Is 'The OA' Really Canceled or Is It an Elaborate Season 3 Publicity Stunt?
[WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2 of The OA.]
"I asked you to believe in impossible things, and you never once looked at me like I was crazy. That is why I can not give up on you." - The OA
The OA truly put the word "original" in the term "Netflix Original." Not since Twin Peaks has a TV show been so weirdly creative and uncompromising in its vision. Yet, through all the choreographed dance movements, interdimensional travel, and telepathic octopi, at its core, The OA was a show about faith. The series asked its characters, and the audience, to believe in the impossible. It's unsurprising then that some fans believe The OA is still alive, despite Netflix announcing its cancellation last week.
An increasingly popular fan theory, first posted on Reddit, posits that the shock cancellation is part of a publicity stunt that ties into the third season. If this were any other TV show, it would be easy to brush aside this kind of madcap theorizing as a fanbase in denial. However, The OA is not just any other TV show, and if anyone could pull something like this off, it would be creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.
With that in mind, we're going to examine all of the evidence to see if this theory has any legs or whether it is merely wishful thinking gone wild.
THE ENDING OF PART II
The cliffhanger at the end of the second season finale is full-on meta-narrative madness. Marling's character, OA, is knocked into a new dimension, where she is portrayed by an actress named "Brit Marling," in what appears to be a Netflix production. "Brit" falls from the set and is stretchered into an ambulance by Hap, who identifies himself as "Jason Isaacs," the real name of the actor who plays Hap in The OA.
This "show-within-the-show" twist is what laid the groundwork for the current theory. It's not a leap to see how the cancellation could tie into a story set in a dimension which is akin to our reality. "We have now truly moved into the third season where the show was cancelled due to Brit (OA) being injured, and not being able to continue her role as OA," wrote Reddit user smithif.
Adding to this, earlier in the season, Zendaya's character, Fola, tells private investigator Karim (Kingsley Ben-Adir): "At a certain point, the puzzle goes IRL (in real life)." The belief is that the cancellation could be part of an augmented-reality marketing campaign for Part III that requires fan interaction.
"It’s exactly the kind of crazy/quirky thing Netflix/Brit/Zal might do," said Reddit user HappyKnight11. "Because it rings true with the show’s themes: having faith, working together, staying determined. All of these are being tested right now, and I think we have to be faithful. Maybe there’s more to it, like a puzzle, but strongly I feel this isn’t the end."
THE TIMING OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT
Netflix announced The OA's cancellation on August 5—the same day fans had planned to begin their #RenewTheOA campaign. Those who subscribe to the theory find the timing of this suspicious. Was it just a coincidence? Netflix trying to get ahead of the renewal movement? Or a pre-planned stunt?
Some fans also believe the lateness of the announcement is suspect in itself. A key metric for judging Netflix viewer engagement is "28-day viewership"—which means the number of people who watched an entire season within the first four weeks of its release. This data can then be used to determine the future of a series. Most Netflix shows are renewed or cancelled within two months or less from their initial release date (recent examples include Chambers, Santa Clarita Diet, and She's Gotta Have It). The OA Part II, however, was released on March 22, and it took over four months for Netflix to make a decision on a potential third season.
That said, Netflix has been on a cancellation kick as of late, particularly as it relates to its original series. It is not too far-fetched to believe the streamer cancelled a cult series like The OA, regardless of the delay.
THE WORDING OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT
The news of the cancellation was first broken by Brit Marling, who posted a lengthy statement on Instagram. "Some of you may know already or some of you may be learning from this letter that Netflix will not be continuing The OA," she wrote. "Zal and I are deeply sad not to finish this story."
View this post on Instagram
Marling's message certainly sounds genuine and heartfelt. However, the caption of her post, "last text to Grandma Vu," caught the eyes of some fans. "Michelle/Bucks last text to Grandma was referenced in S2 episode 1, BUT we eventually see that it clearly won't be her last text ever to Grandma because at the end of S2 she's alive and sitting right next to Grandma. It's a clue," wrote Reddit user justatraveler12.
Following Marling's post, Netflix's vice president of original programming, Cindy Holland, confirmed the cancellation to the press. "We are incredibly proud of the 16 mesmerizing chapters of The OA, and are grateful to Brit and Zal for sharing their audacious vision and for realizing it through their incredible artistry," she said. "We look forward to working with them again in the future, in this and perhaps many other dimensions."
The final line of Holland's statement could simply be a nod to the show's multi-dimensional storytelling, but some believers think it's a reference to Part III's potentially mind-bending meta-narrative. (Holland previously told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour that Marling and Batmanglij had pitched Netflix a five-season arc for The OA.)
It must also be noted that Holland's statement is the only official word from Netflix about The OA's cancellation. The streamer has not published an official press release nor posted about it on any of their social media channels—as it has done for previously cancelled series. I personally reached out to a Netflix representative for confirmation but as of writing have yet to receive a response.
JASON ISAACS IN CHARACTER?
A large part of this theory revolves around Jason Isaacs, who plays Hap, a mad scientist obsessed with Near-Death Experiences. It was Isaacs who encouraged fans to get in touch with Netflix about the renewal in the first place. Just days before the announced cancellation, Isaacs uploaded an Instagram video in which he performs "the movements" with his co-star Emory Cohen. In the post's caption, he tells fans to #AskNetflix about when the show is coming back.
