The Devil’s Mistakes
Issue 2, Volume 113
By Raisa Noha
It’s dark. A blonde girl in a white nightgown runs through a field of overgrown grass, bloody knife in hand. She struggles through the brush, relying on the light from the full moon to guide her. Bruised and tattered, she finally runs onto the road, attracting the attention of a passing car. The car halts, and the girl bursts into tears.
This is the opening scene of Netflix’s newest psychological thriller, an eight-episode series titled “Devil in Ohio.” Based on Daria Polatin’s book of the same name, the show follows psychiatrist Dr. Suzanne Mathis (Emily Deschanel) and her family as they take in runaway teenager Mae (Madeleine Arthur). Mae first meets Suzanne after arriving at the hospital where Suzanne works, with a pentagram carved into her back. It is soon revealed that Mae was running away from her father’s satanic cult in the fictional county of Amontown, and the pentagram on her back was part of a sacrificial ritual. Viewers watch as Mae situates herself in a new world and infiltrates the Mathis family, eventually tearing it apart.
The cult’s riveting backstory is the highlight of the show. The cult is called Sliocht an Diabhail, which translates from Gaelic into “The Devil’s Own.” Members of the cult isolate themselves in rural Ohio, but seem to have unexplainable connections to other parts of American society. They worship Lucifer and believe that he is their savior. They abide by their rule book, “The Book of Covenants,” and consistently chant the words “the chain shall not be broken.” The contrast between their beliefs and more mainstream religions is jarring and haunting. The cult’s black cloaks and elaborate crow masks further contribute to the chilling atmosphere, warranting a sense of unfamiliarity and danger. Meanwhile, the soundtrack enhances the intensity of the cult’s presence. It features songs that are melodic, dramatic, and suspenseful. The instrumentals include building percussion and creepy yet beautiful vocals that create an ominous environment. This is especially apparent in scenes that feature the cult itself.
Mae’s troubled past shrouds her in mystery as she navigates her new life. Despite escaping the cult, she habitually continues its practices, like creating a hidden shrine for the Mathis family using their stolen belongings and a dead crow. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the show is Mae’s obsession with becoming a member of Suzanne’s family, despite its continued protests. For the first time in her life, Mae experiences compassion and love through Suzanne’s enduring dedication. This unfamiliar attention stokes Mae’s desire to replace Suzanne’s daughters, Jules (Xaria Dotson) and Helen (Alisha Newton), who begin to resent Mae, creating a rift between them and their mother. However, the show fails to give Mae the depth and complexity her upbringing would create, causing her character traits to feel superficial.
Mae isn’t the only character whose motivations and growth are neglected. Many of the characters are valves of potential: Detective Lopez (Gerardo Celasco), who is investigating Mae’s case, comes frustratingly close to discovering the truth about Mae’s mysterious circumstances. However, his appearances are infrequent and disjointed, preventing viewers from resonating with him. His character is another missed opportunity to keep viewers invested in Mae’s mystifying backstory, largely due to his lack of screen time.
The stunted character development perpetuates the series’s excruciatingly slow pace. The first few episodes seem to disregard that the series is a thriller, failing to live up to the expectations set by both the trailer and the description. Viewers went into the show expecting to explore a dark, menacing cult with nuanced members but were met with several lackluster subplots and cookie-cutter characters instead. These shortcomings are coupled with forced dialogue and writing, which make for a predictable story. This completely diminishes the tension that is built through the cult appearances.
On a more positive note, the acting in the show is almost enough to make you connect with the characters. Deschanel shines in her portrayal of Suzanne, and her experience with playing a medical professional comes naturally to her from her years on the crime drama “Bones” (2005–2017). She also effectively conveys the inner conflicts that Suzanne endures while facing childhood traumas through perplexed facial expressions and body language. Arthur’s portrayal of Mae is also notable. She immediately grabs the attention of the audience from the first scene and keeps viewers at the edge of their seats. She makes the audience feel pity and sympathy for her character while maintaining an unsettling quality through her eerie mannerisms.
Overall, “Devil in Ohio” had the potential to be a mind-bending thriller, with some promising characters and an intriguing central plot. However, the series falls flat and reads more like a melodramatic teen drama with its slow pacing, poor character development, and predictable plot.