Review: The OA Part II Is a Beautiful, Batshit Puzzle Box .

gq.com

4 Views

        

I wasn't so keen on The OA the last time our paths crossed, frustrated mainly by the show's self-seriousness in the face of its potential for playful outlandishness. Things really fell apart in the first season finale, which saw the group of misfits Prairie/OA assembled thwart a school shooting by performing five ancient "movements" taught to OA by angels which, done right, supposedly open a portal to another dimension.

That scene still doesn't quite hold up, but finally, in Part II, The OA lives up to the loving ambition creators Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (who also stars as the titular "Original Angel") so obviously have for the project, answering dozens of questions left over from its first run, and introducing an entire new dimension (literally) to the show we thought we were watching all along.

The first season played out like a true mystery box show with two ways to watch: Either OA was telling the truth about her past, her imprisonment, and her identity, or she was using a fantastical story of angels and inter-dimensional travel to deal with unimaginable trauma. Part II gives us our answer quickly: The movements worked, and OA finds herself in a brand new dimension.

After a 30-minute prologue of sorts involving a PI tracking down Michelle, a missing girl who had been playing a mysterious "game," OA enters the body of her counterpart in the new dimension, Nina Azarova, a Russian heiress with a mysterious tech entrepreneur boyfriend and some curious circular marks on her arms. In this universe, Nina never lost her father or her sight, was never shipped to the U.S. and adopted as Prairie. Her confusion, however, does lead the authorities to place a two-week hold on her for psychiatric evaluation, sending her to San Francisco's treasure island where she'll be treated by one of the world's foremost psychiatrists: Hunter Percy.

Yep, OA's previous captor HAP and his imprisoned angels have jumped dimensions, too, and improbably, they all wound up in the same exact one together. In a lesser show this might feel like wheel-spinning or a retread, sending OA back under Percy's watch, but key differences both to the situation and some of the other characters who made the jump, change the dynamics of allegiance and power in unexpected ways. OA's paramour, Homer, is in the facility too, as HAP's admiring understudy. But Homer 1.0 doesn't seem to have made the jump into his body. Did he get flung to another distant, tangential universe? Is he hiding out in another being in OA's new dimension?

OA's quest this time around is also aided by much better supporting stories, including the aforementioned PI, Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir), and his investigation into the metaphysical underworld of San Fransisco, which leads him, naturally, to OA sooner rather than later. Michelle's disappearance and OA's story dovetail early on in an unexpected way, and give the season a noir-thriller thrust that some of the more plaintive episodes of the show's first fun could only dream of.

What's more, this show is finally down to let its freak flag fly. There were moments of levity in Part I, but often too few and far between. Part II is, charitably, bonkers, aided no doubt by an obviously expanded budget for the follow-up season. An episode in which OA and Karim navigate a house built long ago by a medium and an engineer hews closer to full-blown horror than the show's ever dared to go before, and the introduction of a non-human character named Old Night (you'll know him when you see him) pays homage to a genre I'm not truly willing to put into words here, and shows just how weird Marling and Batmanglij are willing to get.

Not entirely ready to do away with the sins of the past, The OA still has some ways to go in pacing some of its episodes. The horror house installment is immediately followed by a 45-minute road trip undertaken by OA's previous disciples in universe 1.0 which, despite Phyllis Smith's charms, doesn't justify an entire episode. But that's a small price to pay for what has now revealed itself as one of the most ridiculously fun and earnest shows in recent memory. The OA Part II takes big swings wherever it can, and connects frequently. I've never been happier to be proven wrong about a show I'd written off. If Netflix has the sense to let Marling and Batmanglij tell the full story they've obviously mapped out for a few more years to come, this could be the beginning of something seriously special.