|Music by||Mac Quayle|
|Opening theme||"Dream State (Brighter Night)" by Bonnie Piesse & Son Lux|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||9|
|Running time||56-58 minutes|
|Original release||August 23, 2020 –|
The Vow is an American true crime documentary series directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer that revolves around the cult NXIVM and its leader Keith Raniere. The NXIVM documentary series premiered on August 23, 2020 on HBO.
In October 2020, The Vow was renewed for a second season.
The Vow follows members who joined the self-improvement group NXIVM – whose leader, Keith Raniere, was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy, among other crimes – and reveals the emotional toll of unfolding events. Former members Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Anthony "Nippy" Ames, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones and Toni Natalie appear prominently in the series, alongside journalists Frank Parlato who helped start initial reporting on the criminal activity of NXIVM, and New York Times reporter Barry Meier. Catherine Oxenberg appears in the series as she attempts to rescue her daughter, India Oxenberg.
The second season of the series will focus on Raniere's trial and a continued look inside his inner circle and ongoing supporters, and stories of leadership in the United States and Mexico, as supporters and defectors face off with federal prosecutors and defense attorneys. Clare Bronfman's sentencing was taped for the second season. NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, ongoing NXIVM supporter Nicki Clyne, and federal prosecutor Moira Kim Penza will appear in the season.
|No.||Title ||Directed by||Original air date ||U.S. viewers|
|1||"The Science of Joy"||Jehane Noujaim|
|August 23, 2020||0.342|
|August 30, 2020||0.338|
|3||"At Cause"||Jehane Noujaim|
|September 6, 2020[a]||0.341|
|4||"Building Character"||Omar Mullick||September 13, 2020||0.304|
|5||"Class 1 Data"||Jehane Noujaim|
|September 20, 2020||0.362|
|6||"Honesty & Disclosure"||Karim Amer|
|September 27, 2020||0.318|
|7||"Blame & Responsibility"||Jehane Noujaim|
|October 4, 2020||0.257|
|8||"The Wound"||Jehane Noujaim|
|October 11, 2020||0.266|
|9||"The Fall"||Jehane Noujaim|
|October 18, 2020||0.360|
Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer initially did not set out to make a documentary series on the show, but after Noujaim took a NXIVM course after being recruited by Sara Bronfman, they had begun to hear about abuse within the organization and began documenting. Editors on the project suggested Noujaim participate as a subject in the series, however, since she only took two weeks of classes compared to other participants in the series, she felt it would not be right. Noujaim and Amer planned to split the story in two parts, with the first part focusing on those who left the cult, with the second focusing on the legal aspect.
Production on the series began in 2017, initially focusing on Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Anthony Ames, and Catherine Oxenberg as a way to document their escape from NXIVM as they were fearful of being sued by Clare Bronfman, and wanted to protect themselves by having it taped. Oxenberg filmed with Noujaim and Amer for a year-and-a-half before reuniting with her daughter, India Oxenberg, who throughout the first season, she attempts to rescue. Oxenberg decided to split from the production in fear her daughter would not reunite with her with cameras around. India Oxenberg decided not to participate in the series as she was not ready at the time of production to share her story to any outlet. Cult expert Janja Lalich served as a consultant on the series.
The series additionally features archive footage and recordings of Keith Raniere, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Clare Bronfman, Sara Bronfman, Emiliano Salinas, Nicki Clyne, Marc Elliot, among others, which were shot by Vicente, as part of NXIVM's plan to document Raniere 24/7 for "future generations", and how "wise" he was.
In April 2019, it was announced the series had been greenlit by HBO, with HBO Documentary Films producing.
In September 2020, in an interview with Variety Noujaim stated "We reached out to everybody involved — many people, on all sides of the story — and we are continuing to film." On October 16, 2020, HBO renewed the series for a second season.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 80% based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 7.56/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Though The Vow's scope at times exceeds its reach, its empathetic approach to unpacking NXIVM's manipulations and the consequences therein make for necessary, difficult viewing." On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
In year-end best of 2020 television and documentary lists, The Vow found itself on the lists of The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Thrillist, Concrete Playground, and The Lineup. A number of reviews praised The Vow's intimate exploration, measured pace and extensive footage, but criticized its abstract storytelling and focus. In a positive review, Adrian Horton of The Guardian wrote that "as a portrait of manipulation and, in particular, the masking of female abuse through self-effacement, the series is darkly compelling, unnerving in a way that’s hard to shake," but conceded "[it] deceptively muddies the timeline of the group’s development."Variety's Daniel D'Addario wrote that "The Vow pushes back against its slack pace to become television that compels — both for the access it has and for what it does with that access." Richard Lawson writing in Vanity Fair, was critical stating: "The Vow meanders through the downward arc of a cult’s fall, but gives us little sense of its history." The A.V. Club's Ashley Ray-Harris was less impressed and attributed the "wasted nine hours" and selective content to the (former NXIVM) filmmakers' desire to "get ahead of the curve with their own narrative." Maureen Ryan of the New York Times, in an otherwise positive review described the series as "only scratch[ing] the surface" and "padded... repetitive."
The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and The Los Angeles Times listed the series as one of the best of 2020.
|1||"The Science of Joy"||August 23, 2020||0.07||0.342|
|2||"Viscera"||August 30, 2020||0.09||0.338|
|3||"At Cause"||September 6, 2020||0.06||0.341|
|4||"Building Character"||September 13, 2020||0.05||0.304|
|5||"Class 1 Data"||September 20, 2020||0.08||0.362|
|6||"Honesty & Disclosure"||September 27, 2020||0.09||0.318|
|7||"The Dossier"||October 4, 2020||0.06||0.257|
|8||"The Wound"||October 11, 2020||0.05||0.266|
|9||"The Fall"||October 18, 2020||0.07||0.360|