The fact that the directors snagged Sheela as a talking head is the series' biggest strength, and she hasn't lost any of the trademark brazenness (many call it arrogance) that made Osho and the Rajneeshee an international sensation. Widespread news coverage the saga garnered at the time also contributes a bevy of archival footage that paints an almost real-time account of events, but this trove of footage, while valuable, restricts the scope of the documentary to a familiar tennis match of talking heads and news footage. Granted, the appeal of Wild, Wild Country is the spotlight it shines on a history most Americans had no idea existed, but what does it offer besides a face-value account of that history?
Not much, unfortunately, though the show remains compelling enough as it turns into an armed conflict -- and for some viewers, the "I had no idea this happened!" appeal is enough. Still, it's a story that continues to replicate itself over and over across America: New populations with different cultures, beliefs, or races move into regions with established residents resistant to changing their habitual way of life. When a bomb goes off in an Osho-owned Portland hotel, for example, it's difficult not to think of the current spate of bombings in Texas. The Pacific Northwest is certainly no stranger to armed standoffs, either, with the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge fresh in the public consciousness, in addition to the region's long-standing reputation as a haven for white nationalists.
Eventually, the traditional cult trajectory continues with intervention by the authorities -- in particular, Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer -- who decide to make the case that the Rajneeshee's involvement in public affairs amounted to a conflict between church and state. Where things get really interesting, however, is when the Rajneeshee, in an attempt to gain control of the Wasco County government, decide to suppress voter turnout by contaminating salad bars with salmonella. It's the kind of wild scheme that would only sound plausible in the context of cultish groupthink, but the effect was that 751 people, including several government officials, were sickened, which still goes down as the first and largest bioterrorist attack in American history. Fortunately, no one died, though Sheela and another Rajneeshee official went to jail for their role in the attacks.
Like most of Netflix's recent fare, however, Wild Wild Country is a case of too much and not enough. To this day, Osho is still an important figure in the Westernized version of Eastern spirituality, the kind of spirituality rampant on Instagram posts and spread throughout wellness warrior communities, but Osho's persistent global influence is confined to a few minutes of the final episode. The conventions of documentary filmmaking go unchallenged through what feels like a long, long six-part series that probably could have functioned as a tight feature-length documentary. While a few Antelope residents and other key players, including Osho's lawyer, offer interesting tidbits about what is undeniably an outrageous, unexplored chapter of American history, the fact that the filmmakers leave dangling Sheela's suggestion that Osho (who died at age 58 in 1990) may have been poisoned by his inner circle is emblematic of the loose ends the series leaves untied.