Editor’s Note: This review is based on episodes 1-7. The eighth and final episode was not provided for review. Please keep that in mind while reading.
Netflix’s The Devil in Ohio is about a young girl who escapes a cult and finds herself wanting to stay with her rescuer and her family. It’s a simple premise, but it’s also so much more than that, really. The Devil in Ohio is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Daria Polatin and is said to be based on a true story. It’s a story about corrupt religion, family, and the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want.
The series begins with Mae (Madeleine Arthur) on the run. At the time, it’s unclear what she is running from or why, but the answers are hinted at relatively quickly. She’s in danger and needs to get away for her own safety. Enter Suzanne Mathis (Emily Deschanel), a psychiatrist eager to protect the girl and anyone else that might need her help. From the moment Mae enters Suzanne’s life, things begin to erupt into chaos. Those familiar with Deschanel solely through her work on FOX’s Bones will be delighted to see the actress have the chance to play with more emotional complexities here. Suzanne is a flawed character. She acts on emotion rather than logic. Her choices are often questionable, and her dedication to Mae sometimes borders on obsessive. While the character means well, she’s not necessarily well-written, although Deschanel does her best with what she’s given.
Arthur, who starred in the small screen adaptation of Snowpiercer, proves to be a standout here. She perfectly captures a sense of creepiness and childlike wonder with Mae. Viewers will often find themselves questioning whether or not she’s trustworthy and if she’s worth protecting. There’s so much mystery that surrounds her character. Even by episode seven, it’s hard to imagine the Mae’s story will be successfully concluded with one final 45-minute-long episode; while we do learn a fair amount about Mae by the end of Episode 7, she hasn’t truly developed a personality of her own just yet. She’s still figuring herself out, and it’s hard to get a true feel for her character. If there’s one thing The Devil in Ohio could’ve benefited from, it would’ve been two additional episodes. Two more hours could’ve given the series time to breathe and focus on Mae and her story a bit more.
That isn’t to say The Devil in Ohio is bad. It’s not. At times, it is downright frightening. While during others, it can be quite the snooze fest. The slow moments are hard to get through, and sometimes, the writing isn’t that strong. What will keep viewers watching are the performances by the cast and the creepy atmosphere that is highlighted on screen. Unfortunately, though, The Devil in Ohio falters in trying to tell a cohesive story. With so many secrets, it often feels like writers weren’t even sure how to go about answering them, which is frustrating. All the more frustrating is the series managed to get Tahmoh Penikett and failed to truly make use of him.
Penikett is a stellar actor who has such limited screen time in The Devil in Ohio. It’s rather unfortunate, too, because his scenes in this series feel rushed and lacking any importance despite playing such a vital role. It’s almost as frustrating as waiting until the end to finally up the ante. Still, for what it is, The Devil in Ohio is worthy of a watch. Despite its overall flaws, the limited series managed to be fascinating enough that viewers will be drawn into the story of Mae and her life before she was saved.
A psychological thriller about corruption in religion and the willingness to fight back? The Devil in Ohio has all of the right components to be a stellar series. It just needed more time to tell its story.
The eight-episode limited series is now streaming on Netflix.