Move over, Stranger Things, Netflix has a new show about a kidnapped girl, alternate dimensions, and a shadowy conspiracy.
Except, don’t move over too far, as The OA apparently has plenty of room to include a reference to 2016’s most popular 80s science fiction throwback.
The OA has more than a few references, Easter Eggs, and allusions to wider popular culture, all of which help both to display the show’s influences on its sleeve, and to build the mystery that surrounds Prairie and her unexplained seven year absence.
The show’s clever use of foreshadowing, imagery, and cinema trickery could fill several academic papers, but in the meantime, let’s have a look at some of the sneaky hidden references that fill The OA, and bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s familiar with obscure Russian paintings or Braille.
Let’s start with a fairly obvious one for fans of nineties music – at one point, the school choir sings Better Man by Pearl Jam. It’s a song which details the inner life of a woman who’s trapped in an unhealthy relationship, who escapes (to a certain extent at least) through fantasy.
The parallels here to Prairie’s own experience are clear, and it’s up to the viewer whether they want to believe that The OA is telling the truth with her story of alternate dimensions, or whether everything is simply within her own head.
Braille On the Wall
In the FBI office, there’s a large braille sign by the main desk. This should be enough to tip off anybody who’s paying attention to some hidden symbolism considering that a large part of the mystery surrounding Prairie is how she regained her sight, having been blind in the past.
This word’s meaning, though, is even more interesting – apparently, inscribed on the wall of the FBI office, is the name “Rachel”.
Rachel is, of course, the name of one of Prairie’s fellow captives, and fans of the show point to her name’s inscription on the FBI office wall, as well as the fact that all of the plants in her cell are dead, to suggest that not all is as it seems with this particular character. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to see more of this particular mystery in Season 2.
Or maybe it’s just a deliberate red herring included in the show to mess with fan theorists.
Kasimir Malevich Artwork
One of the more obscure references made in The OA, several scenes are believed by some fans (most notably Redditor ColorMySoul88) to resemble paintings by Russian artist Kasimir Malevich.
Khatun’s red house inspired ColorMySoul88 to do some research, finding a piece by the artist which looks eerily similar to the shot in the Netflix show. Malevich himself suffered near-death experiences several times in his life, and many of his paintings (such as the interestingly titled Painterly Realism of a Football Player - Color Masses in the 4th Dimension) are inspired by what’s known of as the Fourth Way, an artistic style taught by another painter, George Gurdjieff.
Gurdjieff is significant for having taught his own breed of “sacred dances” to students, creating further connections to The OA.
There’s no guarantee that this is a genuine Easter Egg from the creators of the show. That said, if the similarities between The OA and the work of these two artists is a coincidence, it’s a pretty fantastic one.
Braille On Khatun’s Face
It makes sense, if The OA is going to use braille for symbolic purposes in one place in the show, that it should do it more than once.
The second instance of this occurring, though, is more difficult to decipher, in large part because the small dots are displayed on a person’s face.
Both Khatun and her father have braille on their faces, and while it’s hard to make out what it says, Redditor philaj9 claims that the words are German, and that they say something along the lines of “who if”, “because”, “angel”, and “five as empty ones”.
Of course, without a better look at the characters, it’ll be difficult for fans to figure out what these snippets mean, but at least some of this resonates with the story at the heart of The OA.
Finally, here’s the big one, that most fans of Netflix’s science fiction programming will have noticed.
While The OA and Stranger Things share more than a few themes, the shows have very different time periods as their settings – The OA is very much set in the modern era, with all modern conveniences available to its characters.
One such convenience is, of course, the online media streaming service, Netflix. In episode four of the show’s first season, Jesse’s sister can be seen watching something on TV - the show in question is none other than Stranger Things.
It’s no coincidence that the scene in question is of Will Byer’s original abduction into the Upside Down. The makers of The OA are both fully aware of the similarities between their show and Stranger Things, and willing to reference the earlier Netflix supernatural mystery show as a shorthand for the story they’re telling within their own series.
Smart Sci-Fi At Its Finest
In The OA, nothing can be taken for granted.
It’s worth assuming that every little tidbit – a snippet from a pop song or a visual – could well have been borrowed from another work, helping to build up the show’s narrative by intelligent use of Easter Eggs.
For casual viewers, these references will help to build up the world of the show. For those who are invested enough to do their research, though, there’s plenty of hidden secrets within The OA that help make the show’s mystery all the more captivating and disturbing.