The Vow: Ep. 8 “The Wound”

These are the faces of people having to listen to Keith’s garbage.

Last episode we met Toni Natalie and Catherine compiled the evidence for the A.G. of Albany.

We open with video footage of Keith as a toddler. We hear him tell the story of when he was on the playground he was hit by a little girl with a bucket. When he tried to hit her back, he was punished. Keith tells the story as an allegory. It probably really happened and he has been seething about it ever since.

We then see from footage that Keith is telling this story at a Society of Protectors forum. He continues that it’s normally the dad or a brother that holds the little boy back from retaliating against the little girl on the playground. “And that first time that happens to us, it is injust [sic].”

He goes on saying that, because little kids don’t have the capacity for reason at such a young age a situation like that leaves what he calls “a wound.” For women, the wound is different. Ugh, here we go. Please tell us, wise one. For women, Keith says, our wound comes from being protected and put in a glass box. But then we women grow up and come up against the reality of no longer being so sheltered; it’s a shock. “The wound is she has been overprotected.”

For men their wound is very direct. And for their whole lives, they have been living with the sadness, the hurt, the ache of having to live being treated unfairly. Keith feels it is very necessary to come to grips with this “wound”, because if not, it can be “the foundation” of anger and hate towards women. Intro.

We open with Catherine leaving the A.G. She’s relieved and happy as she calls Frank and tells him that it looks like the FBI will be investigating. The focus will be on DOS and they want to speak to witnesses right away.

In the next scene we are back in LA at Catherine’s house with Mark and Bonnie. Catherine prepares dinner as she tells them that she left a message for India letting her know that she needed to leave Nxivm. It now was under investigation for human trafficking. Bonnie says the problem is that India still trusts Keith. Catherine says that while they are starting with DOS, the investigation will expand once they have begun to compile the necessary evidence. While Catherine is talking, Mark and Bonnie are petting Catherine’s two white fluffy Persians. Catherine also has a white fluffy dog. I think it’s kind of weird when people buy from breeders so they can stick to a certain color palette.

They continue to talk after dinner and come to the conclusion that the #metoo movement has been a big help in getting the wheel of justice rolling. Before, the situation with DOS had been dismissed as consensual. Now the issue of coercion is being looked into. Catherine says, “members of Nxivm had been conditioned to accept that type of mistreatment.” That conditioning made it so that things like DOS became normalized. Keith and Bonnie very much agree. Catherine recommends handing over examples of Keith’s forums and his curriculum. Mark says he has a lot of footage, too.

We cut to footage of Keith at his house in Albany talking about brainwashing. Keith says that people who fear that sort of thing happening in his program shouldn’t join. Pam (ironically) nods when Keith says people that worry about things like that would be better off with a therapist or something. Keiths says that if someone has a heart attack while in a Wal-mart do they blame Wal-mart for the heart attack? How is that related to something deliberate like brain washing and coercion? It’s not, but Keith thinks he’s slick. He has an answer for everything. Their house is a fucking pigsty by the way.

We cut to Bonnie going through her computer files to gather evidence for the FBI. She says that the more she looks over everything the more she realizes Keith’s programs were not a tool for growth, but a weapon.

We hear Keith in voice over as we see footage of him taking a walk. The camera films him front on as he strolls along, tossing his hair. We hear him say that he sees himself more credentialed as a scientist, though he admits, “I don’t have a lot of high level credentials.” Try none. Keith has no high level credentials. He graduated from RPI with a 2.26 grade point average. He thinks of himself as “a good scientific thinker. I’m an interesting person. I’m a controversial person. But most importantly, I’m an unconventional person.”

Pam and Allison.


“This is all a big experiment that we’re doing,”says Nancy in some footage from a Jness forum. Jness was the woman’s group that Keith started, Bonnie tells us. We cut to footage of Keith leading the enrollment meeting for the group. Pam—looking very ill as she had cancer by this time—and Allison listen intently as Keith says he is running this forum when he has no idea what it’s like to be a woman. Since when has he let not knowing something stop him from running his mouth? He wants someone to step up to lead the group. Allison blathers on about how women do best when they work together blah blah blah.

