From scenes of a self-described angel swallowing a bird on an inter-dimensional plane, to interpretive dance routines beaming consciousness across realities, Netflix sci-fi series The OA isn’t exactly your most conventional drama.
But here’s the thing: through all the jaw-dropping visuals and mind-boggling twists, there is method to its madness.
Well, at least that’s according to stars Jason Isaacs (Dr ‘HAP’ Hunter) and new cast member Kingsley Ben-Adir (private detective Karim Washington), who recently sat down with RadioTimes.com ahead of the show’s second season (which we won’t spoil here).
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“There’s a very tight logic to everything [The OA showrunners Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij] do,” says Isaacs.
“There’s an extraordinary mythology. They have the entire spider’s web of everything somewhere in their head… they’ve got all five seasons mapped out.”
He added: “You’re clearly in the safe hands of people who have a puzzle, a labyrinth. They’ve got every piece in the jigsaw and they’re building it very carefully. None of it feels like Twin Peaks, for instance.”
In other words, all the weirdness in The OA isn’t just an enjoyable meandering voyage without a plan – the show has a destination in mind.
But where exactly?
With no clear answers so far, fans have been developing their own theories to untangle The OA’s web of weird.
How much attention should we pay each one? To find out, we put some of the most compelling interpretations of the show to Isaacs and Ben-Adir.
Fan theory 1: The OA is set in the same multiverse as Stranger Things
Over the course of season one, fans spotted a lot of similarities between the Netflix stablemates that were both first released in 2016.
Not only do both shows feature some very shady experiments involving characters submerged in water, but each drama revolves around travelling between parallel dimensions.
In The OA, Prairie (Marling) spends much of the first season searching for a way to jump across realities to find Dr Hunter’s prisoner Homer. In Stranger Things, of course, the show’s evils come from the mysterious Upside Down – a realm that’s even briefly name-checked in The OA’s second season.
Is it possible that characters from The OA could jump across their reality into the Hawkins we know? Could Prairie use the five movements against the Demogorgon? As you might have guessed, as much as we’d want it, this isn’t going to happen any time soon.
“That is a good theory, but I doubt it!” says Ben-Adir with a smile.
Isaacs adds: “They [Marling and Batmanglij] are actually very friendly with the Duffer Brothers [the Stranger Things showrunners]. But when they were writing they didn’t share any information.
“It’s not a coincidence, I think, that discussions of the multiverse are in the ether, because they both came up with that as some part of the plot.”
Fan theory 2: Nina/The OA has been in a coma the entire time
This theory poses that the entire events of the show aren’t happening in reality, but in the mind of Nina Azarova AKA a younger version of protagonist Prairie Johnson AKA The OA.
The idea is that part – or perhaps everything – we’ve seen since the fateful bus crash in the first episode of the show has been a dream that a mentally-damaged Nina experiences in a coma.
While the classic ‘it was all a dream’ get-out would be inconceivable for any other drama, you could argue that it would work for The OA. Like a dream, often the plot isn’t the most significant thing about the series – it’s the surrealist visuals that tend to take centre stage.
However, this probably won’t be a twist we should expect, judging by Isaacs’ reaction.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of that theory,” he says. “I think to do the ‘I woke up, it was just a dream’ or ‘Bobby Ewing steps out the shower’ is not necessarily the most inspired or original form of storytelling.”
In other words, we can safely rule this out.
Fan theory 3: The Five Movements represent the five stages of grief
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance: this theory suggests that the show’s mysterious interpretative dance moves echo the five stages of grief.
Here’s the thinking behind it:
- The first movement: an action that puts the hand in the mouth, almost as if holding back an emotion: denial.
- The second movement: beating the hands against the chest. This could easily be said to be a sign of anger.
- The third movement: a central part of this involves throwing alternating arms back and forth, echoing a haggle or bargaining process.
- The fourth movement: punching yourself in the stomach. Bit of a stretch, but this could signify the pain of depression.
- The fifth movement: calmly closing the eyes, which could be interpreted as acceptance.
It’s not a theory likely to change the dynamics of the show, but it’s a popular one with the cast.
“I really like that! I’d never thought about it that way,” says Ben-Adir.
“I’d give that a 4.8 in artistic content,” chimes in Isaacs. “That’s art! that’s a beautiful theory and it’s open to everyone’s own subjective interpretation.”
Furthermore, Isaacs isn’t just keen for viewers to interpret the moves in their own way; he wants to see them used in real life.
“There are some extraordinary things people have done with them!” he beams. “A bunch of people went by Trump Tower to try and take down the devil!”
Fan theory 4: The school teens and BBA are alternate reality versions of Dr Hunter’s captives
Now here’s where things get really interesting. What if, the theory goes, teacher BBA and teens Steve, French, Buck and Jesse exist in a different reality to the characters locked in Hap’s basement during season one? Not only that: what if they’re alternate versions of these characters?
We’ve already had some major hints this might be the case, most notably when French saw Homer when he looked in the mirror at the OA’s house in season one.
Also, although the school kids and BBA might have vastly different characteristics compared to Hunter’s captives, they’re all still trapped in their own circumstances – whether in a state of loneliness or anger, as is the case with BBA and Steve respectively.
So, what does the cast think of this? Well, we might have touched a nerve here. Although both were happy to comment about the theories above, Isaacs was quick to dodge this one.
“I find it important and heartening thinking about all these things, but [Batmanglij and Marling], believe me, have thought about everything. Everybody will be rewarded by the time we reach the end of the journey,” he said.
Intriguingly, he went on: “If you read out a hundred theories and one of them was correct, it would be a disaster – if we said, ‘Oh, that one, we think it’s really good!'”
Isaacs explained, “This is a labyrinth. This is a puzzle. This is a big spiritual mystery. Some people may think they can see what’s coming along the way. Some of those people may even be right and it won’t ruin it for them – they’ll just have a different type of satisfaction.”
Now, Isaacs has openly admitted about being deceptive about his characters when previously speaking about his role in Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, RadioTimes.com has seen this first hand previously: when speaking to him about a Trek fan theory that later proved to be correct, we saw how brilliantly Isaacs could shut down such conversations.
Does this mean we should take this theory seriously? Perhaps. But there’s always a chance Isaacs could be double-bluffing. Or was he bluffing about double-bluffing? Or double-bluffing about double-bluffing?
For the moment, we’ve got no idea. But, just like The OA itself, it’s just the sort of complex riddle we’ll be raking our brains over in the weeks to come.
The OA Part II is released on Netflix on 22nd March