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Decoding The OA: Part II’s Extremely Meta Ending

Photo: Netflix

Spoilers below for The OA: Part II and its ending.

At the end of The OA: Part II finale, just when it seems like the Netflix show is going to tie its story lines together and reach some sort of grand conclusion, it does the opposite by busting open yet another dimension of reality to add to the pile of realities it’s already revealed. Which, frankly, is the most OA thing The OA: Part II could possibly have done.

That’s saying a lot considering that The OA: Part II also gives us a telepathic performing-artist octopus, a talking spiritual tree internet, the Movements as performed by a group of primitive Transformers, and a version of 2016 where Barack Obama isn’t in the White House. The twist at the end of the season finale, “Overview” — in which BBA and the students do the Movements in one dimension and those robots perform them in another, thereby opening a portal to a third dimension in which OA is portrayed by an actress named “Brit Marling” in what appears to be a TV show that follows the same plot at Part II — is unexpected and clever in its meta-ness. Whether or not it is satisfying to you will depend, in part, on your comfort with the ambiguity to which Marling and series co-creator Zal Batmanglij remain fiercely committed. (It also may depend on how strongly you feel about making sense of what’s happened.)

If there’s one thing that we can count on from The OA, it’s that it will keep raising as many questions as it answers. We also can apparently count on each season to conclude without fully concluding. That’s what happened in season one, when OA literally took a bullet for her Michigan high-school friends and woke up, cliff-hanger style, in what we now know was a hospital. That’s what happens again in season two, with the reveal that OA is being portrayed on a show-within-the-show by “Brit,” alongside Hap, who identifies himself as “Jason Isaacs,” the name of the actor who actually does play Hap on the show we’re watching. (I know, I know. That sentence makes me need an Advil, too.)

That open-endedness is flagged midway through “Overview,” when Karim (Kingsley Ben-Adir) wanders through the mysterious Nob Hill puzzle house and happens upon a quote from a T. S. Eliot poem that’s been etched into one of the walls: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” This is from the final section of “Little Gidding,” the fourth of Eliot’s Four Quartets. It’s a poem filled with imagery evocative of moments from the series, including references to “the dove descending” that “breaks the air,” “the children in the apple-tree,” and “the spectre of a Rose,” which brings to mind the rose window through which Karim ultimately sees the multiverse. The first two lines of the final section of “Little Gidding” more blatantly echo The OA’s narrative structure and its inclination to sprout a fresh branch at the end of the season: “What we call the beginning is often the end,” Eliot writes, “And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

It’s not surprising that The OA: Part II ends by making another new beginning. What is shocking is that it does so by referencing its own existence as a work of art. It’s a move that seems a little cynical and earthbound within the context of The OA’s earnest sensibility and fantastical yet sincere world-building. But if, as Eliot’s poem suggests, the end of The OA: Part II is meant to “arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,” I have to think the series, which Marling and Batmanglij say they’ve mapped out for five seasons, may eventually take us back to an altered version of the dimension where things began in season one.

That meta twist seems like an important step on that circular path. Based on what little we see of the TV show at the end of the finale — the fictional TV show in the third universe, that is — it’s completely unclear what story is being told, how it syncs with the actual series we’re watching, how many other characters will appear in this metafictional dimension. In addition to Hap, we know that Buck (Ian Alexander) is there: After being summoned by Karim from the rose window, he gets yanked out of that dimension and back into the body of Michelle in the previous one, tying up at least one of the season’s main story lines. As promised, Karim does indeed find Michelle and reunite her with her grandmother.

But based on what we are shown in “Overview,” it’s unclear whether Buck is playing a character in the series or just happens to be on the soundstage in some other capacity. We don’t even know if he’s known as “Ian Alexander” in this dimension. We only see him standing away from the cameras, observing what’s happening, before he hears Karim calling out to him. If he is removed from this TV show setting, will that in any way affect his presence in the series going forward, or even what we understood about him in season one? I am not sure. But I am already wondering if, at the eventual end of this journey, we’ll get a totally remixed version of the first season that hits on the same beats, but involves different characters or changes the nature of what happens a tad.

