‘The Vow Part Two’ review: HBO takes Nxivm and Keith Raniere to trial in docu-series


The strange and reprehensible nature of “The Vow,” with its highly detailed look at the Nxivm cult, made the docuseries an understandable sensation, so much so that HBO came back for more. While “The Vow Part Two” gives viewers a front-row seat to the federal trial against creator Keith Raniere, it’s a more fragmented exercise, suitably stretched out into six parts.

As with the original 2020 production, this one relies on a treasure trove of audio and video footage filmed by Nxivm members who meticulously documented its inner workings, even though leaders were advising them not to share information outside the room. Despite Nxivm’s obsession with loyalty, it’s a good reminder that what happens in Vegas rarely stays there.

This second edition not only provides extensive access to interviewees who broke free from Raniere’s influence, but also other important figures, such as Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman, who offers great insight into how Raniere was able to manipulate those involved. That extends to his inner circle, including “Smallville” co-star Allison Mack, who pressured his “slaves” to have sex with him.

“Allison is a victim who was sent to do something she thought was good because she thought Keith was good,” explains Salzman. “And so he did.”

The trial is covered from all sides, from Raniere’s defense attorney, Marc Agnifilo, to prosecutor Moira Penza, as well as third-party observers such as New York Post reporter Emily Saul. In the absence of video, director Jehane Noujaim uses animation to help illustrate these segments, which doesn’t feel out of place based on the surreal nature of what happened.

Understanding the NXIVM Case (2019)

There are, again, shocking and chilling moments, including text messages in which Raniere insists he needs “a vow of absolute obedience”. When a female member expresses reluctance about the practice of branding herself, as many in the group did, “Don’t you want to burn for me?”

Feelings of keasiness also surround his interviews with members who claim allegiance to Raniere, conjuring alibis for his actions and Nxivm’s practice of leveraging “guarantees” to lord it over his adherents. That list includes Nicki Clyne, who starred in “Battlestar Galactica,” adding a heavy Hollywood component to the story.

However, “The Vow Part Two” would be better off devoting a couple of episodes specifically to the trial and ending with the verdicts; instead, later episodes return to new material about Raniere’s manipulation of the two families, before a lengthy 90-minute finale, after the trial, shifts to those who support the still-incarcerated leader, unwilling or unable to let go of the misconception. community Nxivm gave them.

Warts and all, the entirety of “The Vow,” including previous episodes, is pretty intoxicating to watch. Media coverage couldn’t get enough of the “sex cult” angle, as Agnifilo suggests, but that shouldn’t obscure how Raniere took advantage of insecurity, inspiring the kind of loyalty and complicity in followers that can complicate criminality. prove it

As a TV show, however, “The Vow Part Two” teaches a more nuanced lesson that even the creators of Nxivm did well to ignore: knowing when to let go before the walls of your empty facade crumble.

“The Vow Part Two” premieres Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a Warner Bros. It is a unit of Discovery.