The docuseries we binge-watched during the height of coronavirus quarantine don’t necessarily hold up outside of it. Just look at Tiger King, the second season of which held nowhere near the appeal it did when the world was locked down. Even so, The Vow (HBO’s documentary series about the NXIVM pyramid-scheme-slash-sex-cult) is trying its luck with a second season, and this time it has a secret weapon: Nancy Salzman.
Salzman loomed large over the first season as cult leader Keith Raniere’s right-hand woman, someone who enabled Raniere’s worst offenses in the name of his so-called “genius.” The second season trailer opens with narration from one of Salzman’s many NXIVM training videos, an eerily prescient inquiry: “What would happen if each of my secrets came out? The upside of letting go of your secrets is that you will have a lot more freedom. The downside of your secrets coming out is punishment.”
And punished she was, as Salzman was arrested alongside her daughter Lauren Salzman, Smallville’s Allison Mack, and Raniere himself. But now, she’s telling her side of the story, which includes an impassioned defense: “Seventeen thousand people got good results,” she argues. “Where are they?”
Unfortunately, individuals getting good results can’t balance out the great harm that Raniere did—like the alleged grooming of underage girls, trapping a woman in a room for years, and overseeing the subjugation of the women in DOS (“Master of Obedient Women”). As the series follows the explosive NXIVM trial, even Salzman is forced to admit that the company had rotten foundations: “Going into this, I thought Keith was innocent. I was wrong.”
But given her high-ranking membership within NXIVM and her closeness to Raniere, one can’t help doubt her sincerity. “I wonder if she’s really waking up, or just trying to save herself,” ponders Mark Vicente, a prominent figure from the first season. It’s a good question—and a fascinating subject for a documentary.