If you just finished Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s newest project, the eight-episode Netflix psychological drama The OA, chances are you’re confused. Spoiler Alert — the show concluded by casting doubt on Prairie Johnson’s story of her captivity, leaving her audience wondering what’s real and what’s made up. Also a school shooter was stopped by the power of friendship and interpretive dance, and we still don’t know what’s up with that wolf sweatshirt.
All in all, The OA is a hypnotizing adult fairytale that beckons you into its world, only to smash the world apart in its final stretch. Or not.
Although the creators have made it clear the ending is deliberately ambiguous, we can still parse out some of the show’s truth and fiction, using the evidence presented onscreen. Here’s all the what if moments that were confirmed as real at the end of the season.
…is a real guy who exists. He really played football and had a class ring and experienced a NDE. YouTube videos don’t lie. Though it’s implied when French finds Homer’s The Iliad beneath Prairie’s bed that she made him up, the TouTube videos and the emotion the OA feels for him isn’t.
Another theory that points to Homer being real is the fact that the books French discovers are in mint condition and look unread — and it’s not entirely clear how Prairie can even read English considering that she learned to read in Russian, then went blind, then lived in captivity.
While we don’t have definitive proof that the other fellow captives Scott, Renata, and Rachel are real, we know that Homer is. Whether he’s in a different dimension or not remains to be seen, especially considering the audio of his NDE, in which a male voice tells him, “Your name is not Homer.” Nevertheless, Homer is not entirely made up.
The Russian Backstory
The most incredulous part of the OA’s story is not her interdimensional travel, nor is it her imprisonment. People see weird shit when they have near death experiences, and Hap (Jason Isaacs) is a believable obsessive rather than a cartoonish villain.
It’s her riches-to-rags story, complete with a father who teaches her to become “colder than cold” and subsequently ships her away to save her from a vague and shadowy threat. There are traces of A Little Princess in this story, the Russian fairy tale “Little Snow Girl, and even classic fairy tales like Rumplestiltskin. Even the way she speaks of her neighbors — the man who drilled oil; the man who dug coal — makes them sound like archaic gods of some ancient land. Characters from folklore rather than the real world in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
And yet, at least part of the backstory checks out. In the eighth episode, we see Nancy and Able talk of the decision to adopt her, which confirms she really was adopted from her Russian aunt. If you revisit the first episode, when Prairie scrolls through her camera in order to make a recording for Homer, she briefly scrolls past the old tape Able made of her younger self sleep-talking in Russian. As fantastical as it seems, at least part of her origin story is legit.
The FBI therapist
Some fans are theorizing that the FBI therapist planted those books beneath her bed in order to discredit her story to her followers. While the show has not tipped its hand on that account — if he’s part of some grand conspiracy, it needs to do more work to show it — there are subtle signs that is not an outlandish supposition. For one, he had no reason to lurk in her house at night. For another, he tells French that she didn’t discuss her experiences with him even though we previously saw her discussing her love for Homer with him. If he’s lying to French about that, he could presumably have “lied” by means of planting the books.
At the very least, he is not being as up front as he pretends to be. His innocence act does not entirely check out. He does interact with OA’s parents and friends however, so we know that he does exist and will probably come back into play if there’s a Season 2.
While there are a host of other questions and ambiguities the show will hopefully clarify if it gets a Season 2, it’s is not quite as ambiguous as it seems. If you consider the creator’s previous projects like Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, while they favor ambiguity too, their final scenes swing slightly in favor of the supernatural explanation.