The Pitch: In the fall of 2020, we were all perhaps a little more eager than usual for good juicy docu-series, and thus The Vow became an immediate fascination. The first season of the HBO series took viewers through the saga of NXIVM and its founder Keith Raniere, who over the course of years manipulated and abused people, especially young women, who belonged to the organization that headlines didn’t hesitate to deem a “sex cult.”
The first season ended with Raniere in jail and many of those who had left NXIVM still struggling to pick up their lives; but there was clearly another chapter to the story, and The Vow, Part Two continues the narrative by both exploring the legal consequences of the NXIVM arrests and digging a little deeper into just how screwed up NXIVM itself was. This means plenty more footage of Raniere in his volleyball shorts, shot by the cameras he demanded document his every move, and plenty more opportunities for the viewer to mutter under their breath, “Wow, what a manipulative piece of shit.”
More Voices Speak: You’ll know you’re talking to a Vow obsessive when their eyes light up at this news — they got Nancy. While Nancy Salzman, who was at one point president of NXIVM, was featured extensively in Part One via archival footage, she goes on camera for Part Two, and director Jehane Noujaim and the Vow team (after teasing her appearance at the end of Episode 1) make her story the spine of the six-episode second season.
Unlike other NXIVM members (we’ll get to that), Salzman’s journey is a slow realization of the real harm she caused not just to herself, not just to strangers, but to her own daughters (one of whom, Lauren, is also indicted for crimes related to her involvement in NXIVM). Perhaps one of the season’s biggest missteps is when it spends a good chunk of screen time letting Nancy explain and demonstrate the positive effects of her cognitive behavioral training, specifically for people dealing with Tourettes syndrome. But it’s all part of watching her try to justify her choices, especially the choice to work with Raniere, as a reckoning looms.
Other Points-of-View: Salzman’s not the only notable figure who goes on camera for Part Two — Nicki Clyne is also a notable part of the new episodes, and serves as the voice of those who have not yet renounced Raniere’s leadership. While Smallville star Allison Mack was the most famous name originally associated with NXIVM, Clyne’s supporting role on Battlestar Galactica made her another prominent target, and in her interviews she speaks frequently about the government’s “lies” about her imprisoned guru.
Also featured in the season are some new faces, including prosecutor Moira Penza (who has no problem calling out Raniere for his crimes), Raniere defense attorney Marc Agnifilo (who has no problem defending his client in interviews), and New York Post reporter Emily Saul (who doesn’t flinch from discussing the Post‘s tendency towards sensationalist headlines). Tracking their involvement in the unfolding cases makes Part Two much more dynamic than Part One, which leaned heavily on former NXIVM members grappling with their past actions.