STREAMING SATURDAY: My problems with “The OA”

A couple of weeks ago, I challenged the young and optimistic Jake Buckler to talk about one of Netflix’s newest seriesThe OA. He and I are both watching the show, which has proven so dense that it’s practically impossible to binge. Therefore, it’s taking weeks to get through it.

The OA tells the story of a woman who has seemingly lived through some of the most horrible experiences possible, including having died and been revived. Without getting too spoilery, she’s also lost her father, left her native country, lived (briefly) in a house of ill repute, spent most of her childhood drugged, been abducted for 7 years, and found her way home. And believe it or not that’s not even getting into the spoilers.

It’s a good show. It’s almost a great show, and that’s why some of the stuff doesn’t make complete sense.

When does this show actually take place?
I had it in my mind that the main character says she was born in October 1982. The internet says I’m wrong, that it was 1987, no month given. This is either my faulty memory or another example of the Mandela effect. She was abducted on her 21st birthday (either 2003 or 2008) and spent 7 years in captivity then found her way out (meaning it was either after October 2010, or sometime in 2015-2016.) The show takes place in Michigan and kids are in school (and have been there long enough for some stuff to have happened.) So it’s either October-November or March-June, because it’s not cold and there’s no snow.

I’ve got to be a little spoilery in order to talk about my issues, so if you haven’t watched, stop reading.

Why it makes more sense for this show to take place in 2010-2011
1.The OA’s computer in her bedroom dates from 2002. A computer is an expensive purchase for retired people and it would have been a good 21st birthday present. It doesn’t look like it was used for 6 years, it looks practically new.

2.Hap’s equipment looks like it dates from the mid-2000s or earlier. The Dell keyboard was common in the mid-2000s and is not used today. The recording technology is either CD or magneto-optical, which would make sense for the late 1990s when he started outfitting the lab (remember it was complete and functional when Prairie got there.) It would not make sense if the lab wasn’t built until the late 2000s.

3.The overall use of technology is wrong. Steve brings OA a cellular router when you would think he would bring her a tablet instead. It seems like there should be a lot more social media if this show takes place in 2016. I would expect that a time-sensitive video message in 2016 would be on Snapchat.

4.The abandoned house is in good shape, like maybe it was built in 2009 and abandoned fairly recently before the show starts. In contrast, being in the open during several Michigan winters would have seriously degraded it.

Why it makes sense for this show to take place in 2016
1. The father is a Russian oligarch. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, meaning that the father had to make enough money to become rich and move to a secret enclave by the time Nina (Prairie/OA) turns 5. This could not have happened if she were born in 1982, and in fact barely would have worked if she were born in 1987.

2.The stuff in the lab is old because Hap isn’t rich and he bought castoffs from someone else. Also if he built the lab in 2006-2007 then maybe he’s using current but not cutting-edge stuff and he never upgrades it.

3. OA uses YouTube because that’s what she knew when she was abducted in 2008. Her computer is old because her parents bought her a used one, because they’re poor. It’s clean because either the mom is a good housekeeper, or because the FBI cleaned it after they dusted it for fingerprints. Steve brings her a cellular router because he (correctly) assumes that she has no idea how to use a tablet.

4. About the house… I got nothin’. This is just bad writing. It’s also possible that the house was actually started in 2013 and then abandoned for some reason that isn’t as obvious as the housing market collapsing.

Why it’s possible that the show is just sloppy
Maybe I’m pressing this too hard. Maybe the scripts were written in 2011 or so, and some of that 2011 mentality still pervades them. There’s a lot of stuff throughout to give you the impression that the whole thing wasn’t thought out. In one episode, Hap is wearing black steel-frame glasses all of a sudden and then goes back to the tortoise-shell ones. That’s got to be just sloppy. Here are some other things that don’t make sense and are probably attributable to sloppy writing:

  • Everyone’s hair stays in the same style. Even if you concede that Hap cuts it while they’re sleeping, he’s not a hairdresser.
  • The men shave (and possibly the women shave their underarms.) Why would you give captives a razor?
  • Hap flies a plane right into Cuba and right out again. Really. Because no military agency on either side would shoot him down.
  • Renata speaks English even though she says she’s never left Cuba.
  • No one shows any long-term effects from having been killed multiple times.
  • No one even notices that their hair is wet after they come back from being gassed.
  • I couldn’t find any evidence at all that you can make scopolamine a breatheable gas or that it would be smoky white. Most gasses are colorless, except on TV.

And of course, the biggest thing you’re not supposed to question… you can’t just hear what’s happening for someone (whether in or out of a near-death experience) by putting microphones in their ears.

An alternative theory
Let’s say the show takes place in an alternate universe, which would solve a lot of the structural problems. Let’s even say that somehow, the show itself is the key to unlocking alternate universes, and by watching it, the viewer is transported into an alternate universe. That would explain why I remember OA’s birth date differently than the rest of the internet. But it raises all sorts of other ethical questions that would take tens of thousands of words to discuss.

I like this show, I like that it’s fairly smart and interesting and raises very pertinent questions. But the thing is, it’s either very sloppy in a lot of meaningful ways (which makes it less smart and less interesting and less pertinent) or it’s actually a very insidious mindworm with tons of unforeseen consequences. That’s almost terrifying to consider.

What do you think? Let’s have a discussion.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.