The Skies Are Still Speaking


(Oh, please click to enlarge)

So a new movie popped up on Netflix, one I'd actually been waiting to see. It's called The Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs and it's a documentary about a California-based filmmaker and musician named Christo Rappolo who's been taking videos of strange objects in the sky in his hometown of Monterey. From Motherboard:
He was at home with his younger brother when a creature that looked like Bullwinkle emerged from a glowing ambulance and pressed itself against the window of his bedroom...  
"[The alien] told me it was going to give me a little bite on the nose, but when I woke up everything would be okay," Roppolo told Motherboard. "For a long time after that, I didn't even want to go to sleep, but as a kid I didn't place too much significance on what had happened. As I got older, I started to realize that it wasn't just a dream."
 Although thousands of miles and five decades separate Roppolo from his childhood home in the suburbs of Cleveland, the extraterrestrial encounters never stopped...Roppolo did what any filmmaker would do—he grabbed his video camera and started shooting his encounters.
Rappolo linked up with a young filmmaker named Justin Gaar in the hopes of shaping the stacks of videos he'd taken into some kind of workable documentary. At first blush, Gaar wasn't terribly impressed with the source material:
"I honestly watched maybe an hour's worth [of Roppolo's footage] and was like what is this?" Garr told Motherboard. "It's really just hours and hours of him going 'what the fuck is that fucking shit?' and pointing at blinking dots in the sky. My mind wasn't entirely open to what it was."

Rappolo, boasting a strange charisma and seemingly endless reserves of energy, got to work on Gaar, sending tapes to him until a meeting was finally arranged:
"We went to dinner and the whole time [Roppolo] is looking up at the sky for stuff," said Garr. "He'd keep talking about UFOs and aliens as if they're right there with us in the room. The he told me about his family and I knew there was a narrative here." 
Roppolo's troubled past really began when his dad was killed in a drunk driving accident while Roppolo was working his way through culinary school.  
After the accident, Roppolo and his brother came into a significant sum of money as a result of the settlement…Roppolo spent a portion of his money on filmmaking equipment and with $10,000 produced his first major film, a remake of the classic 1964 gore film, The Flesh Eaters.
Rappolo began working the horror convention circuit with his movie and started making friends and connections. The sun seemed to be shining and Hollywood seemed ripe for the plucking. Horror was experiencing a boom and Rappolo was primed and ready to surf the wave. And then real-life horror intruded on the success story:
Shortly after its release Roppolo learned that his brother had stolen $129,000 from his bank account... this would soon turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg on Roppolo's downward slide.
And so Rappolo was initiated into the life of the prophet, with all that portends. Life got out its meat-hammer and got to work on the talented young filmmaker and musician, who'd thought he'd been living the American Dream. But strangely enough some old friends came back into his life during his hour of need:
"Whenever [Roppolo] was having emotional trauma in his life, it was always reflected in his ability to find the UFOs," Gaar said. "I sort of hypothesized that maybe some of this is psychological, but then also I don't know what the fuck that stuff is that he's videotaping. Some of it you can immediately write off and some of it is really hard to reason through."
And there's the UFO conundrum in a nutshell. It shouldn't make any sense, you should be able to write it all off. And just when you're about to, it jumps out of nowhere and bites you in the ass. 

And after a while it can wear down the resolve of even the most hardened skeptics (though not the most delusional debunkers, of course):
Although Gaar was only able to find breaks from work to visit Roppolo on occasion during the two years it took to film Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs, he was still treated to a few UFO sightings himself. The strangest sighting, which is detailed in the film, is still inexplicable to Gaar and he has little interest in trying to get to the bottom of it.
Given how jam-packed our skies are with technological junk it only makes sense that we look for other explanations for the massive amount of sightings that Rappolo has documented, especially in light of the extremely spooky Northern California neighborhood in which he lives:
"I didn't end up pursuing this, but I had a theory about a couple of the sightings," said Gaar. "There are military installations near [Roppolo] and Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks—a pretty secret experimental aviation place—is located only so far south of Monterey. So I was going to get kind of scientific with it, but decided not to. The film was never about that."
Which is a very good theory. But in light of some of the objects that have been captured on film, a really disturbing one. We're way past the point of fixed-wing stealth aircraft here. 

