The Vow: The Science of Joy
September 16, 2020 11:19 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmondson, high-ranking former NXIVM leaders, describe the dream and mission of NXIVM to build a better world; Bonnie Piesse, Mark's wife, tells him she is worried about the organization and leader Keith Raniere.

About THE VOW:

Following the experiences of people deeply involved in the self-improvement group NXIVM, an organization under siege with charges including sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy brought against its highest members and founder Keith Raniere.


The Vow Premiere Recap (Vulture)
posted by knownassociate (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really loved how this episode set it up so that you, as the viewer, can really understand why people got involved with this kind of self help. They do a great job of making it positive and bright to take a turn later on.
posted by knownassociate at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

firstly, I remember when What the Bleep came out and I hated, hated, hated it. It felt like pseudoscientific claptrap to me, full of stock footage and I really didn't care for it. Maybe it's great, and I used to smoke a lot of weed back then, but it was way too woo-woo for me.

So when Mark keeps talking about how he was riding off it's success in the first episode, it was no wonder he fell for Keith's bullshit, and they'd bonded over it.

Then I realized that everything you are seeing is Mark's production and it gets really weird to me. He helped the cult grow so much, and probably kept so many of the master tapes of documentaries he was producing for them. So it's really odd that he's able to use so much of it.

The whole cult seems like it's so close to scientology to me. It's not til the 3rd episode until they mention that people have to pay some pretty serious money for these counseling sessions (whatever they were called.)

I'm going to watch the rest of the episodes when they come out. But I think the first couple of episodes don't do nearly enough to apologize for Mark's involvement in supporting the cult.
posted by Catblack at 7:31 PM on September 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've seen it through episode 4, and don't want to get into specifics and spoil things. But it's worth emphasizing that much of what we experience is "candid" video and phone recordings created by...professional filmmakers. How much of this is REALLY real is an unanswerable question. It's like a house of mirrors.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:20 AM on September 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

IMDB says this is going to 9 episodes. That's so baffling to me. I can't even imagine what they are going to cover.

I will watch them all, but I really, really have no sympathy for this cult at all. I really hate how Mark has presented it as so very benign in the first two episodes. NXIVM is clearly rebranded scientology to me. (EMs? What, like without the E-Meters?) I'm afraid this disdain is going to color my reactions to this show (as entertainment) somewhat.

Also there are claims about Keith in the first episode (smartest person per Guinness book of records, double concert pianist, elite school, etc) that are so quickly put out there that I feel like a deep objective credible background on Kieth is in order.
posted by Catblack at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not to threadsit, but hooooooooly shit Keith Raniere's wikipedia page. They've got way more than 9 episodes of dirt to present.
posted by Catblack at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Raniere's preposterously embellished background reminded me of Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in The Master, a film that seemed based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. I have a feeling this is common to cults of personality.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:59 PM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm sure I'm not the only Battlestar Galactica fan to first learn and read about this cult because of press surrounding this new series and at a certain point cry out "Aw, Callie! What, and Boomer too?! Dang." (or words to that effect)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 9:37 PM on September 20, 2020

Then I realized that everything you are seeing is Mark's production and it gets really weird to me. He helped the cult grow so much, and probably kept so many of the master tapes of documentaries he was producing for them. So it's really odd that he's able to use so much of it.

I was struck by how much apparently live, real recording there was of phone calls and car rides and such. The explanation I've seen in some articles is that as Mark and Bonnie and Sarah began to realize they needed to get out and bring people out, they also knew they could face false accusations from Keith and the others, so they started recording and filming just to have evidence for themselves. Which seems fairly plausible to me.

From a Vanity Fair article:
“I began to understand what was going to happen to us,” said Vicente, recalling his decision to leave the well-backed organization. “They had so much money, so much power, I realized, ‘Oh they’re going to frame us for a whole bunch of things.’” Vicente and Edmondson spoke to some defectors who had faced expensive lawsuits and frightening intimidation tactics; another former member, who had fled the organization at night and essentially lived undercover ever since, would only contact them via burner phones. Said Vicente, “I realized I had to document everything because, if this thing went south, and they turned it around on us, then I had to have some kind of proof of what we were actually trying to do.”
posted by dnash at 5:12 PM on September 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought Mark also said that Keith wanted everything recorded. I can see a couple of reasons for that (obtaining information on members that could be used for manipulation, for example) but mainly Keith is so ego driven, I can see him risking everything because he desperately needs his ego to be constantly fed.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:48 AM on September 22, 2020

I'm super fascinated by this! Because of all the slick production and recorded phone calls, I was sure this wasn't real and HBO was making a fake documentary. I did my best to keep away from looking up whether it was real and then my dad went and spoiled it by telling me he remembered from when they got arrested. Damn. But it apparently is real!

I am generally fascinated by cults, and this seems like MLM & Scientology got together and had a baby. So weird, but I'm totally down to see where this goes.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:07 AM on September 22, 2020

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