The Vow: Ep. 9 “The Fall”

Last episode we got some good insight to how Keith feels about women and it’s about what you’d expect. Catherine, Sarah, and Mark all met with the FBI.

We open with archival footage of Mark setting up a camera to film Keith. A woman futzes with Keith’s hair. Keith then tells us he wrote a fable once about a “mighty king” who ruled with torture and fear to create obedience. If there was obedience, there was peace. The price of that for the people was the loss of their identities. So they became nothing more than slaves, “almost like cattle.” Yet, if the king were to kill everyone he would be stuck having to do all the work. So, the people had a certain kind of power. Even if the people didn’t have all the weapons or violence that the king had, more than likely the people would prevail if they rose up against him. Intro

We are at Catherine’s house. Frank calls and tells her that Keith has not been seen anywhere in Albany for three weeks. Catherine informs the gang. “What a fucking coward,” says Sarah. They all try to figure out where he might have run off to. The possibilities are endless, because he has all that Bronfman money to finance wherever he wants to go. They all guess various places. Paris? Connecticut? Fiji? “I see him on a beach,” says Frank.

Emiliano Salinas.

A former ESPian sends video to Mark of Keith going on a walk in Monterrey, Mexico. Mark says they need to inform the FBI about Keith’s whereabouts. “There are thousands of loyal ESPians in Mexico,” Mark says. Emiliano Salinas is running an ESP center for example, and he is the son of former Mexican President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Mark calls him the JFK Jr. of Mexico. The point is, Keith has a lot of political clout there.

Bonnie, Mark and Catherine head out to Catherine’s friend Greg Hannley’s house. They are updating him about the situation with Keith. Mark tells him that law enforcement does not want the gang to do anything at all but to sit back and wait. Mark is frustrated.

Catherine says that India did not join Keith in Mexico and is in California actually. Catherine will be seeing her that afternoon. She is worried that India may take off to join Keith. Greg tells her to “reverse brainwash her.” Continuously relay the message until she eventually hears it. “And the message is?” asks Catherine. “Stop doing weird shit,” says Greg. He suggests Catherine ask her basic questions like: why is the FBI investigating him? If he’s so on the up and up and doing good things and helping people, why does he have to go on the run to Mexico?

We cut to Mark who tells us that in about 2009, Mexican members of Nxivm talked with Keith about the pressure they were under and the fear they lived with in their country. Kidnapping had become a professional business and there was incredible tension between the classes. Keith said that he could solve the problem. Mexican ESPians gathered in Albany to be lectured to by Keith and Mark filmed all of the meetings.

Mark says that Mexican ESPians “seemed to live in some kind of rarified air. A lot of money.” Reaching the most influential people in the country was part of the mission statement for the ESP center. It was believed that since the powerful and the wealthy influenced Mexican society and the lower classes did not, it was important to reach as many of the elite as possible. That way the ESP “education” would trickle down to the lower classes.

We see video of Keith lecturing the group. He tells them how much ten dollars means to a poor Mexican family and how measly and unimportant that amount of money is to the wealthy. He chides them harshly for their lack of consideration. He says they would spend that on drinks at a bar and in doing so metaphorically piss on these poor families. The wealthy need to learn to respect the power and privilege of their money.

Keith explains it all.

Keith had Mark follow him and the group back to Mexico to see what they would do with this information. “This thing will not work if you do not resolve the class struggle,” Keith says. Who knew? Thanks, Keith! He goes on. They have to be on the radio and in the news, day after day… talking about the class struggle in Mexico and how to resolve it.

Emiliano started a peace movement called “In Lak’ Ech”, in English, “you are my other me.” The movement grew and every Sunday at three p.m. thousands of people all over Mexico would recite a pledge of peace. “We’re going to reclaim Mexico from fear and violence,” we see Emiliano say in a public speech. Is this movement still thriving in 2020? I don’t know.

I am loathe to recap all of this. For one, it’s Keith doing his usual clap trap. “All violence traces back to a fear.” There is nothing uniquely insightful to anything that Keith says. If he was able to wake some people up who were living in a bubble of privilege and wealth, great. Doesn’t make up for the evil he has done. But mainly, it’s because from what I see, other than run his mouth as usual, he didn’t do anything. He’s like the great and powerful Oz handing out abilities to people they already have. He turned the real work over to Emiliano. Why should Keith get the credit?