Bonnie says that Allison became the defacto leader for Jness which is why she never became too involved with the group. Bonnie didn’t like Allison that much. She felt pretty alone in that, because Allison was popular within Nxivm and had a pretty devoted fan club of women. Bonnie really didn’t like it when Allison would tell the younger women to count calories and lose weight. It seemed that Allison was getting rewarded and promoted within the company which confused Bonnie. Keith offered to run a mediation for the two women to ease tension.

We hear recorded conversation from the meeting. Keith asks Bonnie why she thinks Allison would need to “armor up with a fan club.” Bonnie goes straight in. “Probably a fear of being nothing? Or a fear of like, just something scary in there.” “My turn,” Allison quickly says. “I feel like Bonnie doesn’t like me. I feel like she’s never liked me,” she says on the edge of tears. “So, there’s this inner war of wanting to be loved and accepted and embraced by her, but then also feeling like… competition, competition, competition.”

We continue to hear the recorded conversation as we cut to footage of Allison walking in the woods with tears streaming down her face. Why? I don’t know. This is a woman who is usually very close to tears. It’s her default setting. Allison admits to feeling threatened by other women. She admits that she fears losing love if she thinks she doesn’t measure up. In present day, Bonnie tells us that women in DOS (like Allison), were using Jness as a way to recruit more women to join.

We cut to Mark and Bonnie organizing the stuff they want to bring to the FBI. Mark wants the investigators to understand that DOS is a reflection of a pattern within Nxivm. It took years of indoctrination for DOS to happen, Mark says.

We see various cuts of footage where Keith says what Mark describes as “pretty shocking stuff.” His misogyny was always right out in the open, but it was dismissed as Keith being “experimental.” In one shot Keith says straight up that women are less intelligent than men. In another, he says that men don’t see women as allies, because women aren’t reliable, loyal or trustworthy. “It’s like thinking a child is your ally,” he says. He is able to distance himself from such statements by speaking as if he is merely offering the male perspective. It’s not Keith that thinks this way, but men in general.

Mark goes on to explain what they were trying to accomplish in Jness, but I am too lazy to understand it really. Women were being “pushed” to have something something. I really don’t know. Some variation of being stronger and more independent? Anyway, many women in the group did feel their lives were better for having the support of this women’s group. Mark said he started to wish that men had something similar within Nxivm.

We see footage of a teenage Mark as he explains in voice over that growing up, he was kind of a “girly guy” who didn’t understand or relate to machismo and traditional examples of masculinity. Consequently, relating to his male peers was not easy for him. Didn’t Mark go to British boarding school? That must have been a nightmare. Anyway, as a result of these struggles, Mark feels he never really developed a clear idea of what kind of man he wanted to be. Mark told Keith that, “Men need education too. Men need an understanding of themselves.”


Keith came up with the “Society for Protectors” or SOP. In an intro SOP video, Keith explains that men are meant to be the protectors of society. “We are the doers. The providers. We’re the protectors.” But “unfortunately” the world has become more and more comfortable. Why unfortunately? Comfortable in what way? And compared to when? The 1600’s? Keith says that as a result of becoming more comfortable men are “literally just boys in adult male bodies.” Keith feels that even in our “sedentary” lifestyle, there is a part of us that “rises to the occasion. To stand for something that’s important. And our group is such a thing.”

I’m only giving such detail in recapping this because this whole episode is about SOP/Jness and how it all goes completely off the rails. It’s interesting to see what Keith’s thinking was since it’s always so distorted, based in stereotype and shallow ideas. Mark went to the wrong man to get an idea of what kind of man to be, that’s for sure.

We cut to footage of the SOP Founders Weekend, 2012. Applause for Keith as he appears before the group. Keith says that masculinity, power and aggression are not bad things. In fact, they are some of the “wonderful benefits of being in a male body.” Men can subjugate emotions and comfort to serve a purpose.

We then cut to Mark who tells us that “readiness drills” were designed by Keith as a means to train the men. Train them for what? Who knows. But the point is, this same concept of readiness drills, subjugating comfort and emotions to serve a higher purpose was later used in DOS. We see footage where Keith says that “some day that call’s gonna come at 4:00 in the morning and are you ready?” Ready to fight the aliens. That’s what the call is going to be about, I think. Or maybe zombies.

