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'Thirteen' Is The Show 'The OA' Should Have Been

By Emily Cutler | TV | January 4, 2017 |

By Emily Cutler | TV | January 4, 2017 |

As if sensing the impending disappearance of Girls from our lives, The OA has stepped in to fill the void. The rumination on life, love, connection, suffering and resilience
has created what I like to think of as two camps: the Jodis and the Genevieves. In this case, I’m Team Jodi. I hated the show. None of which is to say The OA is terrible. It just wasn’t for me. The show’s mileage comes from the viewer’s eventual acceptance of the mystery’s resolution and appreciation for interpretive dance cults. And I had very little of that.

The reasons I hated The OA are unimportant for this discussion except, ironically, for the one that isn’t really its fault. The OA reminded me of how much I loved the BBC series Thirteen. Thirteen is the story of Ivy Moxam’s escape from a 13-year captivity and return to her family. Large parts of the story are straightforward: the manhunt for Ivy’s kidnapper, Ivy’s difficulty to readjusting to normal life, her family’s difficulty in adjusting to her. It also briefly follows the two detectives tasked with investigating the kidnapping. Where both The OA and Thirteen attempt to hook the viewer is in the small ways that Ivy and Prairie/The OA/Nina behave oddly. It’s also where the shows split wildly. Where The OA zigs, Thirteen zags. To much better results. The OA uses OA’s odd behavior to spool out an eight-part mystery about near death experiences and the importance of belief. Thirteen uses Ivy’s odd behavior to force the audience to question why we would be suspicious of a young woman who had clearly been deeply victimized. Essentially both shows say, “She’s not acting the way we think she should.” The OA asks, “What’s wrong with her?” Thirteen asks, “What’s wrong with us?”

What’s more surprising is the effort to which both shows went in order to be groundbreaking. The OA clearly wanted to explore new ideas and present a theory on the workings of the known universe. Thirteen was groundbreaking by doing something very few works of art or actual people do: It treated the victim as an actual person. Which, again, is not to say that OA herself is not a fully developed character. She is. But the entirety of her character depended on her captivity. There was almost nothing outside of her kidnapping that we learn about her. Ivy is instead a fully realized person, not just a fully developed character. And without giving away too much of the plot, a lot of the tension arises from Ivy’s insistence that she not be continually viewed as only “the girl who was taken.” It’s a significantly smaller scale than the plot of The OA, but it works significantly better. There is no great mystery to unravel or secrets of the universe to reveal. There’s instead a young woman bucking her family and society’s expectations of her in order to become the person she wants to.