But there's another possibility as well- the military installations are attracting, shall we say, more exotic kinds of attention from parties unknown. It could very well be a two-way street. 

Just putting that out there.

So what good does all this UFO obsessing do Christos Rappolo? Is it like most UFO-obsessing, just a major waste of time? Well, look at this way- this obsession got him a starring role in a major documentary, one that's been very well-received and is currently front-paged on Netflix. 

For a guy trying to get back on the horse in the movie business that's a very big boost indeed, believe it. So if he sees the Space Brothers as his family, they seem to be helping hin out more than his blood relations ever did.

Click to enlarge

I was thinking about Monterey, its history and its place in the San Francisco-Big Sur axis and how that all plays into the overarching dramas of both The Nine and Lucifer's Technologies, stories we've talked so much about here. If there's a place I'd expect to see aliens interested in, that area ranks pretty high on the list.


I was thinking about this quite a bit after I finished watching the movie and took the dogs out. And just when I was about to go back in, I looked to the west and saw a plane come up over the clouds. It seemed a bit large and I hadn't yet heard it engines, but that's nothing unusual. Hundreds of planes fly over the house, morning, noon and night, every day of the year, no big deal.

But then it stopped

Planes don't stop. When planes stop they fall out of the sky.

Helicopter? No. The lights were in a linear pattern, like on a wingspan. So it couldn't have been a drone either.

And why wasn't it moving? Optical illusion? The cloud cover was low, dense and dark so I don't think I was looking at an object in the distance (or a star or planet, obviously). And after a few minutes the optical illusion theory doesn't really wash.

And then the lights started pulsing, red to green to white. Not like navigation lights, more like a weird pulse. Then it would seem to rise straight up to the ceiling or recede, but this could well have been a function of the cloud cover shifting. All I know is that it looked off.


Preview in camera

I was just about to get my wife when she came out on the porch. "Get your camera," I said.

She had her iPhone and took burst shots of the object. Unfortunately my son moved out and took his telephoto-lens camera with him, the one he bought shortly after filming three UFOs with his crappy old iPhone. 

Which is par for the course when it comes to the UFO phenomenon. "Get the worst camera you own," as the skeptics sneer, means "get out the perfectly decent camera you use for ordinary, everyday photography." Most people don't have 6-inch telephoto lenses kicking around the house and don't know much about taking photos of objects in the distant night sky. 



Which is to say that my wife got her digital camera, which is good, but is meant for taking closeups in bright light. Most of the photos didn't pick out anything at all.

I got my iPad and began fumbling to describe what we were seeing, which was a highly unusual structured craft hovering in the west, seeming to move at odd intervals in lateral patterns- like a L-shape- but then return to its original hovering position without you even realizing it had returned. I recorded four videos but couldn't only get the first to upload. UFOs, innit?

I also PM'd a friend while it was all going down, which is helpful here in order to timestamp it all for you:††

[2/24/17 12:24:56 AM] Chris Knowles:  We have a serious flying saucer over our neighborhood
[2/24/17 12:25:08 AM] Chris Knowles: It's been hovering
[2/24/17 12:25:22 AM] Chris Knowles: 15 minutes at least
[2/24/17 12:25:38 AM] Chris Knowles: Now it's gone again
[2/24/17 12:25:52 AM] Chris Knowles: My wife got pictures
[2/24/17 12:26:01 AM] Chris Knowles: But the light is crap
[2/24/17 12:26:18 AM] Chris Knowles: Definitely a structured craft
[2/24/17 12:26:33 AM] Chris Knowles: Line of lights changing red green white

Having researched drones I can say that this didn't resemble any of the commercially available models. In fact its profile doesn't seem feasible for hover-capable drone technology at all.* 

There was no sound or evidence of propellers. It also- contrary to the photos taken with camera lens designed for selfies and snapshots- looked big and high from the ground. When I first saw it it looked like a saucer, but that may have been because I was viewing it full face, with the light profile forming a linear pattern.



