Something was amiss with One Tree Hill‘s season 9 premiere. I’m not talking about the quality as I thoroughly enjoyed the show’s dramatic return, but instead I’m referring to the atmosphere the episode created.

There was an ominous undercurrent to everything that happened. The opening montage of tragedies, the open doors, the constant references to devils and sleep, the isolation of the characters, it all created a mood of foreboding.

Read My Recap of the One Tree Hill Season 9 Premiere>>

This might just be a way of telling us the final season is going to be full of bad things happening to the characters, but perhaps there’s another explanation. What if the final season of One Tree Hill isn’t entirely real? What if the show is literally in Hell, as Nathan’s opening narration suggested, or just some strange metaphysical limbo akin to Lost‘s final season’s flash-sideways? Before you dismiss this as the crackpot theory of a delusional, sleep-deprived TV critic, let me lay out my case.

The Opening Montage

The quick vignettes of tragedy that opened the episode, from Brooke trashing the cafe to Haley identifying a dead body, could just be a flash forward, a glimpse of what’s to come. That’s what everyone assumes. But if that’s the case, I fully expected to see a “Three Months Earlier” graphic when it got back to Brooke being woken up by her crying babies.

It’s easy to assume all of this was a look at the future, but we don’t actually know that. Maybe it was a look at an afterlife where characters are being tested and judged on whether they will go to Heaven or Hell, determining which “list” they’re on, as Dan Scott said.

The Open Doors

Haley encountered two mysteriously open doors during the premiere, at the cafe and at her home. The simple explanation is that someone is stalking the house, or perhaps a homeless Dan Scott was rummaging in search of shelter and food. But maybe it was a sign that things aren’t as they seem, that they’re in a dream-like afterlife full of unexplained phenomena. Comparing it to the final season of Lost, the open doors could be One Tree Hill versions of all the mirrors, brief moments of potential realization about this world not being real.

The Sleep Deprivation

One of the big motifs throughout the season 9 premiere was that of sleep. Haley has trouble sleeping with Nathan. Brooke and Julian can’t sleep because of the twins. Clay is sleepwalking. All of this sleep deprivation makes me think of lucid dreams, once again pointing to this final season being a waking dream or an afterlife.

The Isolation

Another theme I noticed throughout the premiere was that of isolation. Most of the scenes take place in large rooms with the characters mostly alone. Haley was alone in her big house (we only saw Jamie and Lydia for a little bit). Brooke seemed to be all alone on the road at night with her boys. Julian ended the episode standing alone in his massive, empty sound stage. Clay slept alone on the merry-go-round in the park. Even Nathan was completely cut off from everyone and everything else, seen waiting at the airport.

It made me feel like these characters are on their own, that the rest of the world is melting away behind them. The only moment where it didn’t feel like that was at Karen’s Cafe when Brooke and Haley both commented on how much they love the fact that everyone these knows their names. Maybe, if this is all an afterlife, Karen’s Cafe represents a warm and loving place, a throwback to the perfect happiness of the past.

All the Devils Have Returned

Why are Dan and Chris Keller back at the same time? The timing seems strange, especially when you add the sudden arrival of Brooke’s dad. Sure, it might just be a coincidence that these three characters show up in Tree Hill at the same time, but maybe, as Nathan said, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” These people represent some of the bad things from the past of the main characters, and having these devils pop up makes me think Nathan wasn’t just speaking metaphorically about Hell.

I’ll be the first to admit that thinking the entire final season of One Tree Hill will be a metaphysical battle for the souls of the characters in the afterlife is a stretch, but it could happen. Regardless of my theory, it’s clear that the season 9 premiere was full of ominous foreshadowing and a promise that Hell, either literally or figuratively, is coming to town.

(Image courtesy of the CW)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.