HBO’s NXIVM sex cult drama series “The Vow” has been criticized for hanging out at times during its nine episodes. But the final moments of Sunday’s season finale left no doubt about the direction of the storyline in season two, which HBO officially commissioned last week.
Warning, spoilers for the final episode of “The Vow” to come.
Here is the aftermath of now convicted felons Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, co-founders of self-help programs at the heart of all the shocking history that has led to federal charges of human trafficking, sexual abuse and racketeering. ‘The Fall’, episode 9 of ‘The Vow’, ends with hints that the couple will go on camera, or at least on record, with ‘Vow’ directors / executive producers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer.
The closing footage features what appears to be a glimpse of Salzman under house arrest, with a photo of his Apple Watch and electronic ankle bracelet.
Meanwhile, Raniere’s familiar voice is heard in what is called a conversation last month about a fragmented connection from his holding cell to the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center. The camera slowly focuses on a window of the fortress-like installation as the silvery-tongued multilevel marketing genius spits more nonsense that docuseries are just the “top layer” of truth.
Left without further defense, Raniere seems to think he can get himself out of trouble again, at least in the court of public opinion if not the court of federal prosecutors, where he is expected to be sentenced on October 27. was convicted in June 2019 of seven counts.
Raniere gets the final words on the first season of “The Vow,” which just might be frustrating for many viewers. He makes fun of filmmakers and by association of the public. “So talk to me,” he said.
“The Vow” is a high profile entry into Keith Raniere’s cottage industry and NXIVM-related documentary projects spurred by the stranger than fictional story of the cult organization that began in the 1990s as an executive New Age-y Improvement and Personal Development A self-help leadership improvement and personal development program that was run largely as a Ponzi scheme.
Over time, NXIVM members realized that the programs were designed to exploit weaknesses and facilitate forms of blackmail, retaliation and financial crime. Clare Bronfman, heir to the Seagrams Spirit Fortune, and former “Smallville” star Allison Mack are among those convicted of crimes in connection with the group.
Tens of millions of dollars in gifts from Bronfman and his sister, Sara Bronfman, are known to have been a vital source of support for NXIVM over the years. Mack went from being a perky child star to a sex cult leader involved in such a deranged group that women were persuaded to submit to receiving a mark near the vaginal area as a twisted bonding ritual.
While there is no shortage of reports on the NXIVM saga, here are some lingering questions from “The Vow”.
What will Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman have to say about themselves?
Salzman’s fleeting glimpse in the finale indicates that she will discuss her break-up with Raniere and her decision to plead guilty to racketeering and testify against him at trial last year. The photo shows her removing her ubiquitous NXIVM yellow belt with the voiceover of an older recording of her opinion on the pros and cons of extreme loyalty.
Raniere’s remarks indicate that he’s still working his familiar question-flipping strategy to manipulate the framing of the question in a way that makes it look wise, reasonable, or forward-thinking. After nine hours of “The Vow”, it’s hard to stand any more mumbo jumbo from its needle makers on “what you’re willing to present as the truth”.
What led Lauren Salzman to break up with Raniere and testify against him at trial?
Lauren, the adult daughter of Nancy Salzman, is portrayed in “The Vow” as a zealous enforcer of bizarre and misogynistic rules devised by Raniere for the purpose of grooming sex slaves via the “elite” female group DOS, where the ritual of mark takes place. Lauren Salzman was the “master” of Sarah Edmondson’s “slave”, the Canadian actress who features prominently in “Vow.” Lauren Salzman manipulated Edmondson into submitting to the trademark ritual. She faces up to 20 years in prison but should be granted leniency for cooperating with prosecutors.
When will Catherine Oxenberg have her own show?
The former “Dynasty” star clearly emerges as a hero in the quest to bring Raniere to justice. “The Vow” is at its best as it documents her unwavering desire to free her daughter India from the clutches of Raniere and her pregnant outside Albany, Catherine Oxenberg’s refusal to give up in the face of closed doors and “There is nothing we can do” the responses of law enforcement are touching and inspiring.
Oxenberg proves anything but a wealthy prima donna who cannot function outside the Malibu bubble. She is a devoted mother on a mission. She has acquired an undeniable street reputation in the defense of victims’ rights and human trafficking. After demonstrating her skill in commissioning media coverage to incite law enforcement, it would be natural for her to move on to a broader platform of activism and research on human trafficking and cults. For starters, she featured prominently in Starz’s “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult,” a four-part documentary about India’s heartbreaking experiences with Raniere and NXIVM.
Will Mark Vicente seek to resume his career as a filmmaker?
The South African filmmaker behind the well-received 2004 documentary “What the Bleep Do We Know?” let his early career momentum slow down as he became fascinated with Raniere’s “teachings” and trained in NXIVM. The final episode describes Vicente’s struggle to cope with the damage he inflicted as a follower of Raniere and as the leader of NXIVM and his bizarre men’s organization, Society of Protectors.
Vicente’s acknowledgment of his guilt on behalf of others is heartfelt, as is his work to put Raniere in handcuffs. But NXIVM’s notoriety could yet cause it to skyrocket in the endless whirlwind of money and funding that is the burden of most documentary filmmakers these days.
Vicente is in tears in “The Fall” acknowledging what becomes clear over the course of the series: Raniere seems to enjoy inflicting pain on women. “And that was his joy,” Vicente said with a mixture of disbelief and shame.
Why did the police take so long to act?
One of the main takeaways from “The Vow” is the effort it took for law enforcement to take warnings from those who fled the organization seriously. Raniere’s story of intimidation through relentless litigation has had the effect of casting doubt on the veracity of his accusers. One of the most powerful moments in the series is the sight of Edmondson realizing in October 2017 that the eruption of the #MeToo movement – sparked by the gruesome claims against the now convicted sexual assailant Harvey Weinstein – would help their cause.
Can Sarah Edmondson ever find peace?
Edmondson mentions more than once during the first season that she was responsible for bringing over 2,000 people to NXIVM via downtown Vancouver. The weight of his past work weighs heavily on Edmondson throughout the series. His willingness to go public in the face of uncertainty to the point of allowing photographs of his grotesque brand was a turning point in the spread of history.
Catherine Oxenberg’s determination is not the only edifying element of “The Vow”. The series revolves in a way on the strength of two marriages at the heart of the story: Mark Vicente and actor-musician Bonnie Piesse and Edmondson and Anthony “Nippy” Ames.
Bonnie and Sarah were fortunate enough to leave NXIVM with a relationship strong enough to weather the storm. This was not the case for an earlier generation of victims of Raniere’s girlfriend on the show, including longtime legal targets of Raniere, Barbara Bouchey and Toni Natalie.
Bonnie’s spontaneous leap of joy upon hearing the news of Raniere’s arrest on March 15, 2018 is one of the emotional highlights of the finale. It comes after we have an unvarnished look at the depth of Raniere’s sociopathic manipulation of a young woman. Bonnie and Mark’s return to the neighborhood they fled in Albany for the first time in two years is interrupted by a spooky audio recording of one of the many 3am walks on which Bonnie eagerly joined Raniere in the name of a deranged mentoring process.
After a few minutes of circular conversation, an exasperated Ranière knows which buttons to press Bonnie.
“Can you just, uh, get over that?” Please? Not that hard, ”he tells her as Bonnie cries after suggesting she was ready to pursue projects outside of Albany. “You look terrible when in control. You are beautiful when you don’t.
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