When we looked at the photos- such as they are-- the object definitely appeared to be chevron-shaped, a well-known type of UFO that has been reported for a number of years, including during the Phoenix Lights flap. In fact, the Kenneth Arnold sighting was actually of chevrons and not saucers.

What's even weirder is that the lights seem to gradate, meaning the color seems to going through a prism effect with the lamps themselves. That could be an artifact of the low-rez imagery or some kind of LED technology, since it looked from a distance like it was cycling red-green-white. But it was weird.

All in all the object was visible for at least 20 minutes. Strangely enough my daughter woke up while we were outside and came out to see it herself. This is now her second UFO sighting. We didn't record her first sighting, but as it happens we didn't have to.

What were we looking at? Gordon seems to think it was some kind of breakaway tech being taken out for a joyride.  All I can say is that if "They" have that kind of technology then we're in a hell of a lot more trouble that you dared think.


GO WITH YOUR GUT

I keep checking to see if this thing has been reported online- and have even been in contact with the head of the state MUFON chapter (he's very interested in the sighting)- but it was awful late and the area it was seen over is mostly wooded.

But I go on instinct as a general rule. 

I think the unconscious mind is constantly collating information that our puny conscious mind can't possibly hope to and feeds signals to the rest of our brain-- such as our HPA axis-- in order to ensure our biological survival-- the fight or flight mechanism, among others. It's able to process data our conscious attention can't hope to.


Low-rez, but you can clearly see the chevron shape
and prismatic lights

And I have to say that this object-- whatever it was-- deeply unsettled me. I can't really call it fear, something much more complex and layered than that. More like a deep sense of dislocation.

I've had a handful of sightings but this the first actual structured craft I've seen that I couldn't assign a mundane explanation to.  It wasn't some passing will-o-the-wisp; it sat there for at least twenty minutes, easily visible- and recorded- from my god-damned front porch. If we only had that damn telephoto lens it would have been the scoop of the year.

I checked last night but the object didn't seem to return. I didn't really expect it to. If it had I'd be more likely to assign a mundane explanation to it.  

It could be some secret technology from some Air Force hangar somewhere**, but what the hell was it doing over this area? And why did it seem to appear at the stroke of midnight, aka "the Witching Hour?"º That gave the whole event a ritualistic polish, from my vantage point at least.

And weirdest of all, why did it appear not five minutes after I finished watching a documentary on a man-- with whom I could definitely identify-- who records impossible objects in the sky on a regular basis?†

This is the enigma of the UFO phenomenon. It has every reason in the world not to persist and yet it does. Why? Because people keep seeing- and recording- things that can't be explained. 

You have every good reason in the world to ignore it-- "UFOlogy," first and foremost among them-- but enter into its deeper mysteries and it will leave you questioning almost everything around you. And as researchers have noticed for almost 50 years now, it seems to reach straight into your life and rearrange space and time in ways that seem to tell you larger, deeper stories.

Just ask Christo Rappolo.









NOTES: I should also add that this happened just a little over a year after the X-Files finale, when another extremely odd event was recorded on these premises. Extremely odd events are getting a little too familiar around these parts.

I wrote about chevrons a number of years back, in relation to my own childhood issues:
I've talked at length about my feverish leprechaun hallucination, which I remember most clearly because it came late in the game. The hallucinations began when I started getting bad ear infections, probably around 8 or 9 years-old. But there is one hallucination from that period that I remember quite well- too well- but have never talked about because it frankly sounds pretty stupid. It was summer, probably around July '74 and I was very sick. I had an hallucination that I was being attacked by a giant chevron. 
Right- attacked by a giant upside down V. Yeah, I know, believe me. 

†† I kept saying over the neighborhood but it was actually in the west, maybe a half-mile away.

* I know about the Facebook drone, but that is a propeller driven unmanned airplane, one which performed rather badly on its testflight in December.

