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.

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

  1. I just finished watching this episode, and here’s what I think (keep in mind I haven’t watched the remaining episodes).

    *Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t yet watched the show*

    You may or not be right. However, I was aware of the episode length prior to watching.

    OA only has 1 hour of “walking” time per day. Within those 60 minutes OA tells the group another portion of the story. On this particular episode, Buck shows up late to the storytelling and walks in on the group learning the dance moves from OA. Buck asks if he’s missed anything and OA responds “No we waited for you!”.

    Meaning, us the viewers get the same amount of storytime as the rest of the group. The episode was all storytime with a hint of focus on Buck’s personal life at home (the beginning argument between the parents & the dad closing the door at the end). So my guess is something bad is about to happen in Buck’s life :[

    This one episode totally has some artistic freedom. Maybe you didn’t catch it because you were instinctively expecting an hour of content?

    I came across your site because this episode also raised a question for me I wanted to further investigate! I was more curious about the behind-the-scene’s on OA’s drowning scene though :P

  2. Hmm. I’d think you were on to something if there were any sort of “real time” aspect to the show, but there isn’t. It’s not like any of the episodes only showed events that occurred during that one-hour window. So I don’t see any relevance at all, especially when you consider that the remaining two episodes are also shorter, and the “one hour” window becomes less and less relevant.

  3. True! But we still only get to hear just as much story as the other characters is what I’m getting at. We viewers get to see a lot more because the show isn’t strapped to story-time (so again, non-conventional episode times due to .. everything)

    Netflix is different from other traditional TV networks in the sense that ALL of a show’s content is available the moment it’s on the site, rather than weekly episodes that air and are immediately met with viewer praise and criticism (which then leads to networks taking that feedback and making cuts for future episodes/seasons/etc). People binge watch entire shows because Netflix has everything available the day they get released. Manipulating the duration of episode lengths is something people can’t really do on TV networks, but Netflix doesn’t have to rely on weekly time slots. People can totally experiment with duration of episodes here, so I believe the director when he says he wanted to play around. People do this in music all the time! Forget the average 3-5 min tracks… I’ve heard some as short as 30 seconds and as long as 20 minutes! etc etc. In order for us to see the full story, WE can see events outside of storytime (and therefore not EVERY episode is strapped to story-time).. but you can’t argue that the length of Ep.6 doesn’t match 100% with the plot points I mentioned :]

    True, the following episodes are also less than an hour. Ep 7 has absolutely no storytime, and Ep 8 has a little storytime before the town walks in on everyone and then ‘real life’ is shown to us. So who actually knows?!

    Guess we gotta wait until Season 2 comes out to see what happens both in regards to the plot and to future episode time lengths ;]

  4. How about this.
    If we count with 60 mins episodes, from ep. 6. 30 mins are missing, from ep. 7. 20 mins and from ep. 8. 10 mins. That’s an hour altogether.
    Idea 1: What if they had only 7 episodes, but for whatever reason Netflix wanted 8? Well, they just cut ep. 6 in half at a cliffhanger and added 10 mins from the last eposode to the second half?
    Idea 2: What if they had 8 episodes, but they just had to cut it for some reason and then they remixed the remaining parts?
    Idea 2B: What if it was a one-season show with the last episode concluding the story, and then at Netflix they changed their minds, and commissioned another season? They might have had to cut it short so they can add more story before conclusion?
    Also some speculation.

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