Mae Louise Dodd, a potential victim of crime in the Netflix miniseries “Devil in Ohio,” portrays all shades of gray through her mysterious persona. Mae cannot be termed as a downright evil character, even though her actions throughout the series suggest otherwise. Her character walks on a very thin line drawn between a flawed human being and an evil person. To understand this distinction better, it is important to look deeper into her motivations and the environment (or the cult, to be particular) in which she was raised. It can be suggested that Mae’s environment was a very important factor that affected her overall evil or narcissistic persona.
The character of Mae can be compared to an animal in a jungle that acts upon its survival instinct and struggles to keep itself alive. At the beginning of the series, Mae runs away from her parent’s house (the cult). For a while, the narrative suggested that she ran away from the cult because she despised their dark traditions and the people who blindly followed them under the influence of which they even wanted to kill her. However, the final scene of “Devil in Ohio” revealed that Mae was still a faithful follower of Lucifer and worshiped the dark lord wholeheartedly. Mae’s character had a duality that can be explained by the fact that she never ran away from the devil himself, but she only escaped the people who were trying to kill her. Now anyone who had binged the series till the end might have noticed the fact that the leader of the cult, Caleb Dodd, himself, was never asked by the devil to kill his brother’s wife, Mary. It was Caleb’s jealousy that influenced his decision to commit a crime, and later, he fabricated a story around Mary’s willingness to sacrifice herself to protect her people. So the entire foundation of the cult was based upon lies told by its leader to the people in order to control them with fear and terror of the devil.
For the early cultists, worshiping Lucifer meant getting fertile land (wealth and prosperity), but a girl like Mae, who had been kept away from the desires of the materialistic world, only yearned for some love and warmth. She wanted her parents, Abigail and Malachi, to love her, but both of her parents were dedicated followers who raised their children as flocks that would eventually become an offering to the devil, and, in exchange for this sacrifice, Lucifer would shower his blessings upon them. For Mae, who grew up in such a toxic environment, worshiping Lucifer or the devil became normal. Believing in the teachings of the cult, Mae started thinking that Lucifer, or the “Granter of Wishes,” would hear anyone’s prayers if there was suffering and sincerity in their sacrifices. It became a new normal for Mae to look upon the devil for her petty and greedy desires. She wanted a sense of belonging and a mother like Dr. Suzanne Mathis, and for that, she was ready to go to any lengths.
When Mae looked at Suzanne’s adopted daughter, Dani, a voice inside her head told Mae that if Suzanne could adopt her best friend’s child after her death, then why not her? Secondly, after meeting Suzanne’s middle child, Jules, Mae desired a friend-cum-sister like her, and thus she devised a plan to keep Jules away from her best friend, Isaac Kimura, so that Jules would spend all her time with Mae. As Mae interacted with more and more people, her desires kept on increasing, which eventually led to Mae hitting on Jules’ crush, Sebastian Zelle, and Helen’s ex-boyfriend, Teddy Harrington. In this entire process, Mae, a victim of crime, slowly turns into an evil Mae, filled with greed to fulfill her desires anyhow.
So, Mae indeed showed signs of a narcissistic human being, but her actions were influenced by a traumatic childhood that was devoid of any love from her parents. She never got the love that a child should deserve. When Mae witnessed a happy family in Suzanne’s house, she discovered that it was the thing that she had been missing in her life. She wanted to fill that void in her life so that she wouldn’t have to feel that emptiness again. Mae wanted to survive, but more than that, she wanted pure love from a mother like Suzanne.
Suzanne, on the other hand, saw a reflection of her own traumatic childhood in Mae. Suzanne was raised in an abusive environment where her stepfather, Dennis, used to beat her mother and punish Suzanne whenever he desired. Throughout her childhood, Suzanne struggled with the decision of whether to run away from the house or witness the horror every day. One day, she gathered enough courage to run away from her stepfather’s house, but he followed her and brought her back to the house. When Suzanne grew up, her father, Dennis, handcuffed her to a heating radiator pipe that left burned marks on her wrists. When she saw a similar rope mark on Mae’s wrists, it instantly reminded her of her past. By helping Mae, Suzanne was trying to fill the holes in her traumatic past. Seeing Mae’s situation, Suzanne’s savior complex turned up, but the reality was, through Mae, Suzanne was trying to run away from her own past. It made her believe that by helping Mae, she would be able to erase her own memories or make peace with them, but the only way to accomplish that was to face it, but Suzanne wasn’t ready to do so. She was in denial, but at the end of the series, she came to terms with the truth and visited a psychiatrist to help her overcome her fears of the traumatic past.