º When it appeared to recede into due west, it would have overflew Aleister Crowley's final resting place.

**McGuire AFB is about 2 hours away by car but is an operations base, not a testing facility.

† And I'd been thinking about UFOs and High Weirdness in general this past week in the context of its relevance in a society straining towards civil war.



Legion and the Trauma of Metaphysics


It's just about ten years ago that I finished my manuscript for Our Gods Wear Spandex and the perspective that I spelled out in it has become, if not the dominant pop cultural paradigm, then certainly a predominant current within it. 

Superhero movies make billions and keep studios solvent. Superhero TV shows are reliable moneymakers. Conventions attract millions of fans every year. Superhero cosplay is now a major cultural phenomenon. But it wasn't always this way. The entire superhero archetype was gasping for air at the dawn of the new millennium, and a lot of qualified observers were predicting its imminent demise. Funny how times change.

For a while there those same observers were getting a whiff of Batmania Redux. Comics and superhero people are pessimists by default, having seen one too many bubbles burst, one too many promises broken. They were the traumatized stepchildren of pop culture.

But the train just kept on rolling and shows no signs of going off the rails. As I wrote in Spandex, superheroes are essentially palliatives for anxiety, and the superhero renaissance will last as long as widespread anxiety does. 

And if there's anything everyone seems to have in abundance these days, it's definitely anxiety.

Even so, the archetype is mutating. There are a number of TV series, either live or streaming, and some seem to be evolving towards a kind of modern urban noir. Of course, this is simply a return to first principles, since the first modern superheroes weren't in the comics but in the pulp magazines. DC's adaptions still fly the spandex flag (aside from Gotham and Lucifer, of course) but attempt to place their stories in a world at least vaguely familiar in the context of series television.

Then there's Legion.

This has been a radical departure for Marvel Television, which specializes in radical departures. MvTV has been cultivating the less-prominent characters of the comic's vast catalog of characters and making hits out of heroes who aren't perfect, aren't godlike, and seem to suffer like you and I.

Daredevil is blind, Jessica Jones suffers from PTSD, Luke Cage is a former convict. None of them are particularly cheerful, probably because things don't usually work out all that well for them, superpowers or not. 

This is all working off a postmodernist refinement of Stan Lee's "heroes with problems" dictum that helped Marvel crush its competition in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Needless to say, it presents an interesting contrast to the more conventional heroics of the tentpole franchises.

Then we have Legion, a new series based on a character no one outside of comics will have heard of and one that probably never topped anyone's TV adaption wishlist. 

And boy, he's got problems.

Legion's near-perfect pilot is based on a New Mutants (being the first X-Men spinoff, started back in the early 80s) character whose mutant power is multiple personality, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, as it's now called in the DSM-5. Interesting to note that that the series' release follows shortly on the heels of M.Night Shyamalan's controversial DID thriller, Split.

But Legion seems to dispense with the DID aspect of the character in the pilot and presents a character who seems to have gone on a shopping spree at the psychic supermarket. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Legion seems able to tune into a dizzying spectrum of potential realities and that's his problem: he can't seem to control it. 

He's also a powerful telepath and given to violent explosions of telekinesis when it all gets to be a bit too much for him. This is an old trope, dating back to 70s classics like Carrie and The Fury, but it's rendered beautifully here nonetheless.




If you haven't yet watch the Legion pilot (it's available for free on Amazon Video). Its sixty-eight minutes play more like a feature film, serving up some eye-catching, Kubrick-influenced, widescreen cinematography. 

As with The OA, its sensibility is more pomo than pulp, almost like what a superhero movie would play like as directed by Wes Anderson (the vintage Who and Stones tracks certainly help in that regard). More conventional fans might have a hard time with it.

But at the same time there's a heapin' helping of style on loan from Zack Snyder's criminally-underrated Watchmen movie, particularly in the opening montage. The use of Jane's Addiction's "Up the Beach" in a pivotal scene feels very Watchmen, as does the glossy camera work (and again, use of montage).

