Sci-fi with a Spiritual Sensibility

The OA, produced by Brit Marling Zal Batmanglij

Alternate dimensions, psychic powers, mysterious experiments – these are a few of my favourite things. If your story features these, I’m there. It doesn’t have to be all that good. That’s how much of a science fiction fan I am. My familiarity with these tropes lets me say that The OA, a show on Netflix, isn’t just good. It’s strange and original in ways sci-fi rarely attempts.

The story begins with a young woman returning to her Michigan home. Seven years earlier, she disappeared. The only thing stranger than her return is her condition: when she vanished, she was blind. Now, she can see. She calls herself the OA instead of her given name. She keeps quiet when the authorities ask her what happened. But at night, she gathers a group of high school students to tell her story, and to ask for their help. What follows is a tale of kidnapping, bizarre research into near-death experiences, and dance moves that can open a portal to other dimensions. 

The show’s uniqueness, however, doesn’t lie in its plot, but in its sensibility. For all its concern with scientific topics, it doesn’t take a particularly scientific approach to them. Rather, it is a highly intuitive show, feeling its way through the story. It’s a spiritual approach to topics usually told in more rational terms, and it opens the story to sensations and experiences rarely explored in science fiction.

Perhaps that’s why it was recently canceled after only two seasons. Though it won fans who followed the show closely, thrilling to its unique approach, it was not enough, apparently, to convince Netflix to keep funding it. The mysteries of the show – and it does end on quite the cliffhanger – will never be solved. Perhaps that’s for the best. The lack of a conventional resolution will let viewers better appreciate its open-ended sensibility, which is its most distinctive trait. Maybe that was the plan all along. 

  • Adam’s work has appeared in many venues, including the Paris Review Daily, Electric Literature and Real Life. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and two daughters.

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