2 April 2021 | southdavid
Season One Review
Yes, Season One. Despite, I feel, already wringing the subject matter for way longer than they really needed to, "The Vow" is going to run to a second season.
NXIVM is a self-help, personal betterment organisation that garnered headline when it's founder, and guru-like leader, Keith Raniere was arrested, along with a few other high-ranking members and charged with racketeering and sex trafficking offences. This documentary follows four former members, Bonnie Piesse, Mark Vincente, Sarah Edmondson and Anthony Ames as they attempt to rescue others from an organisation, they brought them into. Then, along with other former members and Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter India is still a committed disciple, raise the profile of the crimes committed and try to get the FBI to properly investigate them.
What makes this documentary is the near pathological need that everyone involved seems to have had to record their interactions. This makes sense in the "present day" stuff as, of course, there's a filmmaker asking them to do so, but this goes back years. With Mark Vincente having been a filmmaker himself and producing much of the material that NXIVM used to advertise itself, he has hours of behind the scenes footage that he's made available. But more than that, late night walking conversations between Raniere and others appear to have been recorded too - long before the participants had any reservations about the organisation.
That wealth of footage is almost the documentaries problem. It's very interested in explaining all of the organisations jargon, the specifics of which I don't think you really need. They use relatively simple psychological tactics (looking at them from the outside) to get people to swallow their reservations and fears about what the group might be doing and take the next incremental step. They also pick their targets very well, relatively successful people who haven't quite hit the heights they hope for - actors, say, who have been in things, but aren't megastars and can explain to them why that might be.
There's lots of footage of the people who make up the story, which is useful, but the show introduces characters across the run, and makes that each episode's hook - which I felt came at a cost of me understanding where we were in the timeline of the story. Also, nine hours to tell the events so far is probably twice as much as it needed to be. And I feel much of what should have been lost is "behind the scenes" stuff with the main four liberators and the regular revisits to aspects of the "glory days" that we've seen before.
Those criticisms said I'm probably going to be back for the second run, but much more brevity would be appreciated.