Mark decided to make a film about the movement called “Encender El Corazon”, in English, “Ignite the Heart.” Mark got to know many great people with great stories to tell. One such man is Toni Zarattini. Toni was an ESPian which is where Mark met him initially. When Toni was a young man he had been kidnapped for ransom. His ears were cut off as well as one of his fingers. Toni managed to escape his kidnappers. Mark says he is a hero and a great man. Toni had been a coach in ESP before he left the organization. When he found out that one of his female friends was in DOS and had been branded “he was horrified,” Mark says. Toni has been battling against the entire Mexican ESP community ever since.

Toni talks by phone with Mark. They agree that if the US brings an indictment against Keith it will put on the pressure in Mexico and perhaps Keith’s crimes will be brought to light. Mark wonders if the authorities in America have enough for a case.

We cut to Catherine driving in her car as she tells us that she met with India. On the one hand she was so grateful to be able to see her and she was able to “plant a lot of stuff.” On the other hand, it was like planting seeds in granite. She says that she “can see how [India’s] morality has been bent.” In regards to people breaking the law, India doesn’t think she has done anything wrong. Catherine told her she knows that she would never knowingly do anything to break the law, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t. When Catherine asked her why Keith felt the need to flee, India said it was because a lot of people don’t like him. India believes that Mark and Bonnie are the masterminds behind everything that has been happening. “What we’re up against is such darkness,” says Catherine, getting emotional.

We cut to Catherine giving Bonnie and Mark a long hug good-bye outside of her house. The two are flying out to Albany. We cut to Mark and Bonnie driving. Bonnie tells us that they put all of their belongings in storage when they left Nxivm and moved back to LA. Now that Keith is gone, they feel safe to go back and retrieve their stuff. The couple pull up to Toni Natalie’s house. She’s having them over for dinner first so they can talk.

They sit down to dinner and Toni admits that they used to feel like enemies to her. She is so glad they have woken up. She wants to know how hard Keith tried to split up Bonnie and Mark. “Pretty hard,” says Bonnie. Toni thinks it’s a big deal that Mark left, given how close he and Keith were. Keith loses his mind when he loses people close to him, Toni tells them.

After dinner, Toni reads a letter on her computer that she had written to Mark. She had sent it, but he never got it. In the letter Toni advises Mark “to temper how much of your good deeds you attribute to Keith Raniere. By attributing your goodness to Raniere, you give him credit. And worse yet, credibility where none is due.” She urges Mark to be brave enough to investigate Keith’s past and present, because if he were to do so, he would see he was being conned. Toni gets emotional when she reads the conclusion of the letter where she tells Mark that if he is unwilling to look at Keith objectively then he must ask himself why. “You did, though” Toni says. “Finally,” says Mark.

Later at night Bonnie and Mark drive to the neighborhood of their old townhouse. They tell the filmmakers that they are most likely being watched as it is typical for ESPians to have cameras set up for security. Bonnie, sounding a tad paranoid, says that someone is probably monitoring them and Keith could be looking at them right now from where he is in Mexico. She’s afraid they could possibly be served if anyone knows where they are.

As we watch Bonnie walk, tensely smoking a cigarette, we hear her say in voiceover how back in the day Keith would test her to see how submissive she would be. He would call her at three in the morning to go for walks with him. “And I just jumped right out of bed and went, like it was an honor.”

We hear recorded conversation between them on one of their walks. Keith asks her if she believes she is a hard worker. Bonnie says yes, when it is worth it to her to be so. She tells Keith that it seems he is proposing she drop any plans she has and just move to Albany. “Well…” says Keith in a snotty voice. The tone of voice is irritated teacher to failing student. He says something about if she doesn’t want the answer, be respectful enough to not ask the question. “For you to say I am proposing that is either an excuse or a misconstruance [sic],” he tells her. Bonnie tells him she doesn’t want to make excuses, but she is feeling a lot of fear. Keith tells her to get over it, because it’s not that hard. Then her tells her that she is being too controlling. If you listen to the whole conversation he is just mind fucking her. One minute he tells her to hurry up and get over whatever she’s feeling. The next he tells her she is being too controlling with her emotions, because she isn’t bawling her head off.