We cut to a “SOP drill” early in the morning of a very cold day. Everybody is going to go running. We then cut back to Keith who says that “the only way you know you have character is when every fiber of your body, you’re screaming from pain, and yet you stay. Our commitment is our power.” Mark tells us there were punishments and penances if you fucked up. An example is planking for three minutes or something like that. It was about a code of conduct. SOP was designed to protect the world from evil. “But everything was designed to protect him,” Mark tells us.

We then cut to a forum where Keith talks about the male sex drive. You can guess what he has to say about that. “The primitive parts of us are hungry, fuckie beasties. I wanna fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He just goes on and on in this vein. The best experience for men, Keith says, is when a man can do “whatever he wants and a woman likes it. That’s acceptance.” Mark found this kind of talk superficial and wondered when they could get to the deeper stuff. Keith told him that it was necessary to clear out the “base issues” that get repressed before they could get to the “higher aspirations.”

Here’s the setup. “When the curriculum angers you, it means that there is a fear underneath,” Keith says in voice over. What a simple and effective way to absolve himself from any accountability. Any issues you have with what he teaches is merely indicative of a problem you need to work on.

We cut to Vancouver. Sarah is playing with her son who says he wants to be a dinosaur. Sarah tells him she’s his dinosaur mommy, but it’s “mummy,” because Sarah is Canadian. Very sweet scene. A nice break from Keith’s crap.

Sarah is packing for Nippy and herself and she tells us ESP was never able to cure her of her tendency to overpack. Nippy is headed to LA to visit with Mark and Sarah is headed to New York to talk with the FBI. She tells us she is nervous. “It’s like looking back on an old relationship and reliving every painful component of it.”

Sarah tells us she is going to submit her phone calls with Lauren. We hear a recorded conversation where Lauren calls DOS a “powerful tool for women.” Sarah tells Lauren that she has to focus on fixing her marriage. Lauren says that DOS wasn’t about Nippy; Sarah was trying to gain something for herself. “Besides,” Lauren says, “you guys are having problems. You’ve had this brand for months and he hasn’t seen it.” She goes on to say that there is a “certain intimacy” that is “lacking” in their relationship. DOS was for Sarah to “build some self-esteem,” she says.

Sarah tells us she has nude photos of someone in her computer and she wonders if she should hand them in to the FBI as evidence? She reads a blurb from an email from Lauren where it’s filled with the sexist trope about how women can “get out of anything” if they want to, because we always have “wiggle room.” Lauren goes on to say that women are weak princesses who have no character.

We cut to footage of Keith who is giving another lecture. He tells the audience that they are a bunch of princes and princesses. Princes slay dragons and the women look pretty without achieving anything else. That’s how we look at each other, says Keith. But men have hardship that women don’t understand and yes, women have hardships, too that men don’t get, he says.

Jness Tracks: Co-ed Jness

It was around 2012, Sarah tells us, when Jness opened up to include men in the group. It was pitched as an opportunity for men and women to understand each other better and to figure out why they don’t get along. In voice over Keith starts talking about the Stanford prison experiment. The roles the students played as prisoners and guards were mutually reinforcing and after six days the experiment had to be stopped because it became so abusive. Keith says that it serves as a metaphor for the way men and women relate to each other. Clearly, it is very dark in Keith’s head.

Nippy explains that the goal was to talk about the dysfunctional behaviors of both sexes so that as a group they could move beyond that to a healthier way of relating to each other. But this is Keith so everything is reduced to the most basic ugly stereotypes. Women can’t control their emotions; they do what they “feel” versus rather than what is right. And men are brutish machines.

In one clip, Keith asks the audience if it’s okay if he says things that are “inflammatory.” “I have to get in the right frame of mind for this,” Keith says, as he makes a big show of it. Because nothing he is going to say is actually indicative of Keith’s mindset. Oh, no. Never.

“Do you understand why we hate you? Do you understand why your obnoxious [sic] bothers? Why all your little whining and complaining… and all this garbage you do… and it’s just all a bunch of crap. Male perspective.” Uh-huh. Keith says he’s not saying that all of that is true, it’s just what men think is true. He continues, “You’re outrageously entitled, you’re spoiled, and no, you don’t earn shit. Do you get it? So, when you go and put on those tears, there is a part of us that absolutely. Hates. You.”

