If you understand the octopus, you’re doing better than me. The second season of The OA has jumped into full-on phantasmagoria at the halfway mark, as Prairie descends into a Russian underground S&M lair where she’s tied to a chair in order to communicate telepathically with a tentacled beast named Old Night. This kind of imagery is loaded with significance in Japanese erotica (something The Handmaiden knew all too well). It feels weird to point that out, but the show is certainly teasing that kind of association with the ways those tentacles wrap around Brit Marling’s defenseless body, not to mention the very bondage-like suction marks up and down her arm that we suddenly have an explanation for.
Old Night appears to be slain by episode’s end, but before he goes he “kills” OA for about 30 seconds, delivering her a new trans-dimensional vision on a plane that’s about to crash. It’s getting hard to keep track of all the visions on this show and who has them, which is why The OA has to remind us of Kareem’s premonition that he would see OA decked out in her SYZYGY red dress.
Outside of whatever the hell is happening in this nightclub, the highlight of this episode is the long-awaited meeting of OA and Kareem; the sequence where the detective springs his new charge from her Treasure Island prison, and she realizes she never learned how to drive, is lots of fun. Not to mention it’s a massive sigh of relief for those of us who feared the show was just going to keep its protagonist behind bars for the majority of another season. But what isn’t panning out so well is the mystery narrative, which is turning out to be less a slow accumulation of clues and more a series of tiny, pointless revelations. (“Three Y’s, Man!”)
If Old Night is to be believed, Kareem may just be on this dimension to serve as OA’s “brother” (you can hear the shippers begin their anxious keyboard chatter), so maybe his heart just won’t be into case-solving once he emerges from the other side of that door. It’s too bad; his just-the-facts-ma’am demeanor has been doing a lot of the narrative heavy lifting to date.
Our other travelers are on journeys of discovery, too: Hap toward learning about other ways to dimension-hop, and Homer toward a very slow self-realization that he’s lonely and miserable at his job. It’s a safe bet that Hap will wind up betraying his new friend Elodie (Irène Jacob) as soon as she’s shown him an easier way to fly between worlds, because he’s the type forever destined to act purely out of self-interest. But it’s harder to predict where Homer will wind up by the end of this. Will he start to believe the five dancers’ story and work to help them, or double down on his commitment to bearded normcore? Will he suddenly realize he’s been the first-dimension Homer all this time, or are we going to dig up that guy in the secret room in Hap’s basement?
For now, the road is leading back to the San Francisco house that Kareem first entered in episode one; it’s long-abandoned, yet something inside it has the power to possess people and/or drive them to suicide. And the deed is made out to Nina Azarova, so it seems likely that OA will imminently discover the correct pathway through her alter ego’s secret lair. The idea of this character plumbing the depths of what she was getting up to in this new dimension would be substantive enough to occupy an entire series if there wasn’t so much other stuff going on.
This is the promise and the peril of establishing a universe in which practically anything is possible. The results can be exhilarating — as in the way OA infiltrates the nightclub while having absolutely no clue what she’s gotten herself into. But they can also just be a lot of noise.
• “SYZYGY” is a triumph of production design above all else. The self-consciously theatrical buildup to Old Night is a marvel.
• Ah, the old “if I hadn’t gotten on the bus, my entire life would have been different” epiphany. Such tired stuff. Can OA give it a rest?
• Homer’s Tinder date drops a reference to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, pointing out that his and Prairie’s glass prison in the first dimension bore similarities to the tragic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe. And yet my dude can’t seal the deal at the end of his sushi date.
• Irène Jacob should be a familiar face for film buffs. The Swiss actress played the lead in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Véronique and Three Colors: Red, and made her screen debut in Au Revoir, Les Enfants. This show continues to stack its wings with art-house favorites.
• Michelle is nearly confirmed to be this dimension’s version of Buck, meaning that here, the character never transitioned. So the show is flirting with an intriguingly transgressive idea by calling into questions who this person’s “true” self is, and what kinds of environmental factors lead a person to transition.