TV: The OA (Season 2)

After a slow but interesting and memorable first season, The OA returns after long absence for a second—and boy, is it ever worth the wait. What started as a muzzy, melancholic story-within-a-story filled with science-fantasy musings on faith, trauma, and created family, morphs here into a gloriously inventive multiverse noir, deftly juggling timelines and plotlines. Its weirdness is unmitigated, building to a mindfuck masterpiece of a finale.

(Inherent season one spoilers follow.)

As the season begins, Prairie (Brit Marling) has been propelled—by the climactic actions of season one—to the San Francisco of another timeline, where she now possesses the body of an alternate self, Nina Azarova. There, she plans to continue her search for Homer (Emory Cohen), her interdimensional soulmate. Unfortunately, Nina’s been checked into a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Percy (Jason Isaacs)—her nemesis from the previous dimension, who’s executed a similar dimension-hopping feat, bringing her fellow captives with him. Worse, he’s studying their “shared psychosis” with the help of Homer, who has taken on the identity of this universe’s Homer, but doesn’t remember his life from the previous dimension. Instead, he’s a doctor working under Dr. Percy’s tutelage.

Running concurrent with Prairie’s disorienting journey are those of a private detective named Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Karim is a former FBI agent, hired by a Vietnamese woman to find her missing daughter Michelle. Karim’s initially reluctant investigation evolves into a full-on obsession once he discovers that Michelle was participating in an underground augmented reality game ties into a mysterious, abandoned house. When his path ultimately crosses with Nina’s, he becomes fully embroiled in the search for truth that her multiverse-jumping efforts increasingly seem to represent.

Is that an accurate summary of season two? Well, sort of. I think? What it definitely isn’t is comprehensive, because there’s so much more going on. The OA’s second term is restless, multifaceted, and punishingly complex, filled with subplots, asides, baffling moments, and jaw-dropping surprises. Yet it manages to cohere, thanks to the momentum supplied by Karim’s classic PI legwork—a conventional narrative thrust that not only allows the Prairie/Nina story to be more elusive and exploratory, but also affords revisiting Prairie’s friends from the previous universe, who remarkably figure into everything, even one timeline removed. Adding to the fascinating clutter are dreams, hallucinations, cryptic mysteries, nuanced multiverse diversion points, and eye-popping pyrotechnics of various stripes. Part of me wants to accuse these distracting bells and whistles as just that, but they all seem to support The OA’s oddball mythology and broad thematic focus on the power of story, faith, and interpersonal connection.

The disparate stew of ingredients builds to an unforgettable finale that is impossible to see coming. Oh, it is so, so wonderfully weird, and might serve as the perfect ending to the series (if it’s cancelled) or might be a springboard into an utterly bizarre new place (if it’s renewed). The first season left me qualifying my recommendation, but I’m glad I came back for more, because season two is a significant improvement, an impressive achievement in thought-provoking storytelling. A must-watch, especially for fans of shows like Legion and Twin Peaks: The Return.

Britt Marling in The OA
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