Omigod, he just goes on and on. Women are to blame for all of men’s miseries and women are just adult babies thwarting men at every turn. He starts talking about when men are little boys and just wanting mommy’s love and this and that. If men take women’s power away and hold them as prisoners, according to Keith, women hold men as prisoners too, using sex as a way to control them. Keith was just projecting all over the damn place. It’s a pity no one ever said that he needed to get some real therapy. Like, dude, this needs to happen: psychiatrist, couch, you.

Sarah tells us that the women in the group honestly thought these lectures were a way to become more aware of the things women do that weren’t constructive. We cut to Bonnie who says that the further everyone went into the curriculum the more misogynistic it got all in the name of empowerment.

We hear a recording of Keith humiliating Lauren. He tells her the outfits she wears are to get the attention of men and that a lot of what she does disempowers her. “You dress in a way that brings attention to you,” he says to her. Then to the men in the group he says, “she wants all the men to know she’s a women so we’ll all protect her. And, we have to protect her.” It’s nonsense. Especially since most women don’t dress for men. Most women dress for women.

A video clip shows Lauren wearing a dress that comes down to her knees. She is also wearing tall rubber rain boots. It completely contradicts what Keith said about the way she comes across. Lauren has her own style, but in video footage throughout this entire series it is not what would be described as attention grabbing. Unless you have a thing for rubber boots. Don’t let me shame you.

In voice over we hear Allison say that after visiting Syria she realized how fortunate North Americans are that they can talk as openly as they do about things. Keith has an opinion about that too, of course. “In North America, we’re providing even more of a princess fantasy. But, we still want to fuck you the same way,” he says in a nasty tone. Allison thanks all the men “for being so honest.”

We hear a recorded lecture where Keith calls Sarah a cock tease for “smiling too much.” When he says things like this he always asks the men in the audience if he is right and from the sound of it, there tends to be at least some agreement. Affirmed by the men in the group, Keith says to Sarah, “I’m just pointing it out.” Sarah tells us that because good intent was assumed from Keith, stuff like this was taken as an opportunity for growth.

We see video footage of Sarah and Bonnie both talking about how much they have benefited from Jness. Sarah feels stronger and more independent as a woman. Bonnie appreciates Mark more and also feels more appreciated by him. “It’s so much more loving.” she says.

We cut to Allison talking about her many many years being wracked with insecurity and confusion covered up with ego and pride. Now she feels so much more hopeful. Sarah tells us that she was close to Allison, but then Allison put her career on hold to move to Albany. Keith was going to help her grow as a person. Initially she came across as confident when she joined Nxivm, because her many years of being a successful actress made her feel self-assured. But Keith made it a point to “break” anyone he saw as having too much pride or arrogance.

We then see footage of Allison paying tribute to Keith at V-week. As is typical, she is near tears. In voice over, Keith describes pride as a cover up “for an inner deficiency of lovability.” Say what now? He goes on to say that a prideful person believes that of themselves even if it’s not true. That makes more sense. It’s not terribly insightful though. Who doesn’t know that pride can be a cover up for insecurity? Sarah tells us that once Keith “broke” a person they became much “more susceptible to being molded.” No doubt. Poor Allison. She just opened her brain and invited Keith right in.

Ugh. We see a video of Keith and Allison talking. Keith is telling her that love comes from sacrifice and pain. Sure, love can be joyful and happy, Keith says, “but we know it through our pain. And if you have a fear of pain, you have a fear of knowing your own love.” Sarah says that Allison went “straight in and never came back.”

Sarah tells us about the time she asked Allison to come to her wedding and Allison said she had to check with Keith first to ask if it was okay. “Is he your dad?” Sarah joked. Allison told her it was to curb her from making so many impulsive decisions. When Sarah left Nxivm she texted Allison:

We cut to Mark, Bonnie and Catherine meeting in an underground garage to update each other. One of the filmmakers jokes they are like Woodward and Bernstein. “We’re deep-throating it,” jokes Catherine. She is a bit black humored and this comes up a bit later in the episode where it causes a bit of a clash with Mark. Catherine informs them that she really thinks Allison is going to be arrested for sex trafficking.

