TV TATTLE

Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult exposed The Vow's blindspots

  • "The Vow’s fly-on-the-wall approach to capturing how NXIVM unraveled means it treats both its apostates and (NXIVM leader Keith) Raniere himself—sentenced last month to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes—with a dubiously soft touch," says Sophie Gilbert of the HBO docuseries. "It’s easier to see the series’s blind spots when it’s viewed as a companion piece with a new Starz series on the same subject, the finale of which airs tonight. Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult undercuts The Vow’s approach. Its directors interview cult experts in tandem with former NXIVM members to better understand Raniere’s tactics. The Starz series also includes information so pertinent to understanding NXIVM that it seems inexcusable for The Vow to omit it. Before watching Seduced, I had seen the particulars of the workshop I took (14-hour days, no alcohol, no snacking, no painkillers for headaches) as quirks designed to impress upon participants the importance of self-discipline, rather than coercive techniques to make them more psychologically and emotionally pliable. My own account of the course was incomplete, because my ability to interpret it critically had been fundamentally manipulated and impaired. The same thing is true of The Vow."

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    • Comparing The Vow vs. Seduced: The Vow, says Dave Nemetz, "feels artsy and intimate, and is chock full of incriminating details, with access to countless documents and video and audio recordings from within the cult. Directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer spent more than a year and a half filming, and their patience pays off: They were filming as the New York Times bombshell exposé of NXIVM and Raniere went live, and as word spread of (Keith) Raniere’s arrest. But, as you may have already heard, it is also loooooong: nine hours long, for a story that could be probably be covered perfectly well by a two-hour film. The pace at times is agonizingly slow, with lots of footage of Vicente scrolling through his email or Edmondson on the phone. But with all that overkill, it’s also badly muddled, missing the big picture story of NXIVM by getting too far in the weeds. We’re often not clear on who did what to whom, and what it all means; we end up feeling as disoriented as the former cult members do... Meanwhile, Starz’s Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, which wrapped up its four-episode run this past Sunday, approaches the scandal with much greater clarity and focus, zooming in on the story of former cult member India Oxenberg."
    • What makes The Vow and Seduced work differently is the framing: "Whereas The Vow brings us into the cult through two of their former top members and true believers, Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmondson, Seduced focuses one of the victims, India Oxenberg. India Oxenberg was the kind of priority member NXIVM wanted," says Princess Weekes, adding: "I found The Vow to be tedious, especially with nine hour-long episodes that seemed to circle around the point for a really long period of time. That feeling was reinforced when I watched Seduced, which in only four episodes tells India’s story, features interviews with cult experts Janja Lalich, Steve Hassan, and Rick Alan Ross, and also talks to other victims of the cult."

    TOPICS: The Vow, HBO, Starz, Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, Documentaries, NXIVM




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