Watchmen was targeted- unfairly, in my view- for breaking two unspoken laws of comic adaptions. On one hand Snyder was pilloried by the purists for hammering Alan Moore's sprawling epic into a coherent, self-contained document. And on the other he was slagged off by fans terrified the superhero movie bubble would pop for commercial underperformance (thanks mainly to its hard-R rating).  

But I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Legion writer/director Noah Hawley probably gave Watchmen a viewing or three. And here I'd like to give Hawley due props, not only for the bullet-proof dialog, but also for the meticulous handling of the pilot's many tonal shifts and mood swings. It only feels a little discordant at the very end, when all of a sudden you're wondering if the characters wandered into another show entirely.

But more importantly Legion seems to fit in with a mini-movement of series mining the narrative possibilities of psi in a way that cheesier and more simplistic treatments a few years earlier failed to do. There are vague yet not-insubstantial echoes of Stranger Things and The OA swimming just below the surface.

It's interesting to note then that Legion premiered just as stories about CIA remote viewing programs have been hitting the mainstream news.

But its conscious tributes to the Sixties- through the musical drops and the visual style- also call to mind the unresolved traumas of MKULTRA, particularly its exploitation of mental patients and other captive subjects. You can practically feel the shade of Ewan Cameron wandering the halls. The name of the hospital-- "Clockwork"-- is an obvious nod to Kubrick's own MKULTRA parable. 

Interesting then that a recent story has it that Congress killed the STARGATE remote viewing program out of concern it could become a new MKULTRA.

And who's to say it wasn't?

Legion doesn't shy away from these implications, as the main character is clearly the victim of a dense, covert and ruthless government conspiracy. The MKULTRA stand-ins are the unambiguous villains of the piece and there's even a mustache-twirling Gottlieb/Cameron analog. There's no question that powerful people are still looking for psychics like main character David (Legion), not to research them but to weaponize them.

The Sixties ambiance of the pilot and the connections to the X-Men Universe can't help but call up memories of hippies latching on to the mutant archetype in order to concretize the vague ambitions of conscious evolution they believed the Aquarian Age represented.

Of course, it didn't quite work out that way.

David's incarceration feels like a metaphor for an increasingly hemmed-in world, where the individual is given less and less room to explore, to self-actualize. There's an entire generation who've grown up unaccustomed to concepts of true autonomy, having been raised in daycare centers and acclimatized to social media. 

It's no accident then that David's powers- which set him far above the herd- feel like a curse, and exercising them is pure torture.

As powerful an ambition as on-call psychic powers are we don't usually think much about the downsides, of the pain such heightened sensitivity would necessarily inflict in an over-saturated, stressed-out, anxiety-drenched world. We don't think about how difficult it might be to switch these perceptions off and how they might expose one to a never-ending deluge of information and emotion. 

That's the power of the Legion pilot, how it rather ruthlessly plays out the implications of broad-spectrum psi and the terrible damage it might inflict on minds that haven't evolved to handle such incredible potential. 

We also don't think about how intolerable it might be if government-controlled psychics were monitoring every passing thought. After all, every technology and human ability is eventually weaponized, isn't it? And if our inner dialogues weren't even safe then I believe we'd all turn into vegetables.

I think we can be grateful that psi doesn't work like it does on TV then. I think we have a lot more potential than we're aware of and I think you can develop your innate sensitivities to a much higher lever than we're presently capable of on the whole, but we should be grateful that Nature seems to have put these potentials in a kind of neural lockbox. For now, at least.

The Surrealist poet Andre Breton thought that schizophrenia was a kind of frontier of genius, and that schizophrenics simply became incapable of processing the barrage of information that geniuses were able to. It's probably no accident that schizophrenia often strikes the highly-intelligent. 

Does it also strike the highly psi-capable? 

How many people- children, especially- are being drugged into stupors simply because they're operating on levels that they can't navigate, processing information coming from channels that the rest of society fails to recognize? We don't even bother with therapy anymore, with finding out just what they might be perceiving. All the major psi operations have been defunded or hounded out of existence.