Bonnie tells us that on other walks he would test her to see how obedient she was. He once told her to run into a tree. When she stopped short of smashing herself into it, he judged her for being protective of her body. Bonnie says she felt ashamed. Another time he had her lick a puddle, because he told her she was too fastidious. She obeyed. She tells us that she was trying to open herself up to his teaching and let down her guard. “I think I failed whatever his tests were.” It would have been cool if failing his tests meant that she turned around and kicked his ass.

We cut to archival footage of Keith and Mark in 2009, watching a rough cut of Mark’s film “Encender El Corazon.” Keith tells Mark the section where Emiliano gives a history of the movement lacks the “emotional tenor” needed to be interesting to an audience. Keith calls it too intellectual. Keith then watches some footage of himself where he is talking to members of the movement. “Great. I don’t give a shit,” he says to Mark. He says the film, as it is, would be fine for the wealthy and educated people of Mexico, but that is not who they are trying to reach. Keith concludes that Mark needs to rethink his approach.

Mark tells us that Keith could really make people feel shitty about themselves. The result was that people felt like they “owed so much more than what they were giving.” “He really worked Emiliano,” by making him feel guilty for the power and corruption of his family. Keith was good at convincing him that he had a lot to atone for. “The same thing he did with Clare and Sara as well,” Mark says.

It’s the next day and we cut to Bonnie and Keith as they head to a coffee shop. The filmmakers were allowed inside the store so, customers drinking coffee ask about the reason for the filming. Mark gives them a very fast rundown. Someone asks what the name of the organization is and when Mark tells them Nxivm, many of them recognize the name. One woman had a meeting with some Nxivm people once and says she could see how entrenched they were and dedicated to their “mission.” Sure sounds like typical ESPians. To her, it seemed obvious that it was a cult. The woman says she is “way too aware” to ever get sucked into such a thing. To that I say, if the offer is up your alley… Everyone is susceptible to a con if it’s sold right, in my opinion.

As Mark, Bonnie and the coffee shop customers continue to chat, we hear Bonnie say in voice over that dealing with the shame is very hard. Bonnie tries to explain to them that it’s not a question of being stupid or bad; she thinks of herself and Mark as good and sensitive people. “You’re really very trusting people,” one woman says. “Not anymore,” Mark and Bonnie say.

Next the pair drive out to the storage facility that has all their belongings. “Oh, geez,” says Bonnie when she sees how much stuff there is. Bonnie shows off her Star Wars action figure. Mark shows off the book he wrote named after his documentary, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” “It’s a lot of shit to go through,” he says.

Bonnie says that she has some old “modules” as she holds up some paper work. One is called “Shifter.” I can’t really grasp what it’s about. Something about it being a strategy that has to do with “an unlimited form of cheating.” Is that a good thing according to Keith or bad? I can’t tell. Another piece of paper has the vocabulary words of ESP with their definitions. Bonnie reads to us the definition of a “suppressive person.” It’s a person who wants to destroy anything good they see. Bonnie tells us that after she left Nxivm she was called suppressive. Another module was called “The Fall.”

The Fall

Keith is explaining Satan’s motivation in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” during a lecture. He tells the group how Lucifer sought to destroy out of envy and jealousy for man’s perfection. I have never read the poem myself and I have my doubts about Keith’s summary only because Keith projects everything. It’s projectile vomit, he projects so much. I know there are some similarities between Milton’s Satan and the one written in Genesis. However, I also know he is a complex character in Milton’s version and defiance of God is a major theme (thanks Spark’s notes!), not jealousy for man’s perfection. My point is, it is a notoriously difficult read and I have my doubts that Keith has done so. Not that he would let that stop him from acting as if he had. The point the filmmakers are making in including this clip is: is Keith talking about Satan or is he just talking about himself?

We cut to Bonnie who describes “The Fall” as a state of being where if a person’s self worth bottoms out, they discover they can do things that can make them feel better and that is by hurting people. Such a person, according to Keith, is called a Luciferian. In video footage Nancy tells us that a Luciferian is the worst thing a person can be, because they look and act like normal human beings, but they aren’t at all.

We cut to Keith describing the state of a Luciferian to Emiliano. They wake up in the morning with an ache and they feel vengeful. The only way a Luciferian can relieve their pain is by going out and destroying.

We then cut to Mark who is still going through his belongings at the storage facility. Bonnie has gotten immersed in reading the old modules she found. She tells us that Keith had a fascination for psychopaths and evil people in general.