A second similarity between Mae and Suzanne can be drawn through the beliefs of their mothers. Suzanne constantly urged her mother to run away from the abuse of her husband, but for her mother, that toxic environment had become the new normal. She believed that it was her duty to stay loyal to her husband, irrespective of the fact that he was more evil than the devil himself. For Mae’s mother, Abigail, throwing one’s own child into the flames in order to sacrifice her to the devil was “the normal” in which she was raised. For her, there was nothing wrong with making an offering of her own child to protect her people. Like Suzanne’s mother, who took her last breath in Dennis’s house and never dared to break the invisible clutches that kept her captive, similarly, Abigail, too, till the very end, believed that she was doing the right thing. And when Mae jumped off the ritual pyre, Abigail sacrificed herself in order to keep the chain “unbroken.” These people, Abigail, Mae’s mother, and Mae herself, were not chained; they were prisoners of their own minds, manipulated by the people and environment around them. Hence, at the end of the series, Suzanne might have recused Mae from the clutches of the cult, but she was still a prisoner of her false beliefs.
Mae, in her pursuit to get a mother like Suzanne, had devised a plan to put a dent in her family. She was the sole reason for constant arguments between Suzanne and her husband, Peter. Mae even made Suzanne distant from her own children, as Suzanne was busy protecting Mae from the cult all the time and failed to attend to the needs of her own kids. Peter had already understood the fact that Mae was the root of all evil and thus gave Suzanne a choice to choose between Mae and her family, but Mae had designed such a fail-proof plan to manipulate Suzanne because of which she failed to see through her lies. Suzanne’s decision to choose Mae over her family broke her family, and Teddy started living in a separate apartment with the girls while Suzanne looked after Mae at their family house. But that’s not where everything comes to an end.
“Devil in Ohio” leaves us with a massive cliffhanger that compels us to devise possible outcomes. Two weeks after the fire in Amontown, Detective Lopez visited the site and found some really intriguing details. Suzanne was having Thanksgiving dinner with Mae when she received a call from Lopez, who informed her that it was Mae who set the white roses during the Harvest Dance and made it look like the cult triggered her to make her return to the family. So, as per this newfound information, it can be speculated that Mae never suffered any traumatic triggers in the past and was faking it all the time. The second piece of information that Lopez revealed to Suzanne was that the cult didn’t abduct Mae, but she “willingly” went back. It could possibly mean that Mae wanted Suzanne and Lopez to follow her to Amontown so that they would help her to destroy the cult. Throughout the entire rescue, Mae wanted Suzanne to feel victorious over saving one victim of crime, but it was Mae who was pulling the strings from the beginning of affairs. The entire plot was devised just to get one thing and only one thing: a mother’s love. In the closing shot, it was revealed that Mae was still worshiping Lucifer in the woods and had prayed to him to give her a mother like Suzanne. Her sole desire could be understood from the photograph that we saw in the last shot.
Soo, the last question is, will Suzanne still keep Mae with her after finding out the truth about her sinister plan? Well, it can be a subject of discussion, but in my personal opinion, Suzanne will send Mae to Fernwell, Vermont, as she had decided earlier. At Fernwell, Mae will be taken good care of, and we can speculate on an improvement in her mental health. The reason behind Suzanne’s decision to send Mae away can be understood from the fact that Suzanne was already consulting a psychiatrist and was making improvements in overcoming her own trauma of the past, and was no longer afraid of facing it. In other words, she didn’t need a person like Mae to make her feel worthy or make her realize that she was trying to correct the mistakes of her mother. Additionally, Suzanne desperately wanted to return to her children and finally got an excuse for the same. Suzanne tried her best to cure and help Mae, but maybe she needed more specialized attention that only a place like Fernwell would possibly be able to provide. Perhaps Mae arrived in Suzanne’s life to make her realize that she was still in denial of her traumatic past; hence, through Mae, she commenced a journey to face it. Finally, in the end, she consulted a psychiatrist to help her make peace with her mother and move forward in life. Though “The Devil in Ohio” concludes Suzanne’s journey, it is only the beginning of Mae’s journey to redeem herself.