“Viscera” paints a damning portrait of mounting suspicions and allegations, as NXIVM continue to cower behind linguistic gymnastics and a multilevel marketing spin.
This recap of The Vow season 1, episode 2, “Viscera”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
In The Vow episode 2, “Viscera”, very little is clear. As with the premiere, the source and age of the archive footage is mysterious; the timeline of events is skewed, each development crushed too close together or stretched too far apart. I have to wonder if this is the show being slack or extremely deliberate – I suppose it hardly matters either way since the effect is largely the same. NXIVM itself, as both a multilevel marketing scheme and an abusive secret society, operates by deliberately shrouding itself in layers of obfuscation and linguistic gymnastics. It has a word for everything, and precious few of them make much sense in context. It’s all meaningless spin.
The show’s power is that we know it’s obscuring horrendous abuses; the branding and raping of women by a secret sex cult. Because of that, “Viscera” can be content to take its time and unveil information in the gradual way that real members of NXIVM must have become privy to it at the time. More so than the timeline or any other quintessential documentarian elements, it’s the worsening and widening of the allegations, their increasing credibility, that gives The Vow episode 2 its shape.
As with any house of cards, it only takes one unstable structure to bring the whole thing tumbling down, and in this case, it’s Bonnie, not necessarily the first person to leave NXIVM but certainly the most visible. From her perspective, which “Viscera” makes integral to the hour, we get a walking tour through the increasing weirdness and insularity of NXIVM and the classic tactics its higher-ups employed to ensnare members and program them as worker drones essentially incapable of seeing the organization itself as being at fault for anything, even the obvious exploitation from which it was clearly benefitting.
All cults work more or less the same way; they entice people who yearn for comfort and belonging and they give them the illusion of those things. Keith Raniere is openly obsessed with the idea of weakness, of comfort, of learning how to push through perceived physical and mental limitations using a variety of bespoke techniques that are ridiculous on their face but seem to actually work on some level. The notion that weakness can be conquered is obviously compelling for members; the notion that it’s Keith’s all-knowing power and intellect that facilities this inflates his ego to colossal proportions.
It’s this level of ego that makes Keith somewhat ill-equipped to stave off questions about what he’s up to with anything even resembling a compelling argument. His instinct is to blame what people see on them going crazy and imagining things; it’s such a silly form of argument from the outside looking in, but this is a man who wielded so much power within the organization that he got used to getting away with it. And there was plenty more he got away with besides simple deception, as the last-minute revelation of a fresh brand can attest to.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.