View this post on Instagram
A peek behind #TheOA curtain: Homer and Hap stepping it up and sweating like Sumos. Hour three in the studio and this is take 37 of hundreds - interdimensional travel's not for wimps. To the many obsessed and wonderful devotees who approach me all over the world to ask if and when we're carrying on the story: I'm in the same club as you - I think it's utterly brilliant, I'm dying to know what happens next and I'm waiting for the phone to ring. Don't ask me #AskNetflix! @britmarling @z_al @the_oa #EmoryCohen @netflix #LordsOfTheDance #MagicMikeNine - They're Back, They've Let Themselves Go A Bit, And They're Dressed For Yoga.
Taking this at face value, it is most likely Isaacs demonstrating his enthusiasm for the show and his desire to see it renewed—the British actor has previously described himself as The OA's "number one fan." But to those who support the fake-cancellation theory, this is Isaacs teaching them the movements so that they can use them to save The OA. The clue is said to be in the number "37" mentioned in the post—in the series, Old Night (the telepathic octopus) "kills" OA for 37 seconds to help her remember her mission.
Some people even believe that Isaacs has been "in character" as Hap for several months. Firstly, his farewell tweet is at least partially in character:
Farewell Prairie, who I loved, Homer, who I feared, Steve, who confused me, Scott, Rachel and Renata who I hoped would forgive me and understand in time, somewhere.
— Jason Isaacs (@jasonsfolly) August 6, 2019
Batmanglij's response only added fuel to the fire. "You are a beautiful man Jason or Hap or whoever is in there...," wrote the show's co-creator.
Then there are the public interviews. While promoting the second season, Isaacs appeared on a number of talk shows, in each one wearing a similar (if not the same) blue shirt—one that looks remarkably similar to the shirt his character was wearing at the end of Part II when he entered the "meta-dimension." Not only does Isaacs gush about The OA in these interviews, but he adamantly defends the motivations of his character.
"Can I just take issue with something you said about me earlier on?" Isaacs said on the Today show. "Hap in this is trying to cure death... This guy may be on the edge of curing death for all time, for all humanity, and he knows he's got to do some pretty unsavory things to a few people in a basement, but he recognizes the cost of that, he bears it. He's not a sociopath, he's not crazy. To my mind he's the scientific hero."
An actor simply exploring the depth to his character? Or some sort of strange performance art? At the end of season 2, Hap was pretending to be the actor Jason Isaacs, and some fans think this is a continuation of that story and that these interviews will somehow be worked into Part III.
NETFLIX PRODUCTION DEAL IN LONDON
This one is a bit of a stretch, but earlier this year, Netflix struck a deal to set up a permanent production hub at Shepperton Studios, based in London, England. The end of Part II took place in London, and one would presume Part III would shoot a significant amount of the series in England's capital. Some fans believe this is connected to The OA.
KINGSLEY BEN-ADIR SAYS SEASON 3 IS "UNIMAGINABLE"
Back in March, Kingsley Ben-Adir told the Radio Times that he knew what Marling and Batmanglij had in store for season 3. “I know where it's going in the next season, which is NUTS! Like, unimaginable! Genuinely! Like, not even in a way I'm trying to sell it—It's crazy!" he said. “You think it goes there, but then it goes [pointing frantically] there and there and then there!”
What is more “nuts” and “unimaginable” than a series faking its own cancellation as part of a meta-narrative?
The theory has some compelling evidence, mostly spurred on by the meta-ending to Part II, and as mentioned, if any show were going to an attempt a stunt like this, it would be The OA. Plus, Netflix itself isn't afraid to break the fourth wall, as seen recently in Black Mirror's viewer interactive Bandersnatch. Also, as of writing, neither the show's creators nor Netflix has acknowledged the theory, despite it picking up steam—fans will point to this silence as further evidence.
However, as much as I would love to believe, I'm going to have to play the role of Alfonso "French" Sosa here and remain skeptical. It's one thing for Netflix to humorously reference itself within one of its shows, but to "fake cancel" a series is a huge risk that could backfire big-time. While it would be in keeping with The OA's themes, it might anger viewers or be perceived as a cynical ploy. The inevitable loss of subscribers following a series cancellation is also probably not worth the risk, even if those subscribers return once the ruse is revealed.
On top of that, Claire Kiechel, a writer who worked on the second season, posted a statement on Reddit that seemingly shot down the theory. "I don't know what's going to happen, and no, I'm not part of a meta conspiracy and a cynical attempt at marketing (c'mon do you know us?)" Kiechel wrote.
But even if the theory isn't true, that doesn't mean The OA can't be saved. It wouldn't be the first time a Netflix series has returned from the dead—just look at Sense8, which received a special two-hour send-off after fans aggressively campaigned to bring it back. A Change.org petition to save The OA has already received over 50,000 signatures, and on August 12, social media was flooded by a "virtual flashmob" which saw fans performing the "movements."
So whether you believe the theory or not, if you want to save The OA, you should make your voices heard, after all, if we don't try to help, then we're not who we say we are.
The OA, Parts I and II, Streaming Now, Netflix