We cut to video footage of Keith yakking to Mark about such people. “If Luciferic people didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them,” says Keith. “It’s a real partnership.” We then cut to Keith lecturing Emiliano some more saying that it could be argued that Luciferians are “genetically superior people,” because they aren’t “burdened” by a conscience. Leave it to a sociopath to think sociopaths are genetically superior.

Keith continues to ramble on. Sociopaths have a greater degree of freedom than an empathy feeling person. Everything is like a video game to them. “The truth of the matter is, sociopaths have made us what we were [sic]. If it weren’t for sociopaths we wouldn’t understand compassion.” That is just off. Awwwwwwff. P.S. I can never tell, in footage I have seen in this doc, if Emiliano is genuinely fascinated by Keith’s blathering or borderline bored. To me, it often looks like he is trying not to fall asleep.

Bonnie tells us that she thought the motivation behind Keith’s fascination with evil was to better understand how to protect people from it. But now, Bonnie thinks he just put everything in plain sight.

In voice over, as we look at close ups of Keith’s ugly mug, Mark tells us that he loved Keith and was afraid of him at the same time. We then cut to footage of Mark and Keith talking together in a gym. Mark admits to Keith that he sometimes has suppressive thoughts towards him. Keith gets all excited, “Suppressing in what way? You want to kill me, or?” Mark hesitates a little, but admits that sometimes he feels uncomfortable and just wants to get away from him. Mark’s gut was screaming at him, no doubt. Keith almost seems disappointed that Mark’s thoughts weren’t more dramatic when he says, “Well examine them. See where they come from.”

We do a cut to present day where Mark is grappling with a lot of emotions. Getting choked up, Mark says it’s like he looked straight into Hell and got stuck there. “I feel super fucked up.” This is one of the things I like about Mark in this doc. He just puts his feelings out there.

Mark tells us that he found a document on his computer. It was a story concept Keith had written about a man who was running a corporation who was being mentored by another guy. The man running the corporation comes to realize that there is a psychopath loose “within the system who is trying to destroy everything. The punchline in the end is that he realizes that his mentor, who he thought was a good guy, is the psychopath.”

Mark was horrified to read it knowing that it was Keith telling him exactly what he was about. “It was like, ‘you fucker.’ Ten years ago you showed me exactly what you were gonna do to me.” Mark thinks that for Keith it was fun to know how much hurt he would cause. “It was the best practical joke ever,” Mark says.

It’s something to think about. Is Keith someone who was consciously fucking with people or is he completely oblivious to his own evil? It reminds me of that line in the movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” “Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head? You never meet anybody who thinks they’re a bad person.”

Encender El Corazon. Production call. Seventh year of production.

Mark is talking on the phone to Keith about how Keith’s hair changes throughout the various reels of footage. Mark wants to know if Keith wants to get rid of the scenes with his long hair altogether? Keith says ideally, yes. Strategically, he tells Mark, he looks less like a crazy cult leader to people who would be inclined to see him that way. He also doesn’t like that it looks so messy. Since there will be reshoots, might as well do as many as he can.

We see old footage of Keith giving his lectures and then new footage. Clip by clip he is able to repeat the same lectures, the same way, almost word for word, though it has been years since he initially gave them. It is creepy as fuck. We then see a woman holding cue cards for Keith. Ohhh, that explains it. So instead it just makes Keith look fake as fuck, especially when it is obvious he is manufacturing his passion and outrage. He is a performer and he is full of shit. Nothing he says comes from a genuine place.

We cut to footage of Toni Zarattini sitting for a reshoot during this same time period. Keith wanted Toni to give greater tribute to him this time. Toni says that as a survivor of violence he understands how hard it is for Keith being a victim of unfair attacks by enemies. Mark offers suggestions on what else he can say about Keith. Toni looks nervous sometimes and a bit tired. Unlike Keith, who relishes every chance he can to run his mouth and perform, Toni isn’t feeling these reshoots.

We cut back to Mark who says, looking back, he was an obedient servant. We then hear recorded conversation between Mark and Keith. Mark is saying he is struggling with the wounds of injustice and immorality. Keith counters that there is no such thing as injustice. (Except when it comes to Keith getting whacked by a little girl and her bucket, para. 3.) Keith thinks there is only cause and effect. He posits that Mark is facing the question of whether or not morality means anything. “When you abandon all good truly, you will come to a point where you must construct it.” Keith says that is the basis of the whole Nxivm curriculum, constructing a definition good.

