It’s a normal afternoon on your couch. You settle in, prepared for 75 minutes of mindless Netflix binging — and then “Captive” begins. The new documentary series chronicles eight different hostage crises worldwide, with startlingly believable reenactments and testimonies from both hostages and their perpetrators. The series tells a different story each episode.
Episode one, “Lucasville, USA,” focuses on the 1993 Southern Ohio Correctional Facility riot. The 11-day riot resulted in 10 fatalities and over $40 million worth of damage to the facility. Today, the prison is still operating, and some of its death row inmates are leaders of the fateful riot 25 years prior.
The episode is captivating, from the first 30 seconds to the final minute. Viewers are drawn in from the opening, which features chilling footage of the prison post-riot. A swastika spray painted on the blood-spattered wall, a pile-up of dead bodies and hallways scattered with mattresses and trash — more than enough to make a viewer sit up in his or her seat and wonder what, oh what, they have just gotten themselves into.
Told chronologically, the episode starts with the opening of Lucasville’s Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in 1972. The prison was expected to be a “state of the art” facility for roughly 1,600 inmates. By 1993, however, as often happens with the criminal justice system, the prison fell prey to overcrowding and extreme regulation. It was regulation that, in part, caused the riot. A state-ordered tuberculosis test for all inmates caused a stir among the Muslim African-American prisoners. On Easter Sunday, they took back the prison and all Hell broke loose.
Netflix has a unique opportunity with this “true crime” documentary series. “Lucasville, USA” in particular is a gripping feature on not only what occurs in a hostage crisis, but also what causes these events to occur. The prisoners didn’t intend for the situation to escalate as it did. But these men — hardened by the system — were angry, and the riot provided a way for them to fight back. To quote one inmate: “I’m locked in here, but still I’m a human being. Still I’m a man. Ya’ll get to say, fuck me. No — fuck ya’ll!”
In posing a profile of the culprits, “Lucasville, USA” offers a glimpse into the criminal justice system: The prison guards faced with impossible jobs, policing “the most dangerous institution in the state of Ohio,” the inmates itching to stand up for themselves in the place that strips them of all semblance of humanity. After hearing the testimonies of the inmates, it’s a wonder that the riot didn’t happen sooner.
An interesting part of “Lucasville, USA” is that the episode remains objective — neither in the favor of the criminals nor the victim. It simply exists to tell the story as it happened. The reenactments, mixed with storytelling from those actually present at the scene, gives the documentary a real-time effect. It’s easy for viewers to forget that they’re following a crisis which occurred 25 years ago. In fact, this episode feels immediate, real and terrifying.
It’s also rich with emotion and suspense. If the intention of “Captive” is to tell hostage stories as if they are fictional thrillers, then it has succeeded. Though the episodes have no connection to each other, the thematic elements and unique storytelling invoke a desire to binge the series anyway. When one hostage crisis ends, another begins. With “Captive,” Netflix invites viewers on a journey — and it’s a worthwhile ride.