overnights

The OA: Part II Finale Recap: Brain Forest

The OA

Overview
Season 2 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****

The OA

Overview
Season 2 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Netflix

It just wouldn’t be The OA without another wackadoo season finale. “Every human mind contains the multiverse,” Hap tells OA as he unveils his, or rather Dr. Percy’s, grand garden of dead bodies, and this show seems to be taking that idea to heart: there’s no other way to justify what happens at episode’s end other than by noting that it’s just as likely an outcome as any other infinite multiverse possibilities. Why not? they tell us. You got any better ideas?

But we’ll get back to that final dimensional jump in a minute. First let’s lay out the stakes one last time. OA has fully submerged herself in the identity of Nina Azarova, able to carry herself in the manner of the aristocrat and dig up memories that only her second-dimension persona would know. In this guise she has made her triumphant return to Treasure Island to face down Hap once and for all. And here is how she discovers his arboretum of the mind, where the corpses of all her friends prove fertile soil for majestic flowers with forked-path realities. (Even Jesse is here, although he died in the first dimension, not this one.)

It’s hard to keep track of how many desperate pleas Hap has made to OA by this point for her to overlook all the awful things he’s done and join him on his Science Quest. Suffice to say it’s not flying with her this time, either, especially not since Homer has finally regained his memories (so a Disney kiss would have taken care of this problem all along?) and sacrifices himself for her at the last minute. The kids in the first dimension are able to understand all of this drama going down, because BBA, instead of physically jumping to OA’s aid, can just “sense” what’s going on all around her. The movements make a triumphant return when the crew busts a move in their reality in order to ward off the giant robot dances that threaten OA.

It’s a well-sequenced shot, the only time this season has truly attempted a simultaneous cross-cutting between dimensions. And I liked the idea that, when the dancers finish, they have no way of knowing if they’ve been successful; they’re all operating solely on faith. Ultimately, it’s possible their entire journey has been for naught, especially now that this show has introduced a third dimension to the proceedings and we’re tracking further and further away from the kids’ stories. But of course the show doesn’t dwell on any of this, because that would be too easy, and there are new crazy ideas to introduce. Like, say, the idea that we are now watching the universe in which they’re actually filming The OA.

I’ll say this for the cliffhanger. On the cosmic scale of storytelling, throwing in some silly 11th-hour meta-fictional stuff is nowhere near the same level of tastelessness as an 11th-hour mass shooting. Via that metric alone, Part 2 of The OA wraps up in a better place than Part 1 did. But still, trying to piece together what exactly is happening in that ending is a headache: OA is now inhabiting the body of Brit Marling herself, who is “playing” OA on her own studio set, except that while acting out OA’s scripted demise, she has herself died? And Kareem has fulfilled his destiny by making it through the house’s rose-tinted window, which is actually just part of the same studio set, and it’s through this window that he can pluck Ian Alexander-playing-Michelle and haul him back to the dimension where he actually is Michelle? And Hap is now “Jason Isaacs,” complete with British accent, and he’s married to Marling, even though he’s still secretly scheming against OA? And the only person who seems to know he’s actually Hap is Patrick Gibson, the actor playing “Steve”?

It’s not worth unpacking all the logical fallacies, but this twist reeks of grad-school Adaptation knockoff, setting off a bunch of smoke and mirrors just to keep your audience from seeing its way clearly through your story. Maybe it will blow some younger fans’ minds, but I know from personal experience (and so does Charlie Kaufman himself) that inserting yourself into a fictional narrative is what you do when you’re all out of other ideas. It has all the benefit of seeming clever without actually being clever. Somewhere at the core of The OA is/was many good things: visual splendor, spiritual unrest, captivating mysteries, exhilarating dance, a heartfelt message of kindness as the driving force of the universe. Finding any of that now amid all the brain-forest is a daunting task, and not something the inevitable third season would resolve.

Perhaps in lieu of allowing the characters to breathe and learn and grow on their own, this constant fidgeting with realities is all The OA has. Indeed, it may be all the show ever had.

Stray Notes

• In case you were wondering, no, Jason Isaacs and Brit Marling are not married in real life.

• Totally fine to do a one-dimension-per-season thing! In fact, that would be a solid organizing principle. But that means wrapping up loose ends before departing each world, something this show has always been loath to do.

• After all the buildup in Episode 6, where the characters had to confront their own mortalities and failures before BBA could jump dimensions, it seems like a cheat to allow her to stay in her own reality while saving the day regardless. But it wouldn’t be the first time The OA has pulled a cheat on itself.

• On the whole, Part 2 has a leg up over Part 1. It’s better paced and less claustrophobic, makes a more evocative use of its setting, and — through Kareem — was able to at least briefly restructure its story in a way that made sense. Of course, the whole thing is utter nonsense if you haven’t seen Part 1. And with Netflix pushing an ever-more-personalized approach to our entertainment offerings, a show like The OA has no reason to try to appeal to anyone but its own most hardcore fans, who will be happy with every zig and zag this show takes. At this rate, the Part 3 finale won’t make any sense at all… but anyone watching by that point will probably love it all the same.

The OA: Part II Finale Recap: Brain Forest