The (alleged) Truth Behind Episode Six of “The OA”

SPOILER NOTICE! (Not quite an “alert” as this post doesn’t contain any significant spoilers.)

The OA” (Netflix original series) is a bit like “Stranger Things” but for slightly older people and with cuss words and nudity. And it’s trippy. Very trippy.

The series is composed of eight episodes, and when we watched episode six last night we were surprised that it clocked in at only 31 minutes. Previous episodes have been 60 minutes, give-or-take a few.

My first thought was that Netflix had messed up and truncated the episode, but a check of the episode running times confirmed the short duration. I Googled around to see if there was a reason for it, and was surprised to find almost no one mentioning the inexplicably short episode. I finally found a Reddit thread where someone claimed that Zal Batmanglij, the show’s co-creator, has said that they did not feel the need to be constrained by conventional television time slot durations; that they preferred to have flexibility in episode lengths in the same way that chapters in a novel are not constrained to specific page counts.

Fair enough. It makes sense, given that Netflix is watched entirely according to the viewer’s schedule, so there’s no need to fit into time-slot boxes. But then I looked at the durations for all episodes in the series:

Episode 1: 71 minutes
Episode 2: 58 minutes
Episode 3: 60 minutes
Episode 4: 64 minutes
Episode 5: 61 minutes
Episode 6: 31 minutes
Episode 7: 41 minutes
Episode 8: 50 minutes

Notice that the first five episodes are pretty much locked into a one-hour duration (with the exception of the first, which runs an hour and 11 minutes, but it’s not unusual for a first episode of a series to run a bit long). Then there’s a dramatic shift at episode six, to 31 minutes. The concluding two episodes are 41 and 50 minutes.

So we’re supposed to believe that the show creators did not want to be constrained to traditional time-slot durations, but this creative freedom only kicked in after the fifth episode?

No. I’m not buying it. Here’s what I think happened:

We know that the show sometimes goes off into very trippy dimensions, which is usually balanced by the more grounded parts that take place in the abandoned house and the abandoned mine. We also know that the show has received mixed reviews, with some viewers giving up after a few episodes because they were turned off by the trippy bits.

I suspect that the last three episodes were originally about an hour in duration, but were even trippier than the first five. When the Netflix programming executives saw the finished product they demanded cuts to the extra-trippy bits in those last three episodes because they though it was over-the-top and would cause viewers to bail. (As it stands, there are plenty of accounts of people bailing, even after the alleged cuts, due to a sense that the show had gone “off the rails.”)

I further speculate that the show creators don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they have not complained and have come up with this story about freedom from the constraints of conventional formats.

It’s pure speculation of course, but I’m sticking to it, and perhaps one day the official story will change, at which point all you nay-sayers can send me a “You were right” card with a dollar in it.