Boxset Binge: The OA – Season 1 Review

The first season of this science-fiction show suffers with severe pacing problems, a writing style that leaves too many questions and characters that are lacking in complexity. All of these hinder an admittedly clever spin on the genre from reaching its true potential.

If you were to look at the arc for the first season of The OA in its purest form, then you would agree that it sounds like an original and intriguing concept. A woman returns to her adopted family after years of being missing, with her sight returned and scars over her body. After interacting with some of the local community, she tells her tale of captivity over the course of several nights and asks for their help in creating a portal that will allow her to save the others who were trapped by a scientist looking to study where souls go when they die. Reading this sounds a lot more exciting than the product that is placed in front of viewers. The problem with this, in effect having two narratives being shown at once, is that one of them will be less prominent and suffer as a result.

The storylines occurring in the modern-day setting are weaker in quality and intrigue than Prairie’s past. All the side characters who are assisting her in creating this portal are defined by a singular issue. One has anger problems, one is trans, one must look after their family and alcoholic mother, one has had a close family member pass away and one has no discernible narrative at all. Several of these issues are rushed to be sorted in the last couple of episodes, with the majority having no build up and leaving plenty of plot holes in their wake. With the resolution of these personal narratives, very few of them have any kind of identity. The characterization is admittedly stronger in the flashback sequences, with each of the captives having their own personality and motivations, though they are all (including Prairie) completely eclipsed by Jason Isaacs, who does a terrific job as the scientist holding them prisoner. The writing gives us very few reasons (except the ‘evil’ nature of this character) to want the protagonists to succeed, especially in the modern setting.

Personally, I believe that the pacing is another major flaw in what prevents the narrative from taking off. The constant switching between settings does not help, nor does the strange episode lengths (many liked the inclusion of a 30-minute episode after every previous episode being an hour, but it didn’t work for me at all). When it feels like we are about to see a chain of events being set off, it is left in favour of focusing on the modern-day characters. There are some very exciting sequences, all of which occur in the flashbacks, but there are two few to keep the narrative afloat. The finale, in typical fashion, is paced very strangely, featuring a school shooting that comes out of nowhere (it was hinted it but feels too random to link to the main narrative), followed by the characters performing the ‘movements’ taught by Prairie to open the portal. Honestly, I found that whole sequence a bit mystifying, pretentious even. The fact that OA stands for Original Angel who has been brought back from the dead (with the other captives) to stay on Earth could have been explained and shown much better. In its current form, the narrative leaves too many questions to keep me captivated. Unless I re-watch the season and have a U-turn in feelings towards the show, I doubt that I will continue into the second season.

From a distance, the narrative of The OA is right up my street in terms of genre and mood. However, poor characterization and showy visuals and plot that creates more questions than it answers has left me mystified. I would recommend that you watch this show and see if it appeals to you more, because it has the makings of the good show; it just isn’t for me.

Star Rating: ☆☆

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