

      Additional thoughts: I hated Steve. Seriously. F that guy. He’s such an abuser. He grew up privileged and though his parents suck they are never even hinted at being abusive. And we are supposed to sympathize with this guy who after all his “healing” and “growing as a person” he still stabs Prairie with a pencil? Seriously, F that guy. I was rooting for him to go to the military prison/camp thing.

      More thoughts: As a non-american I thought the use of the guns in the show was interesting. LIke when Prairie wakes up screaming, rather than run to her, the first thing Abel does is slowly sit up and then go get his gun. I thought that was SO STRANGE. Like I felt like that was one of the things seriously flawed with America and it’s gun culture. You hear no sounds of a break-in, but your first thought is to grab a gun? no wonder there’s so many accidental shootings. I also don’t understand why including a school shooting is so problematic when it happens in America every year. Like, why deny something that happens? Isn’t that like sweeping it under the rug so you don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable emotions necessary to address the problem? Just some thoughts from an outsider.

  12. vespernite says:

    Look I was truly moved by this show. I was like hanging by the OA’s every word. The school shooting was totally relevant and it took the underlying spiritual feeling of the film to the next level. I admit I was a bit troubled by the dance taking place and the purpose. But you have to look at it from a perspective of it being a metaphor for personal power versus the power of the group to overcome such a violent ugliness. No one had to die, not even the gunman who was probably suicidal. Everyone got a reset in that moment. Anyway that’s my existential view, I really loved the show.

  13. DesertReal says:

    My husband and I watched it last week and….yeeeeah. Such a laughable disappointment. They started to lose me about halfway through, because I could tell the whole thing was careening out of control and into ridiculous.
    But. To answer your questions, she regained her sight when that goddess sent her back (after getting knocked on the back of the head with the shotgun). She was in that doctors (that never seemed to work) basement for years. She somehow marked herself without any tools or instruments available to mark the movements of their interpretive dance. So many plot twists. I can’t even.

  14. ferdinand says:

    The way I saw it was, her sight came back agter her second death. The first time she died she made a sacrifice, she gave up her sight in order to come back to life. She dies a second time it’s like a rebirth. so she was born again with all of her senses. The other times she dies she makes sacrifices as well, like not being with her father, etc.

    As for the scars, she clearly states that they were self-inflicted in order to not forget the moves given as they would forget everything once they are vapored.