Let’s Talk About the Ending of The OA

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Brit Marling as Prairie.
Brit Marling as Prairie. Photo: JoJo Whilden/Netflix

The following piece includes spoilers for The OA. Proceed with caution if you haven’t seen all eight episodes of the first season.

If you’ve finished the eighth episode of The OA, you’re probably feeling … overwhelmed? Bereft? Confused about that freaky ending? A little mad at the Vulture critic — yeah, that would be me — who gave it such a positive review? These are all valid emotional responses, and you may be experiencing them all at once. You also may have questions about everything that happened over the course of The OA’s first season, so Vulture is here to help. Let’s discuss.

1. Was Prairie lying about everything?
The series is deliberately ambiguous on this point. Given the books that French (Brandon Perea) discovers in her room — including an encyclopedia of near-death experiences, a book about angels, a copy of Homer’s Iliad, and another book about Russia in the 1990s — it seems like Prairie was making up a lot, if not all, of her incredible narrative. If you’re partial to that interpretation, it’s also worth noting that Elias (Riz Ahmed) reassures French that her story still had a purpose: “You know what second-hand trauma is? When you take somebody else’s pain so they can survive. That’s what you did.” But on that note, what was Elias doing in the Johnson family’s home?

2. Did the group really stop the school shooting with the Five Movements? Did they actually open a portal that prevented their own deaths?
Your answer depends on the way you answered question one. If you think there’s some truth in Prairie’s elaborate yarn about her life in Russia, her ability to come back from near-death experiences, and, most important, her time spent living in Dr. Hunter Hap’s underground prison, then it’s possible that their choreographed dance routine worked. They might have warded off death and opened the portal that enabled Prairie to reunite with her fellow captives. If you’re inclined, as I am, to think that most of Prairie’s story was pure invention, then the Five Movements essentially acted as a distraction for the shooter, which caused him to stand still long enough to get tackled by a cafeteria worker. Nevertheless, by taking that bullet, Prairie makes the ultimate angelic sacrifice.

3. Who is the school shooter?
The identity of the person holding the gun is deliberately obscured, so it’s unclear who it might be. That’s probably for the best: Revealing the shooter would have taken the focus away from the actions of the Five Movement group, which is where director and series co-creator Zal Batmanglij concentrates his energies. It would also lead us to think about his — it appears to be a he — motivations and how he might have been stopped, which isn’t the point of the story at that moment.

4. Where is Prairie in the last moments of the season?
We see her alone, in an all-white room that evokes what heaven might look like. If you believe the “Prairie actually got shot and killed” scenario, it’s reasonable to assume she died and is now kicking it in a version of the afterlife that, unlike the one on The Good Place, is probably devoid of quality froyo. But like everything on this show, there are several other possibilities. After she was shot, Prairie may have recovered and is now in a mental hospital. She could have been sent to a facility where she is being studied yet again by someone like Hap. We really don’t know. Or maybe the portal actually did work. I am okay with that ambiguity. Others may not be.

5. What happened to Homer and Hap’s other prisoners?
Hap dumps Prairie on the side of the road, then presumably heads back to his house to resume his “research.” Which means that Homer, Rachel, Scott, and Renata are presumably still there — unless they somehow used the Five Movements to escape through the portal. Again, this requires taking everything Prairie said at face value. If you think she made up all of it, then Homer and everyone remain where they always were: inside Prairie’s head.

6. Was the stuff about Prairie’s life in Russia true?
The OA offers evidence that it wasn’t, most strikingly the fact that Prairie has a copy of the book The Oligarchs in her possession, which suggests that she has been reading about Russia and that her story was influenced by information she ingested. Perhaps she did live in Russia when she was younger, but because her memories faded, she used outside information to build a more elaborate backstory on top of the basic narrative she still remembers. We simply don’t know where the truth ends and the fiction begins.

7. Will that Chicago Tribune writer ever get to write her book?
The odds seem dim. A better question is why Prairie’s parents agreed to it at all. Money is certainly a motivating factor, but given how protective Nancy and Abel are — see also: keeping their daughter off the internet and shielding her from selfie-takers at Olive Garden — it seems like they’d be opposed to letting a writer put her story out there, especially since they don’t fully understand what that story is. They know Prairie has a wild imagination and a history of mental illness, so why did they even consider the offer?

8. Why Steve is still at his current school? Didn’t his parents want him to send him away to military school?
This is never explained. After Betty bribed the men taking Steve to Asheville with her late brother’s money, maybe Steve’s parents decided to give him one last chance at home. This plot hole simply isn’t filled in; it’s not a major one, but I’m still wondering about it.

9. Betty’s brother is named Theo. That’s only one letter away from spelling The OA. Any significance there, or just a coincidence?
I have no idea what it might mean, but I’d love to hear some theories on this.

10. The Five Movements are pretty ridiculous, right?
The Five Movements are the hardest thing to take seriously in The OA. They remind me of the theater exercises a high-school troupe would use to warm up before a dress rehearsal of Cats. Still, I appreciate the degree to which the characters — as well as the show’s creators and actors — just totally go for it and invest so fervently in the notion that crazy frenetic yoga might crack open a new dimension. You can either make that leap with them or boy-bye it. As far as I’m concerned, you can even do a little bit of both and still like the series. Of course, that’s another question you can debate in the comments below.

Let’s Talk About the Ending of The OA