The following contains spoilers for Netflix’s The OA.
The ending of Netflix’s surprise-release psychological thriller The OA makes Westworld look like a simple, clear story. Depending on how you look at it, the last episode revealed that Brit Marling’s Prairie — better known as The OA — is either a total nut who made up her ordeal with her fellow captives, or she’s telling the truth and alternate dimensions can indeed be unlocked by the power of dance.
Either angle begs a world of questions. If Prairie lied, then what the hell has she been doing for seven years, and how did she get her sight back? On the other hand, if her story was truthful, how was she able to recount what Hap (Jason Isaacs) was doing when he wasn’t with her?
Luckily, many enterprising fans have already formulated theories. Here are three that help explain that ending.
1. The FBI therapist planted those books to discredit her story.
Many fans are positing that the books French (Brandon Perea) discovers (Homer’s Iliad,The Oligarchs, a book on Near-Death Experiences) were planted by her FBI therapist Elias Rahim (Riz Amed). There is a large amount of evidence for this theory. First and foremost, his presence skulking around her house at night was awfully suspicious, and previous camera angles implied that Prairie’s gatherings at the abandoned house were being watched. The books also look like they’re in mint condition and unread. It’s also highly doubtful that Prairie can even read English, considering the fact that she was Russian before she went blind.
Although Rahim tells French that Prairie only told him about French and his friends — implying that she didn’t tell him about her ordeal — in an earlier scene between Rahim and Prairie, we see him call her “OA.” That implies that she did indeed confide in Rahim, and he’s now lying to French. If Rahim is working to discredit her, this gives the show a Stranger Things-style framing. He’s a bureaucrat working to cover up information about interdimensional travel, either as a shadowy subset of the FBI or as a rogue agent who is connected to Hap. From Hap’s murderous meeting with his former colleague, we know that his studies are not as isolated as they seem. Hap even implied that he expects another scientist to continue his work in the near future. Rahim could be connected to a shadowy network. To support this “dimensional cover up” conspiracy theory, the name of Prairie’s fellow captive — Rachel, the only one who failed to receive a Movement — appears in braille on the wall behind him.
2. Prairie was lying, and she was imprisoned alone by Hap the whole time.
When Prairie is at a family dinner with her parents, an obnoxious girl interrupts to take a selfie with her. “Wow, you are such an inspiration. You survived being beaten and raped,” the girl says. The show does not revisit that detail, and indeed, we never see Hap do anything sexual with Prairie. We can presume the girl is just making a lurid assumption, as her adoptive mother Nancy says. However, some theorize that line could be a clue about the true nature of Prairie’s ordeal. If her story is false, there’s still a question of where she’s been for seven years and how she regained her sight. Perhaps Hap really did imprison and conduct NDE experiments on her, but her treatment was harsher than we’re lead to believe. Prairie might have made up her fellow captives — Homer, Scott, Rachel — as a means of coping with her grim situation.
The evidence to support this theory is the fact that we do know Prairie is lying when she tells her adoptive parents, “I went seven years without touching someone else’s skin.” In her flashbacks, we see Hap touching her. While it’s only to guide her, if she lied about the nature of his touch to her parents, she could have also lied about it in recounting the story to Betty, Steve, French, Buck, and Jesse.
3. Her “real world” friends are alternate-dimension versions of her captive family.
After French discovers the books beneath Prairie’s bed, he looks in the mirror and sees Homer (Emory Cohen) in his place. From the look on his face, we can presume he is considering the cut on his forehead as evidence that Prairie lied. The night French showed up to the abandoned house with the cut, Prairie told the part of the story in which Homer cuts his head in the shower in Cuba. Presumably, she was inspired by French in the real world to work that detail into her “false” story.
However, if alternate dimensions are real, the cut is evidence of a stronger parallel between Homer and French. Both are jocks and caretakers in their families (Homer is concerned for his son; French looks after his mother). Perhaps the mirror shot was a clue that French is Homer in this dimension. Another piece of evidence that supports this theory is the scene in which Buck passes flares in the road on his way to the abandoned house one night. Much like the obnoxious selfie-girl’s comment about rape, it’s an odd detail that the show never revisits, but the devil is in the details. Recall that the OA’s fellow captive Rachel — who is a singer like Buck — had her NDE in a car accident and describes a red backpack in the road. If you return to the scene with Buck, there is also a red backpack.
Perhaps both of Prairie’s timelines are ‘real’ and simply exist in forking realities.
The OA is a Russian nesting doll of a show; a story within a story that’s designed to keep you guessing. What you do with the information it presents is up to you, whichever dimension you chose to embrace.