Sarah is flying out to New York to talk to the FBI. She feels as a once high ranking member of Nxivm, as well as a member of DOS, she has a unique insight to how things were run. Sarah says that she sees Lauren as a victim of Keith, but also someone who has done “awful” things.

Driving to the airport (?) Nippy says he failed to call out Keith for his shit. He got played. Nippy feels complicit. Once in LA, he and Mark go for a walk where they talk about SOP. Mark says that at the time it made him feel purposeful. Nippy says he feels embarrassed that he was a part of it. Mark says Keith used their reputations to shore himself up. “He was a judo champion at age 11,” Nippy says derisively, since Keith probably lied about that. “I bought it though,” says Mark. “We fucked up,” says Nippy. Both Nippy and Mark are struggling with the fact that they aided and abetted Keith.

We cut to footage of Keith in a Jness Lesson Planning meeting. He is saying that “abuse is a made-up human construct… the screaming of abuse is abuse in itself.” Except if abuse is a construct then that doesn’t make sense, Keith. Haha. It only counts as abuse if Keith is the one being screamed at, I would venture. He says that the notion of victim must be gotten rid of though he acknowledges that “there are things that are terribly wrongful.” But according to Keith, only the individual decides if they are a victim. It’s their choice.

SOP Complete

Mark tells us that Keith decided to open up SOP to women. This group would be called SOP Complete. The purpose was for women to know what it was like for little boys growing up. So, Jness Tracks was for women to understand how they piss men off. Now SOP Complete was for women to understand even more from the male perspective. Awesome.

We see video of Keith asking the women in the group “how bad they want [SOP Complete] to be.” They hoot and holler and say they want it “rough.” Bonnie says the women knew it was going to be a “rough run”, but they all thought it would ultimately be something helpful to understand men more.

We see video footage of women being instructed by Mark to do a wall sit. Hey! I do those. I wimp out on them though. Anyway, Sarah tells us that Keith told them that men get their pride broken playing sports whereas women don’t experience that which makes them prideful and princess-y. The women were agreeing to submit to the men being in charge. “Not unlike the Stanford Prison Experiment,” says Sarah, “Let’s put people in these roles and see where it will go.” We see some men telling a group of women to get into plank positions.

In footage we see Keith tell the group that when men look at women they see a bunch of little kindergartners. Then for some odd reason he has a woman come up and stand next to him. He abruptly yells in her face. When she doesn’t flinch he says, “She’s pretty good!” He has her do the same to him and then mocks her for not being scary enough. It’s just pointless and idiotic.

We watch footage of women in a SOP forum having to do various physical exercises as we hear Sarah say in voice over that the women in the group didn’t want to be princess-y; they wanted to be strong and disciplined.

Keith lectures that when boys are little if they are small they get picked on and picked on some more. If they tell, they get picked on even more. Aha, here is the root of all of Keith’s pathology! We cut back to a SOP meeting where a man says, “So remember, this is to help.”

Sarah says that in one meeting she was brought to the front of the group and given a ribbon for “best display of ass” because her jeans were too tight. Bonnie tells us that the men were allowed to dole out punishment for basically anything at all. We see footage of one man asking some other guys if it’s okay to “fault” a woman if she calls him out for something. “Yes,” replies one man. “She shouldn’t be making you feel bad.” They crack up.

We see more footage of meetings. The women are referred to by the numbers they are wearing on their shirts instead of their names. “Fault number 47 and 41 for nagging me,” says one man. It becomes obvious that the meetings are becoming, as Sarah said, like the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Keith says that women have to learn to yield like men always do. “Little boys have to yield to adults and to women and to all little girls,” he says. Wow, is Keith one bitter bitch or what? Holy cow. I love that women are separate from adults in Keith’s mind. He’s consistent at least.

We see more footage of the men in the SOP meetings faulting the women left and right for stupid things. It’s relentless. It’s obvious, too, that some of the men are enjoying the freedom to abuse this power they have been given. Bonnie says that while some men really got off on the power trip, for others, it was very uncomfortable and hard for them.

Mark tells us that he can argue that he wasn’t one of the assholes, but he showed up for the groups anyway. He says that he talked to Keith about it. We hear a recorded phone call where Mark tells Keith that some of the women and men are feeling bad and a bit sad. Keith chides him (including any of the other men who feel bad, too) for not doing what is required to help people. Keith tells Mark that it’s weak and immature that they aren’t willing to do what is being asked of them.

