Will ‘Wild Wild Country’ Return For Season 2 On Netflix? The Directors Explain Why You’ll Be Thinking About The Docuseries Long After It’s Over
In March, Netflix premiered an unbelievable true story that ought to shock you, even if you had already been aware of some of the details. Wild Wild Country, a six-part docuseries, recounts the conflict between the town of Antelope, Oregon and neighboring religious settlement Rajneeshpuram, a spiritual community that formed in the '80s around the teachings of Indian guru and leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The conflict spins out of control and truth becomes stranger than fiction, but familiar elements like bigotry and sexism play their role, according to the filmmakers. While it appears that Wild Wild Country will not return for Season 2 after coming to a pretty definitive end, viewers will no doubt be left thinking about it long after the final episode ends.
Speaking over the phone the week the show debuted, director Chapman Way tells Bustle that he could hardly believe the story of Rajneeshpuram when he first heard it. He and his brother, co-director Maclain Way, met with a video archivist in Portland, Oregon who told them about its history. "I remember [Maclain] and I looking at each other and thinking 'there’s no way he has this story right, because if all this stuff happened I definitely would’ve heard about this story," Chapman says. "How is it possible that something like this could happen in America and we’ve never heard about it?'" But after compiling the series, the filmmakers were most surprised by how it challenged their own assumptions about the Rajneeshees and fringe religious groups in general.
"I’d always been someone with a kind of knee-jerk dismissal against cults," Chapman says. "It always seemed like “who would join these, who are these weird people, it’s so strange." Per the series, the Rajneesh Movement promoted values such as free love and meditation, and the followers dressed in all red to show that they were followers of the Bhagwan.
Chapman says he was surprised to learn that the Rajneeshees turned out to be this "group of highly intellectual, successful people who had kind of gotten burned out in life in the late '60s and '70s and the remnants of the counterculture movement." They were "finding themselves," like all spiritual and religious seekers were. A number of former members are interviewed in the documentary, and Chapman says that he "found them to be really thoughtful, really articulate, really in touch with their emotions and thought processes." So how does a group of thoughtful individuals become the target of accusations of election fraud, mass poisonings, and even an assassination attempt, as the doc portrays? It came down to a failure of communication, the directors believe.
And the beginnings of those communication issues can perhaps be traced to something timeless: the fear of the "other." Chapman says, "We found there definitely seemed to be a prejudice and a bias towards this Indian guru, this 'foreigner' who was coming into [the Antelope residents'] home territory and setting up this new city with his following." Maclain echoes this thought, saying, "[Antelopians] would talk about the Rajneeshees and they would say 'They’re brainwashed. They’re part of a cult. They don’t even know that they’re being exploited.'" Antelope is a predominantly white, Christian town, and the presence of an Eastern spiritual movement led to tension between the two parties early on.
Whether it was in response to perceived prejudice or not, the Rajneeshees also didn't take kindly to their neighbors. "I don’t think the Rajneeshees were entirely forthcoming with what their plans were," Maclain says. "By no means did they come in telling people 'Yeah, we’re gonna drop 125 million dollars and we’re gonna build a huge compound out there.'"
And the situation only escalated from there. The Rajneeshees were open about feeling as though they were being pre-judged, but Chapman believes that their defensiveness quashed any opportunity to co-exist peacefully. "Any sort of legitimate concerns that officials and locals start to have about [Rajneeshees] as they arm themselves with assault rifles and they take over control of town," Chapman says, "[The Rajneeshees] start to accuse everyone of being biased and prejudiced."
Even now, decades after a bizarre town salmonella outbreak pointed suspicions of intentional poisoning (and eventually prosecution) at members of the group, per Slate, the Rajneeshees and Antelope citizens are still firmly on opposite sides of their divide. "It was a unique experience listening to both these sides claim that they’re the heroes of the story while pointing at the others and calling the other side evil," Maclain says.
While people on both sides make for fascinating interviews, the "star" of Wild Wild Country is unquestionably Ma Anand Sheela. Sheela was a follower of Rajneesh's who became an essential part of his operation as his personal secretary. She became the de facto leader of the Rajneeshees after Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh took a vow of public silence starting in May of 1982, according to United Press International. By equal measures witty, calculated, and commanding, Sheela led the settlement of Rajneeshpuram into international infamy, in part by making profane and blunt public appearances.
"We spoke to one government official that described [Sheela] as 'pure evil,'" Chapman says. But eventually, the directors traveled to her current home of Switzerland to meet the woman herself. "It became pretty clear to us quickly that while she may be responsible for some horrific criminal actions, nothing came across to me as 'pure evil,'" he continues. "She came across as a woman who felt like she had been backed into a corner and maybe got too far in front of her skis and kinda lashed out in maybe the only way she knew how."
Sheela was leading the Rajneesh movement during the time that they were accused of poisoning over 750 people in The Dalles, Oregon, according to The Oregonian, in what is believed to have been an attempt to suppress voter turnout in a crucial local election. Further inspection found that the Rajneeshpuram compound was housing "a fully fledged bioterrorism lab containing salmonella cultures and literature on the manufacture and usage of explosives and military biowarfare," according to Slate. Sheela was arrested and sentenced to 20 years of prison after making a deal that required her to plead guilty, per The New York Times. She only served two years before being released on parole.
The Way brothers claim that audiences are split on how to feel about Sheela. After screening the first two episodes of Wild Wild Country in New York City, executive producer Mark Duplass asked the audience if they were pro or anti the divisive woman. "It was literally almost identically a 50/50 split," Maclain recalls. "I think that there’s gonna be some people that think she was unfairly thrown under the bus, I think that there’s some people that think she was a terrorist and a menace that created panic in the state of Oregon."
Chapman believes that the divide between those who condemn Sheela and those who are more forgiving seems to fall along gender lines. Of all those involved in Rajneeshpuram, the citizens of Antelope featured in Wild Wild Country still have the most disdain for her. "Sheela, being a young woman foreigner [and] the face of this movement I think caused a lot of controversy in the air," he says. "It seems like some men have been a little more terrified of her and find her to be a little bit of a scary figure, while women seem to have more empathy for her journey and understanding of the situation that she was put in."
The double standard Sheela faces, whatever her actions, is not the only aspect of the series with modern relevance. Wild Wild Country touches on the separation of church and state, voter registration laws, immigration fraud, and the Second Amendment as well. Chapman notes that the politics of the series aren't what viewers may be expecting. "You have this Christian community of Antelope that’s trying to limit freedom of religion and what this religious minority can do with their land," he says, "and then on the other hand you have the kind of liberal peace-loving group that arms up with assault rifles and all of a sudden these Second Amendment conservatives of Antelope aren’t so excited about this group arming themselves."
Rajneeshpuram dissipated and the Rajneeshees eventually left Oregon, but Maclain notes that some of the former citizens of the compound seem to still have some fond memories of their time there. "As painful and traumatic as the collapse of Rajneeshpuram was it was definitely the most important thing that they’d felt they had ever done in their entire life," he says.
The tragic thing about the entire conflict, from Maclain's perspective, is that empathy and conversation may have kept matters from becoming as tense as they did.
"This is the story of two groups that kind of become entrenched in a cultural war and just keep on taking farther and farther steps away from one another," he says, "passing up chances at anything that would resemble conflict resolution until it ends up becoming more than just a cultural battle — it turns into, ultimately, violence."