The Unreliable Narrator: Dirk Gently, Mr. Robot, The OA (Spoilers)

I’ve taken up crocheting and as I’m making blankets for my children and succumbing to the inevitable post-holiday sickness that includes a lovely, nonproductive, cough-suppressant-immune hacking that keepsme up at night, I’ve been catching up on a lot of television.

I’ll be posting my unsolicited opinions on a bunch of different shows over the coming week, but the three that have similar interconnectedness themes are BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, USA’s Mr. Robot and The OA from Netflix.

Gently honestly is the craziest show I’ve seen on network television in recent memory. It had everything from a device that swapped souls between animals and people; a secret government program whose subjects were people who most generously could be considered delusional; various conflicting entities investigating and/or protecting all the hoopla I just described; cults; and a guy who told his family he had recovered from a genetic disorder so his parents could spend all their money on him and his sister could be hopeful she would be cured as her (real) symptoms developed. There are probably other things I’m missing, but I didn’t understand anything until the third episode, and the pieces slowly came together to basically explain what had happened in the first 10 minutes of the show, and then how Gently has to prevent it from happening in the first place. (There’s time travel, which is sort of shoe-horned in at the last minute, and it was my lease favorite part of the show.)dg_104_bs_0713_0114.jpg

The actors look like they’re all having a blast, and Gently himself is so adorably irrepressible it makes you forget he’s quietly, cheerfully manipulating a whole bunch of people and as sunny as he is, you can’t really trust him or his version of events, because he’s one of the delusional people from the aforementioned government program. However, everything is explained. There are some loose ends, but I don’t feel as though as a viewer I’ve been bamboozled.

THAT’S HOW I FEEL WITH MR. ROBOT, and I’ve only finished the first season. Elliott is a brilliant computer programmer-cum-vigilante who is trying to execute a vast scheme to bring down an evil corporation and rid American citizens of their debt. Unlike Gently, who we know is an adorable wackadoo from the get-go, we’re unaware of Elliott’s pervasive mental illness until nearly the end of the first season, when we’re told he’s wildly and constantly hallucinating. We’ve watched the entire show from his flawed perspective and now we don’t trust him or ourselves. I was so unsettled and uneasy watching the final two episodes because I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know which character is real and who is telling the truth. It’s impossible to know their motivation because Elliott is so paranoid and at one point tried to hit on his sister because he completely forgot he had a sister. There are periods of time he can’t explain, to us or himself. I like the overall concept but I feel it gives the writers an excuse to just throw everything on the wall and explain random stuff away using Elliott’s schizophrenia.

The OA is somewhere in between Dirk Gently and Mr. Robot. I just finished The OA last night and this morning I read a blog written by a high school classmate who compares The OA to John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Aside: I thought the actress who played the OA looked like Ann Coulter and it took me a very long time to mentally move beyond that comparison.) Like Gently and Elliott, we learn The OA’s story about her time in captivity can’t be trusted. The little cult (four high school students and one of their teachers) she assembled for what basically turned out to be a religious tai chi class were diligent enough to fact-check her elaborate tale of losing and regaining her sight via near-death experiences and becoming an unwilling test subject to Another British Pretend Boyfriend of Mine, Jason Isaacs, who keeps her and others who claim to come back from the dead in underground cages for lengthy and rigorous experimentation. (According to medical tests she undergoes when returning home, she does exhibit symptoms–vitamin D deficiency, tooth decay, grayness of skin–that suggest she did spend a great deal of time sequestered somewhere.) A kid finds a bunch of books (about near-death experiences, etc.) that The OA hid under her bed and could have used to form her story.

The religious tai chi, which she teaches to her five-person cult in hopes of celestially reconnecting with the people with which she was imprisoned and rescuing them, ends up being used instead to help incapacitate a shooter at the high school that the students attend and the teacher works. (In the Irving novel, Owen Meany knows what his fate is and uses a difficult basketball move he practices throughout his life–among other things–to rescue children in Vietnam.) The ending obviously leaves itself open for another season but I still feel like I was tricked.

I feel if Gently and Elliott had been part of The OA’s cult, the show would have been a lot better and more satisfying. Gently would have been able to figure out how to rescue the other captives using the tai chi and would have been a charming addition to the sullen teens in the group. Elliott would have hunted down Isaac’s lab with minimal effort and prevented him from kidnapping other people. The other victims would have helped cure Elliott’s schizophrenia and given Gently tons of business with his detective agency.

The Unreliable Narrator: Dirk Gently, Mr. Robot, The OA (Spoilers)

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