"What the heck just happened?" That was probably a pretty standard response to the Season 1 finale of The OA, the new Netflix drama that blew us all away with its story of a miraculous girl who may or may not be an angel and her self-professed ability to open inter-dimensional portals with the help of five choreographed movements she received from a mystical woman named Khatun she met during a series of near-death experiences. (If that sentence made your head spin, you're not alone.) Perhaps more than any show this year other than Mr. Robot and Westworld, the bizarre events of The OA inspired much online theorizing and speculating and predicting among the show's fans — including theories about The OA's ending and what exactly it meant.
Throughout the eight Season 1 episodes, the show constantly makes viewers question whether Prairie Johnson's story is true — or whether she is simply suffering from mental illness, as a doctor suggested to her adoptive parents early in her childhood. The finale plays to both possibilities at the same time, what with the discovery of a box of books under Prairie's bed that cast doubt on her story and also the fruition of a seemingly precognitive dream that foretold the events of the season's climactic school shooting.
So which is it? Should we believe Prairie's story or not? There are a lot of ways this scenario could unfold in a hypothetical Season 2 of The OA; but in the meantime, here are four different theories about the ending and what it means.
1. She Is Telling The Truth
The gist: The simplest explanation is that everything Prairie experienced in her life played out exactly as we saw it onscreen, from her formative years in Russia through her adoption by the Johnsons and her kidnapping by Hap. She really did meet Khatun in the afterlife, and she and Homer and the rest really did learn how to harness metaphysical powers through the five movements. In the end, the movements were successful in transporting Prairie through an inter-dimensional portal to reunite with Homer… although where exactly they reunited will have to wait until Season 2 to be revealed.
The evidence: Reddit user Darknut21 has compiled a long list of evidence for this theory, including but not limited to the following: If Prairie isn't telling the truth, then how did she regain her sight? How did she have dreams about the school shooting before it happened? How did she know to google Homer's name the instant she acquired internet access, long before she could possibly have ordered that box of books from Amazon? And speaking of that box of books, doesn't it make more sense that the FBI counselor Elias planted them under her bed in order to discredit her story? (Maybe he's an angel hunter like Hap.) If Prairie grew up reading Russian and learned to read Braille after she went blind, then when would she have learned to read English anyway?
2. She Is Telling A Story In Order To Cope
The gist: The word "boring" could never be used to describe a story about dimension-hopping angels… but all the same, viewers might find it at least underwhelming if everything in The OA turns out to be exactly as it appeared on first glance without any sort of narrative wrinkle. Therefore, some fans — like Reddit user flowlowland — are likely hoping for some kind of twist, like the theory that Prairie really is mentally ill, and her entire story is simply the product of a fevered imagination struggling to cope with the devastating (though much more realistic) trauma of having been abducted and held captive for seven years by a run-of-the-mill kidnapper. In that case, casting herself as the avenging angel defying the evil scientist is surely a preferable scenario to reality.
The evidence: Shortly after Abel and Nancy adopt Prairie, a child psychologist warns them that their daughter is exhibiting early signs of mental illness. While eating out with her family, she is approached by a stranger who says that she finds it inspiring how Prairie was able to overcome her years of captivity and rape; that seems like a drastic assumption to make unless that's what really happened to Prairie, and she's simply hiding the truth from herself. And there's the box of books, which alternatively could be exactly what it looks like: Prairie bought the books for herself once she returned home, having taught herself to read English during her years in Hap's basement. (At one point we see do see Scott reading a book in his cell, so we know they have access to literature.)
3. She Is In Purgatory
The gist: Of course, the only options aren't total truth and total fabrication. There are some other tantalizing possibilities, like this twist on the "It was all a dream" trope. As Reddit user jacenborne theorizes, Prairie — or Nina, as she was known then — has been in a coma ever since her school bus drove off that bridge when she was a child, with her soul trapped in some sort of limbo between life and death after her near-drowning. The entire plot of The OA has been about Nina's battle to accept her current state and to find her way back to waking life.
The evidence: There were two boys and two other girls on the bus with Nina, just like there are two men (Homer, Scott) and two other women (Rachel, Renata) in the basement with Prairie. Out of all the myriad ways you can kill someone, the only way Hap ever kills his subjects is by drowning them… over and over and over again. Nina's recurring NDEs are her body's attempts to return to life.
4. She Is In An Alternate Dimension
The gist: Like the first theory, this one assumes that everything about Prairie's story was true; however, unlike that theory, it doesn't assume that everything we've seen onscreen has been "real." Prairie tells the police that she was trying to get back to Homer and the rest when she jumped off that bridge in the opening minutes of the series. What if she was successful in somehow traveling through a portal in that moment, and everything that has happened since she returned to her home in the suburbs has actually taken place in an alternate dimension, and all of the people she "recruited" are actually alternate versions of her fellow captors?
The evidence: Homer and French are both jocks who provide for their families (Homer for his son, French for his mother and brothers) and who have identical cuts on their foreheads; we even see Homer's reflection when French stares in the mirror. Buck (a singer) passes a car crash with a red backpack in the road, similar to how Rachel (also a singer) described the accident that caused her NDE to Prairie (as Reddit user phargmin points out). Jesse is a stoner outcast with no parental guidance in his life, just like Scott, who says he has no one in his life he even wants to tell about his captivity. Betty is an older woman who enjoys the company of younger men, just like Renata. (The only question mark is Steve; is he somehow the alternate version of Hap? Or of Prairie herself?) It is even specifically mentioned that inter-dimensional travel would cause amnesia, explaining how none of these people remember who they really are and why Prairie doesn't seem to recognize them.
Which of these theories about the ending is true? Is it some combination of a few different speculations? Or will it be nothing any of us see coming? We'll find out when The OA (hopefully) returns for Season 2!