We cut back to Mark present day and he says he knows that Keith got pleasure from the hurt he has caused. He is really struggling with the pain he is still feeling as well as knowing the pain his friends and wife are still feeling, too. He is certain this gives Keith joy.

We cut to Mark and Bonnie who have driven to Silver Bay which is where V-week used to be held. Bonnie says she does have some good memories from her time there. Mark tells us it’s quite beautiful during the fall season. We see archival footage of shiny happy people during various V-weeks.

Mark and Bonnie in present day receive a call from a former ESPian who tells them that Keith has been arrested. He is in FBI custody and will be extradited to Texas and then to Brooklyn. Why Brooklyn? I don’t know. Anyway, they can’t believe it. They send out a massive group text to all of the “rebels”, as Bonnie calls them, informing them of the news. Sarah is crying from joy. Toni Natalie is thrilled and can’t believe it. Catherine can’t speak she is so excited. Toni Zarattini films himself in a store in Mexico, holding a newspaper, where Keith’s arrest has made the front page. We see a clip of a news program talking about the arrest.

We then cut back to Monterrey where we see footage of Keith’s arrest. He is brought out in handcuffs and put in a police car. Nicki Clyne and others are there. Nicki says that they will follow him in another car. We cut to Catherine who is laughing about the shot that someone sent her of Keith in the backseat of the police car. “They fucking got him,” says Mark giving Bonnie a hug.

Next we cut to news footage of Nancy Salzman’s house, which is being searched by the FBI, though Nancy was not home when the FBI arrived.

We then cut to the courthouse in Brooklyn were Keith is being arraigned. We hear the judge say that he is ordering a permanent order of detention.

We then see footage of Keith’s lawyers talking to the press outside of the courthouse. They say that of course he is pleading not guilty and he will have his day in court. Further, Keith did not “flee” to Mexico and that will be explained at the appropriate time.

We then see Toni Natalie talking to a reporter who asks her what her thoughts are on Keith maintaining his innocence. “He is a sociopath. Of course he is going to maintain his innocence,” she says matter-of-factly.

Catherine tells a reporter, “It’s very hard to be in the courtroom, because my daughter is a victim of this man.”

Sarah and Nippy watch the news from Vancouver as Keith’s lawyers say that everything that has happened was consensual. They look angry at that.

We see Allison Mack leaving court and a reporter says she is in “a world of hurt,” because she is facing charges of sex trafficking and forced labor. She looks like a little girl with her hair up in a pony tail, wearing a jean jacket and backpack, clinging to her lawyer. I am not convinced she wasn’t aware of the impression she was giving with her appearance.

Clare Bronfman is seen coming out of court looking mildly annoyed. Her bail was set at 100 million.

Nancy Salzman is hounded by photogs when she leaves court with her lawyer. She looks tense. I can’t think of a word to best describe her expression when she is asked why she thinks she was arrested with Raniere. Just fucking pissed, I guess.

Lauren Salzman comes out of court and her expression is… removed, I would say. Unhappy, tense, remote.

We cut to an old video of Nancy Salzman where she says that she wanted to have Keith as her mentor and the one requirement he made was that it would have to be for the rest of her life. “A vow,” Keith says to her in some more old footage we see. “A vow,” Nancy repeats back to him.

In voice over, Nancy says that loyalty, depending on context, can be a very good or very bad thing. That’s for damn sure. We see old clips of Nancy with Keith and it is clear that she loves (loved?) him.

We then cut to a shot of her at home wearing an ankle monitor. Obviously she will be featured in season 2 of “The Vow.” This is a teaser shot though, because we only see her legs and her hands holding the gold scarf she used to wear as “Prefect.” She says something about getting lost in the movie of your life. I can’t tell if this is a voice over from old footage or her saying that in present day. It doesn’t really matter. We have to wait till next season to hear from her perspective.

September 2020

We cut to outside shot of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. The filmmakers have called Keith. We hear him say that a documentary can be shallow or deep depending on how much truth the filmmakers want to present. “So, talk to me,” says Keith in a voice that makes it sound like he is in the power seat of making a deal. Which he’s not of course, but his facade is firmly in place. End.

Season 2 coming in 2021. Probably not until the end of the year.

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