The OA Season 1 Episode 1, “Homecoming” Recap
The OA‘s arresting pilot explores the darkness and wonder hiding behind suburban facades.
From the very first breathless moment, The OA is a show that resists classification. Its haunting opening sequence of a lone woman plummeting from a bridge into the mist below evokes a long tradition of gothic TV mysteries involving “lost girls” stretching back to Twin Peaks, but Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) is no mere victim.
She emerges from the water bearing strange scars and insisting that people call her the OA. When her parents arrive at the hospital to collect her after seeing her apparent suicide attempt on YouTube, they are amazed to find that her sight has returned after a lifetime of blindness. A media frenzy accompanies her return to her Minnesota home after a seven-year absence, but it soon dies down as she retreats to a cloistered life, walking the alien suburban streets and recording video messages for a mysterious man she calls Homer.
Out for a walk one night, Prairie sees a boy doing handstands on the roof of a half-finished house (the developers ran out of money, her mother explains). The boy, Steve Winchell (Patrick Gibson), a classic teenage shithead, uses the shell of a house to sell drugs. Prairie finds him there and asks for a contraband wi-fi hookup, and he takes her camera and sics his dog on her (did I mention this kid sucks?). She calms the animal in a show of almost supernatural ability, and Steve eventually agrees to a Strangers on a Train-inspired agreement with the local “crazy”: he’ll get her a router, and she’ll pose as his stepmom to convince a teacher not to go through with his expulsion for punching a chorus kid in the throat.
While shopping for grownup clothes at the local thrift store to aid in their ruse, Prairie/the OA tells Steve that his problem is with his “invisible self,” which is a very gentle way of telling him to stop being a total piece of shit. She also convinces Steve’s teacher, Mrs. Broderick-Allen (Phyllis Smith of The Office), that the problem isn’t Steve, but her inability to reach him because she’s lost her “first reason” for teaching. This prompts a change of heart, but when the teacher runs into Steve’s very much still married parents at the grocery store, the jig is up. Steve is to be packed off to military school, and Prairie will lose what little freedom she has.
But first, as part of her bargain with Steve she insists that a group of at least five people must meet her at the abandoned house at midnight. Steve, Mrs. Broderick-Allen, and a few of the kids hanging around when the OA first showed up find themselves drawn to the site after she posts a video online asking for attendees to come to the house and leave their front doors open. The five arrive to find her lighting candles in the attic that set a mystical scene.
This would be a perfectly reasonable hook on which to end a pilot episode, but The OA isn’t content to be anything but bonkers even at this early stage. Prairie/the OA launches into the story of her early life, revealing that her original name is Nina. She was born, she explains, the daughter of a Russian oligarch living in a mansion outside Moscow. She was troubled by nightmares of being trapped behind glass and drowning as a child, until her father took her to an icy lake and made her stand in the cold water until she conquered her fear. Each day, Nina would ride a bus to school with the other children of privilege, until a tragic accident sent them plummeting into the freezing water below, making her nightmare a reality.
Nina managed to swim through a hole in the windshield, but she passed out before she could reach the surface. She found herself in a beautiful starlight realm with a woman who offered to send her back—at the cost of her sight.
“We were a message, you see? From the void to our parents. A message that said you are powerful to be sure, but you are not all-powerful. The youngest sons and daughters of every Russian scion were on the bus that day. They all died. Every single one of them, including me.”
The episode closes with this unsettling reminder of Prairie/the OA’s earlier assertion that she and her companions all died “countless times” during her unexplained absence. What is the nature of the place she has returned from? How are she and her companions connected? Is she a prophet, or the product of unnamed trauma? These are just a few of the questions this mesmerizing pilot leaves in its starry wake.
One of the strengths of the first episode is placing us in Prairie/the OA’s perspective. The aggressively normal suburb she grew up in is now strange and alienating to her newly sighted eyes. Spaces between houses become a vast, liminal landscape. Unfinished facades are monuments to lives unlived.
The main character’s trauma has rendered her an other in her former community, but she embraces her outsider status, drawing other “invisible selves” to her in the process. Time will tell what becomes of this unlikely circle of friends.
- The show does an excellent job of conveying how Prairie/the OA knows her childhood home through touch, lingering on her bare feet on the carpet and her fingers on the textured bedspread. Marling subtly conveys the visceral sense of what has been lost and regained in these moments.
- Color me surprised that Steve is a Hitchcock buff. Guess he contains multitudes.
- (I get that Steve is going to get a redemption arc, but Jesus Christ he is just the worst.)