To describe Wild Wild Country as jaw-dropping is to understate the number of times my mouth gaped while watching the series, a six-part Netflix documentary about a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s. It’s ostensibly the story of how a group led by the dynamic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased 64,000 acres of land in central Oregon in a bid to build its own utopian city. But, as the series immediately reveals, the narrative becomes darker and stranger than you might ever imagine. It’s a tale that mines the weirdness of the counterculture in the ’70s and ’80s, the age-old conflict between rural Americans and free love–preaching cityfolk, and the emotional vacuum that compels people to interpret a bearded mystic as something akin to a god.
What’s most remarkable is that the Rajneesh movement hasn’t been documented more thoroughly before, given the scale of the media attention it drew during its height and the range of crimes (from immigration fraud to the largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history) attributed to it. Recent fictionalized series about cults and cultlike groups, including Paramount’s Waco and American Horror Story: Cult, have floundered somewhat, partly because it’s difficult to dramatize the hold leaders like David Koresh and Charles Manson had on their followers. But with Wild Wild Country, it’s all there on tape. The series’s directors, Chapman Way and Maclain Way, have access to a wealth of news broadcasts, archival footage, and videos recorded by the Rajneeshees themselves. The first few minutes alone offer scenes of the group arriving in Oregon in their all-red outfits, members grinning vacantly, playing the flute, and dustbusting a red carpet for Bhagwan Rajneesh to walk on when he steps out of one of his Rolls-Royces.