The OA is a victim of its own never-ending mythology, constantly introducing new pieces of information in order to clarify and cloud all the other pieces. In “Nina Azarova,” even as we can see the signs that things are starting to wrap up, the show still can’t resist throwing a few new wrinkles into the proceedings. We haven’t even talked about the “brain flowers” yet, or figured out how Elodie could jump back to this dimension after already leaving it, or why she would declare herself to be OA’s guardian when it seemed like Kareem had been filling that role…
But of course the show also has to provide an alternate, more plausible explanation for everything so as to give its most skeptical characters a way out, like it did last season with the books under Prairie’s bed. Hence, why Kareem now learns that anyone who enters “the house” suffers from high levels of mercury poisoning, which can lead to convenient “hallucinations.” He’s rescued Zendaya’s techie savant Fola from the hall of mirrors, and he’s content to write off all the creepy, illogical things he’s experienced as a by-product of that mercury. Even when OA comes to her senses in a park and re-emerges on Kareem’s houseboat in an attempt to tell him her truth — that she’s “from another dimension” — he’s ready to walk away from it all until the two of them view the USB drive with Dr. Rhodes’ confession about the true intentions of Pierre Ruskin’s dream factory.
It’s nice to see this show giving work to the supernaturally talented Anna Rose Holmer, director of The Fits, a bold, scrappy indie that also utilized modern dance to exhilarating ends. But unlike Andrew Haigh’s two stints in the director’s chair this season, which formed a largely self-contained story, Holmer’s directorial work here has to mostly clean up a lot of loose threads. Also? Considering how she’s already proven herself adept at filming dance routines, it’s surprising “the movements” barely factor into this episode.
But Holmer nevertheless does a fantastic job of building tension as we approach the very Raymond Chandler-esque climax, when Kareem finally confronts Ruskin at his ornate modern mansion and finds Michelle/Buck’s body, only to discover that the one powerful bad guy at the center of it all is basically untouchable. Blithely unconcerned with the likelihood that his confession will be caught on tape, Ruskin instead gets to speechify about scientific accomplishment (he’s clearly on Hap’s wavelength). The payoff here isn’t as satisfying as it could have been if we’d spent more time developing this season’s central mystery. Ruskin needed to remain a shadow, yes, but he could have been a more visible one. Especially when you’ve got Vincent “Pete Campbell” Kartheiser on hand to play those notes of cold, soulless dread.
And we’re already drowning in prophesies, anyway, so what’s one more? Back at SYZYGY, Elodie helpfully informs OA that she, Homer, and Hap are eternally linked in a kind of yin-yang balance equation, throughout every dimension. This is perhaps not so much an earth-shattering revelation about destiny as it is a simple fact of seasonal television: same characters, same conflicts, different scenarios. Apart from OA herself, none of these three figures has established enough of a totemic presence over the last two seasons to really make us care about their fates. And even with OA, the final insight she needs to confront Hap is that she has to look inside herself to rediscover who Nina Azarova is… but who is she, anyway? Apart from the Russian accent and the class posturing, there’s not much to distinguish this identity from any of her other ones.
One of the show’s running themes that surprisingly does work for me is this continued emphasis on what it means to reject a “normal” life. Fola articulates that again here, after Kareem tries to keep her from re-entering the mercury house. Sure, the phone quest might kill her, and she’s almost certainly being used as dream chattel, but what else is she going to do? It’s a very juvenile drive, but it’s also one with some actual consistency in this show’s universe. It has echoes in the first dimension, where no one who’s carrying a near-death experience as emotional baggage can possibly fathom returning to their old lives. And it’s something that has resonance for OA, Homer, Kareem and even Hap, each trying in their own way to make some sense of their place in the universe. This search for purpose is mixed in with all their other motivations — greed, altruism, work — but it also links us back to the closest thing The OA has to a spiritual core, that sense of unbelonging felt most acutely in this season’s opening episode. The more sprawling the narrative gets, the more it distances itself from whatever essential quest this used to be. It will take some mighty fine interdimensional stitchwork to bring everything together now.
• I’d be more willing to buy OA’s cordial return to SYZYGY if she and her companion hadn’t murdered the club’s main attraction on their last visit before fleeing the scene.
• Kareem’s personal life never resonated for me, because the show isn’t making his relationships especially clear.
• Homer’s very, very slow return to his old self is like watching Twin Peaks’ Dougie/Cooper all over again, only without the surrealist humor.
• Next up is the season finale. If you think things are finally about to settle down, you don’t know The OA. Stay tuned…