Though I didn’t find the first season of this Netflix show as compelling as, say, a great Syfy primetime creation such as Killjoys or Dark Matter, I was interested in a couple of the techniques the writers used to keep me watching (other than the pandemic).
First, the two stories–the lives of the present day listeners and the story of Prairie’s kidnapping and captivity–balance each other. Though many of Prairie’s fellow captives lacked character development, and are somewhat cookie-cutter in their shape and predictability, the present day group includes nuanced characters with many sides to them. In fact, what passes for plot in the present day story is basically the slow revelation of details about these characters’ lives. As you can imagine, this present day story is a bit lacking in urgency, so that is provided by the sensationalist plot of the past story. This kind of balancing is trickier than it looks, because it involves allowing both stories to be lacking on their own, yet complete together. It would’ve worked as intended for me if “OA”–,I won’t spoil it for you–had turned out to be an original concept and not some thing we’ve all heard of before. Now to the fun stuff.
The much more enjoyable tight rope act this show demonstrates actually has a name, used to describe the classical French literature that first made it famous: la fantastique. This genre is not synonymous with fantasy; instead, it is fiction that deliberately makes it impossible for the reader to tell what is real. There is always a supernatural explanation of events which is in someways easier to believe, and a realistic interpretation which involves more convoluted explanations. Often, as in The OA, the doubt springs from an unreliable narrator (so fun!). The realistic explanation is that Prairie is, and always has been, crazy; the supernatural explanation is…well, no spoilers.
Since there is a second season/part to this show, I have a feeling the writers are going to jump off the high wire, and the truth of the supernatural explanation will be confirmed. But it was fun while it lasted.
Of course, if you really want to play with an unreliable narrator, you should read Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow the Ninth. But you’ll have to start with the excellent Gideon the Ninth, or you won’t even know when to be suspicious of Harrow’s narration.