Is it simply because it's been decided whatever information they might be receiving can't be melted down into a bullet?






SYNC LOG: I  met Legion co-creator Bill Sienkiewicz just as the issue of New Mutants premiering the character hit the stands. He taught for a semester at the Kubert School. He later offered me a job as art assistant but I was unable to relocate to Connecticut (he eventually hired comics artist Amanda Conner). But I later got him to illustrate a New Mutants toy package I designed, working off my layout.  He blew everyone away with the final art. Incredible, one of a kind talent.

The OA and the Metaphysics of Trauma



If you pressed me for an adjective for these times I'd have to go with "bleak." The Obama era opened with so many promises and ended almost exactly as they began, with a nation bogged down in war abroad and dangerously polarized politically and economically at home. The Trump Administration and its discontents are only exacerbating the process.

With huge swathes of the country written off as obsolete by the decision makers on the coasts, any sense of national unity has terminally eroded. For the moment, the disposessesd have been kept pacified with entertainment and opiates but there's a growing sense that the American experiment is nearing its completion. 

This is why you have the richest of the rich planning their escape to hold-outs in New Zealand and other remote locations, exactly as Roman knights and aristocrats did when central authority began to collapse in the Western Empire. Not a sign of rude health, that.

Everywhere you look you're confronted with trend-lines pointing towards a number of crisis points; social, political, economic. We have all the technology in the world yet, for the moment at least, the future is starting to look a bit bleak

SPOILER ALERT

The Netflix series The OA is certainly bleak. So much so that it makes bleakness into its own kind of poetry. The camera's eye is relentlessly documentary and dispassionate and there's very little musical score to relieve the sometimes unbearable tension. Cold, washed-out colors dominate the photography. This isn't Hollywood you're looking at here.

And as such it's not necessarily an easy series to watch. A lot of viewers didn't make it through.

Its central themes are death, trauma and captivity. The zeitgeist is captured in the person of a maverick scientist whose quest makes him into a monster, a callous, obsessive Dr. Frankenstein whose inability for basic human compassion drives him to murder, over and again.


The story is fairly simple and for some viewers, a bit repetitious. A young woman named Prairie is saved from jumping off a bridge and is brought to a hospital. It's discovered that she was the adopted daughter of an elderly couple and she's been missing for several years. Her back is mottled with strange scars. 

And even though she was blind since childhood she can now see.

Brought back home to a dismally anonymous, semi-finished housing tract she brings a group of misfits into her orbit with her otherworldly charisma: a drug-dealing thug and his sidekick, an honor student from a troubled home,  a transgender boy in the midst of transition and an emotionally-fragile high school teacher. 

Prairie begins telling them her story, which starts in Russia: she was the daughter of an oligarch who fell afoul of the Mob. To get at their parents the Mob arranges the deaths of her and other rich children on the way to school. In death Prairie is confronted by a woman, who is apparently her guardian angel. The woman returns Prairie to life but takes her sight.

When her father dies Prairie ends up in America in the care of a shady adoption racket. There her adoptive parents (played by Alice Krige of Star Trek: First Contact/The 4400 fame and Scott Wilson, best known today for The Walking Dead) discover her. But they soon find out she's extremely troubled, given to weird, visionary episodes during sleep. She's then heavily medicated.

When Prairie reaches adulthood she begins to entertain fantasies that her birth father is still alive and travels to New York to meet him. But instead she's found by Hap, an anestheisologist obsessed with near-death experiences who can tell Prairie had an NDE when he hears her play violin in a subway.

Hap seduces Prairie into coming home with him so they can study her condition but instead she's taken prisoner in his basement. There she meets his other prisoners, all middle American archetypes. She bonds with Homer, a young football player who died and was resuscitated after sustaining a fatal injury during a game.


As Prairie tells it, Hap subjects his prisoners to brutal experiments in which they are repeatedly killed and medically resuscitated. During one of the experiments Prairie meets the woman from her childhood vision again and is told she has a great mission to carry out. Along the way, Hap takes Homer to Cuba to seduce a female musician whom Hap wants to abduct.