Mark explains that one of the ways that Keith was able to get his followers to participate in these bizarre experiments is by acting as if he didn’t want things to go wrong. He would tell them to not get lost in their roles, but then he would insist that they play the roles to the hilt. He used the Stanford Prison Experiment as one example of what could go wrong and what not to do, but then he would have the same set up. Sarah thinks that in situations like SOP Complete, it was a chance for Keith to see just how much power he had over people and who he could manipulate.

We see Keith tell the women that Level 10 of a SOP Complete forum would be something they couldn’t handle. For example, he says if a woman wears a tight shirt that shows off her breasts or whatever “all the guys will grab them.” Nobody listening to him objects to the insanity of this. “That’s a 10?” asks one woman. “That’s what happens to little boys,” says Keith. We see one woman in a meeting say that she realizes now that the young men who bullied her in high school were having the same hard time that she was. Wonderful. What growth to identify with one’s abusers. Ugh.

Back in LA, Mark and Bonnie go to Catherine’s house. They greet her white fluffy dog Fuji. He’s really cute. Catherine tells the filmmakers of the time she spent the night at Bonnie and Mark’s house in Albany (this was obviously before they all knew that Nxivm was a cult). She saw a large dog bed next to Bonnie and Mark’s bed. She was confused, because she wasn’t aware they had a dog. Bonnie starts to crack up. “Who the fuck is sleeping on the floor?” Catherine wondered at the time. “It was my penance,” says Bonnie. Catherine and Bonnie continue to discuss the situation with Bonnie saying she was probably proud of herself for being so disciplined. Bonnie had spoken out against Mark and she felt she deserved the punishment. Catherine is cracking up at the absurdity of it as Bonnie explains the thinking behind it all. “I will remember not to become a part of this community,” jokes Catherine. Mark looks very upset.

Bonnie’s face becomes sad when she says that she thought at the time “there was something wrong with me, because I didn’t like penance.” Mark asks her if she’s okay and she admits that she is starting to feel emotional. Catherine is not without sympathy. I think she just has, like I said, somewhat of a black sense of humor and that isn’t for everyone. It’s not mean hearted. It’s just a different way of coping. Mark says, “It’s so easy to shame you know? We’re not at the point where we can make fun of these things.” Mark has a lot of anger towards himself for thinking (at one time anyway) that it was okay for his wife to do that. “We didn’t join a cult. Nobody joins a cult,” says Mark emphatically. “They join a good thing and then realize they were fucked.” It was a slow boil, for sure.

This scene caused some controversy in certain pockets of the internet. Some people misrepresented it as Mark being the one that made Bonnie sleep on the floor, which is not how it went down. And some internet commentators said that Mark getting so upset at Catherine for laughing about it was proof that he feels super guilty about things he has done, but has continued to conceal. My feeling is that you can dislike Mark all you want, but I don’t think this scene is proof of anything other than exactly what we saw.

We cut back to Keith leading a forum and he is yelling at the women in the audience. He’s yammering about women’s selfishness and that women can never be as good as men “because we won’t let you.” We then hear recorded conversation where Allison is crying as Keith dissects her and tells her what she is. “Do you feel like you’re a bad person?” he asks her. She says yes and that there has to be something wrong inside of her- “Something different,” Keith cuts her off to say. “Good people do bad things all the time. I do bad things all the time.” Indeed you do, Keith. He blathers on, but I won’t bother.

NYC. Hotel room. Sarah is showing us her brand as she applies some cream to it. She’s joking around, pretending she is doing an ad for scar cream. “Would you like to get rid of your sex cult brand scar? This is how.” She and the filmmakers laugh. Later that night Sarah tells us she met with the FBI all day and gave them everything she knows about everything that went on.

We see Mark and Bonnie driving as Mark tells us in voice over that he and Bonnie are really struggling. Mark is trying hard to find some dignity in all of the damage and shame. Bonnie drops him off at FBI headquarters in LA. She tells him to not hold anything back. End.

Outro music is “Medicine” by Daughter

Next recap: The final of the season, episode 9 “The Fall.”

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