As Episodes 1 of "The Vow" (2020 release; 9 episodes of about 60 min. each) opens, we get to know Keith Raniere, who talks about "optimizing people's experience and behavior". We go to "2017" as a guy named Mark confesses that"I was afraid to be attacked if I left the organization", and then the shocking headline as we go to "2019" where Keith Raniere is convicted of sex trafficking. We then go back in time as we get to know Sarah, who meets Mark on a cruise and they hit it off, big time. Mark convinces Sarah to take the organization's (called NXIVM) initiation program (called Executive Success Program). Sarah is skeptical at first but soon finds herself fully on board... At this point we are 10 min. into Episode 1.
Couple of comments: I must admit that I had never heard of this organization, and that the dead-giveaway in the opening scenes of Episode 1 that its leader was convicted last year of sex trafficking made me sit up and take notice. Based on Episode 1, which mostly explores the "teachings" of NXIVM, this to me sounds like another cult organization, not unlike, say, the Church of Scientology. People are brainwashed and/or convince themselves into believing things that sound like utter rubbish to me (of course about "bringing out the best in themselves", etc.). No signs whatsoever so far about any darker side of things, although the preview of Episode 2 makes clear it's not going to be long before we get to that. How does an entire cult buy into this? That is the $64,000 question which we will explore in future episodes for sure. This new documentary series is directed by the long-time (husband and wife) documentarian team of Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim ("Control Room", "The Square"), and once again they deliver what looks to be a fascinating view behind the curtains, in this case of a cult-like organization.
"The Vow" premiered this past weekend on HBO and Episode 1 is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. New episodes air Sunday evenings at 10 pm Eastern. Can't wait to catch future episodes. If you have an interest in the inner workings of cult-like organizations, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
*UPDATE 8/31/30* Episode 2 confirms all the good things and, yes, also scary things about Episode 1. We are now really taking a deep dive into the "high control group" (a/k/a the cult) that is NXIVM, as we learn new terms like "emotion stretching exercise". Yea, you can't make this up! Episode 2 is also where we learn what "the vow" (the title of this documentary series) actually refers to/stands for. No worries, I won't spoil. Just watch...
*UPDATE 9/7/20* Episode 3 takes a deep dive into Sarah's trajectory within the NXIVM cult, and how her close relationship with Lauren may impact Sarah's marriage. We are now knee-deep into the cult side of things and things are getting "weirder and weirderer". I can only imagine how the remaining 6 episodes are going to play out. This is now officially must-see TV (for me anyway).
*UPDATE 11/1/20* Just as "The Vow" came to a conclusion in early October, another NXIVM documentary mini-series debuted on STARZ called "Seduced: Into the NXIVM Cult", directed by Emmy-nominated Cecilia Peck. It focuses far more onto the personal experienced on India Oxenberg, who became a slave in the "DOS" system of NXIVM. While some of this is of course covered in "The Vow", "Seduced" goes into far greater details of the human trafficking that went on within NXIVM , and one has to wonder why "The Vow" only covers it vaguely.