Desperate to fill long hours of captivity, Hap's prisoners begin acting out complex ritual dances, believing that they can cross into other dimensions by following an exact sequence of movements. The dances seem to have palpable effects, as we see in two memorable scenes.

As she tells her story, Prairie's circle is increasingly drawn into her world, forming a kind of cult around her. The stories have a hypnotic, transformative effect on them, changing their lives and redirecting them from potentially self-destructive paths. But crisis is always looming in the background and everything ends up blowing up in the end, leading to a shocking denouement.

 At the same time she's contacted by a journalist who wants to tell her story and by an FBI psychologist, whose motives are somewhat opaque. Later he will act as the linchpin as it becomes increasingly evident that Prairie's captivity may have in fact been part of a much larger conspiracy. 

And this is where the series will burn itself into your brain. We are asked finally if Prairie's stories are real or are in fact the product of a gifted but damaged psyche who's been subjected to an unimaginable ordeal. Was her captivity in fact even more traumatic and damaging than her stories will say? Are her stories, compelling as they are, elaborate constructions meant to shield herself from an even more terrifying reality? 

It's a question often asked when people claim experience with alien abduction, MKULTRA testing or other socially unacceptable traumas, isn't it?

But the season's climax doesn't let you off the hook that easily. We see inarguable evidence that Prairie is not just a delusional victim of an ordeal we're finally asked to guess at, but is in fact a prophet. One whose mission it is to avert a harrowing outcome for her small circle of followers and the larger community they represent.

In many important ways, The OA is an arty, indie, more than slightly pretentious companion piece to Stranger Things. 

Both deal with suburban monotony broken up by the arrival of a female character possessing otherworldly powers. In both series that character brings a group of misfits into her orbit, as well as an authority figure. In both series we see horrific human experiments undertaken and in both series the subjects of them cross over into other realities. 

But The OA is as elitist as Stranger Things is populist, as cold as the other is warm. It's not perfect by any means; it bogs down to a crawl in some spots and dials up the cringe-meter in others. 

But it goes a little deeper into the esoteric than Stranger Things does, taking issues like the mutability of reality by the horns and leavening the dough with some seemingly well-studied metaphysics. Nothing seems sloppy or dashed-off; on the contrary it can feel almost too meticulous in spots. The symbolism gets a little bit on-the-nose more than once.

The OA is worth sticking with, especially given the formulaic inter-changeability of so many series these days. (I actually dropped the series during the Christmas season and picked it up again after the New Year and I'm glad I did). It's like nothing else out there.

In the end it leaves you asking questions about the transformative nature of trauma and the grueling reality of captivity and the need it creates to construct alternate perceptions of reality in order to cope. And other questions as well.

Like why do some trauma and/or NDE experiencers emerge with heightened or changed abilities and perceptions? Why have mad scientists like those in MKULTRA believed that controlled trauma could lead to enhanced psychic abilities? Does that somehow justify their abuses, if not just in their own minds? Are NDEs tricks the brain plays on the dying or objective experiences? Does the paranormal work the way we want it to or does it follow its own inscrutable logic?

I can only assume that these are questions the series will address in its second season. It will if it's smart.

Bobby Beausoleil once said that Charles Manson's ability to seduce weaker minds into his alternate reality was the by-product of solitary confinement and the need it created to construct narratives to endure the crushing isolation. He had a lot of time to practice the powers of persuasion.

I'm not sure if the producers of The OA were aware of that fact but it certainly carries through in the story. It's an interesting comparison to make; are cult leaders themselves all damaged personalities who need the adoration of others to plug in the holes? 

The obvious answer is yes. But some cults also have had positive (and sometimes ecstatic) transformative effects on their followers, something we're not usually allowed to admit.

No, The OA is not perfect, not by any means. I'm not sure it's exactly entertaining, even. But the way it chooses to address complex metaphysics, and at the same time ask uncomfortable questions, makes it important.