The Vow hinges on some extent of buy-in from its viewer. A part of the intrigue lies in Raniere himself, proven within the collection as a sanitized and singularly American cult mastermind. His resolute mediocrity is what makes him compelling, a squat late-boomer who spouts self-help platitudes and calls them “know-how.” Once you Google Raniere’s identify, “peak” is a high autofill suggestion, all however caricaturing the preoccupations of a particular kind of beta male most of us may have met not less than as soon as in our lives and, possible, will run into once more. (Raniere, true to kind, has self-reported his peak as 5 foot, eight inches — the default rounding-up reply of the 5-foot-6-ish American man.) The manufacturing unit mannequin archetype of the self-made guru, his attraction lies exactly within the improbability of his grift. Once you put aside the sexual servitude and pores and skin branding of his blackmailed harem, the Keith Raniere of The Vow is so milquetoast it’s inspirational. He appeals to our basest, most bootstrappy sensibilities: If this schmuck could make it, by gosh so can I.
However once more, the present isn’t actually about Raniere. As we’re advised at varied factors within the collection, cults goal individuals present process intervals of main life transition — those that’ve simply left school or gotten a divorce, who want a bit of course. Individuals searching for someplace to belong and fellow vacationers to belong with. Lonely individuals who wish to make a greater life, on their very own phrases, collectively.
The flipside of NXIVM’s inflexible social infrastructure was the connectivity it ensured. For its most devoted members, that payoff was value uprooting their complete lives. India, Mark, and Bonnie have been amongst those that deserted members of the family, associates, and their careers to dwell semi-communally in an upstate New York suburb and “do NXIVM” full-time.
Pandemics expose a society’s weaknesses. The primary weak spot to point out its face this time round was the one closest to residence: the nuclear household. The fallout has been particularly marked amongst dad and mom, left to fend for themselves of their self-contained family models. However loneliness has been a standard denominator of accountable social distancing, throughout age teams and no matter parental standing, because the first government-issued mandates to shelter in place. When you haven’t felt some extent of crushing isolation by this level, you’re most likely doing one thing incorrect (or residing within the cult-lite democracy of Sweden). That, otherwise you’re residing in a collective.
In Interview, creator Naomi Klein known as the single-family residence “a extremely unhealthy know-how” for weathering the shocks of 2020. However teams of people that share housing, with communal house and a shared burden of home labor? They’re doing alright. Or not less than, extra alright than everybody else. “I [find] myself pondering greater than earlier than in regards to the worth of residing extra communally,” she mused. Truthfully, identical.
The Vow reaches audiences at a second of just about unprecedented mass susceptibility to the promise of higher social “know-how,” to borrow from Klein and Raniere in the identical unlikely swoop. It’s onerous to think about a extra excellent convergence of non-public upheaval, political tumult, uncertainty, and involuntary seclusion, than what this yr has given us. HBO is hedging its bets. A second season of The Vow has been introduced for launch subsequent yr, and the final moments of the finale promise that Raniere could also be getting his personal shot at telling his story.
Within the meantime, we have now one other NXIVM docuseries to fulfill our cult curiosity. Seduced, a four-part collection from Starz, particulars India Oxenberg’s facet of the story. (India can be the present’s government producer.) Its first episode exhibits the now-29-year-old coming to grips along with her decade-long devotion to the sinister and probably sociopathic Raniere. Based on critics who’ve seen the complete collection forward of its scheduled air dates, Seduced paints a far much less rosy portrait of the as soon as high-ranking NXIVM members on the heart of The Vow. It additionally exposes the bone-chilling extremes of Raniere’s sadistic catalog of abuse.
In Seduced, India describes at size how the group separated her from her mom, then extracted confessions of her innermost secrets and techniques and fears. This info undergirded a curriculum of complete manipulation that may span practically the entire of her twenties. It’s a far cry from The Vow’s long-distance cellphone calls and group huddles, damaged by intermittent digicam pauses on Vicente’s doleful pout.
Notably in its second half, The Vow is nearly comically evasive of something that would resemble incrimination of its star “household.” Its omissions are conspicuous. However the collection isn’t a lot about escaping a cult as it’s a doc of staged retrenchment. As audiences face the encroaching aloneness of a winter with out journey or friend-hangs in parks, we’re keen to droop disbelief.