The OA, like that Eliot poem, constantly reinforces the cyclical nature of existence. Even though there are differences between each of these three dimensions, certain patterns repeat. Specific people still come in contact with each other, regardless of the dimension. OA eventually finds Homer and one of them always saves the other. And every time, no matter the timeline, Hap still tries to maintain control of OA.

Watch him after OA, as “Brit,” lands with a thud on the soundstage floor while attempting a heavenly ascent stunt. (A stunt that, frankly, even Tom Cruise would have looked at and said, “Nah, I’m not doing that without a proper harness.”) The first name that Hap calls her is Prairie. He glances over at a pair of empty directors’ chairs that are designated, perhaps, for Brit and Jason Isaacs. He insists on getting in the ambulance with her and states, with a British accent, that he’s her husband. (The real Isaacs is British, but he’s not married to Marling.) The immediate vibe I got from this moment is that, in this timeline, Brit and Jason are both life and creative partners. But as always, Hap asserts control over OA in some way, which is why Steve (Patrick Gibson) — following his established ambulance-chasing pattern from the end of season one — chases down that ambulance at the very end of “Overview” and jumps inside.

Based on the monologue OA directs at Hap earlier in the episode, after discovering the pool where he keeps the flower-sprouting bodies of OA’s friends, Hap will always have “violence and terror and loneliness” while she and her compatriots — Homer and her fellow prisoners, BBA and all the kids from Michigan — will always have faith. What they have faith in, as expressed by the Movements, is that collective action can lead to change and that change can allow them to start over. What their “faith” hasn’t done yet is get rid of the kind of evil Hap represents. As fellow interdimensional traveler Elodie previously explained to OA, she and Hap are so powerfully connected that they can’t shake each other in any dimension. The question is whether OA, or perhaps some other force, can change Hap and help him see what’s so wrong about his lack of sanctity for human life.

If one dimension yields another dimension and then another, in a way that mirrors Russian dolls or the repeating floral patterns in the rose window, that must mean that The OA multiverse will continue to expand. And if it’s already taken the meta-step of acknowledging that a TV show about OA exists in one dimension, it stands to reason that at some point, the fourth wall will be broken and we, the viewers, will be drawn into The OA’s storytelling in some way.

Sounds insane? Well, here’s something truly insane. There’s a theory, laid out in the Daily Express and referenced by Bustle, that The OA is part of a Netflix original series multiverse in which many of the streaming platform’s shows will prove to be interconnected. Evidence in support of this theory: the fact that earlier in this season of The OA, while on a date, Homer makes a reference to the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Evidence against this theory: the fact that it doesn’t make a ton of sense?

The one part of it that does resonate with me, though, is the connection to Bandersnatch, the Black Mirror interactive one-off that allowed Netflix users to direct the plot based on choices they made along the way. That extended episode felt, to me, like a bit of beta testing for something that Netflix might implement in a more sophisticated and complex way down the line. Perhaps in The OA?

A choose-your-own-adventure version of The OA would make a lot of sense within the framework of the multidimensional chess-style storytelling that seems to interest Marling and Batmanglij. Imagine being able to decide that, you know what, maybe let’s not use “Lightning Crashes” in this dancing robot scene because “My Iron Lung” by Radiohead, also released in 1994, works much better. Imagine having to solve Pierre Ruskin’s video game or the puzzle floor before you could move to the next episode in some future season of The OA. Imagine going all the way back to the first season and being given the tools to alter a story that we’ve already absorbed and dissected. Sounds like the sort of thing that would fit right in the wheelhouse of a show about infinite dimensions and infinite possibilities.

Going meta at the end of season two feels, more than anything, like an attempt to lay the groundwork for eventually engaging in interactive storytelling at this level. And that speaks directly to an idea that’s embedded in the DNA of The OA: You can’t change reality — or realities — without a community of people participating in the effort.

Decoding The OA: Part II’s Extremely Meta Ending