The Vow: Season 2, Episode 2 “Rapport”

Last episode, we heard all about Keith being arrested, the case against him and who else was being charged. We also met two loyalists of Keith’s, Nicki and Michele. We closed out the episode by learning that all of Keith’s co-defendants have pled guilty. All of them.

I read an interview in The Hollywood Reporter with one of the directors for The Vow, Jehane Noujaim. She said that in season 2, Nancy really goes through a gradual process of waking up and just grappling with the fallout from that.

“When I sat down with Nancy, she felt like she had done good, but she felt like she had made some grave mistakes, and she was open to speaking about the extent of the harm that had been done and to look at her involvement.”

“I don’t think she was in the same place when we began filming and when we finished filming two years later, because she was privy to the discovery that came out and information that was exposed during the trial, which caused her to reevaluate.”[1]

Clifton, New York

We are at home with Nancy. She is wearing an ankle monitor. In a resentful tone, she tells us she has been told it is a privilege that she is not in jail and is allowed contact with her daughters. Looking genuinely incredulous, Nancy asks us to imagine what it’s like to believe you are involved in a good thing only to find out people think it’s the devil’s work. Intro.

Nurse Nancy.

When we come back, Nancy tells us that she believes Keith chose her because of her background. Back in the day, she worked with people who had chronic pain and/or illness. This was inspired by her mother who suffered from debilitating pain throughout Nancy’s childhood. She became a nurse and through her explorations on the subject of pain management, Nancy discovered the mind/body connection. She taught people self-hypnosis and learned Neuro-linguistic Programming. I said this in a recap from last season, but NLP is considered to be a pseudoscience. If a person feels they got help with something using this method, it’s no skin off my nose. At the very least though, NLP deserves a bit of a side-eye.

Nancy says that NLP was “very, very successful” helping the people she worked with. It’s just that in a couple of years, those same people would come back suffering with a new problem that was “amazingly similar” to the one they had before. She doesn’t specify if she was still solely working with pain sufferers at this time. I get the impression she had branched out at some point and was working with people on a variety of issues. Anyway, because of this, Nancy began to focus on finding a way to help people solve their problems permanently.

Then Keith came into the picture. Back when he was still running his first criminal company, Consumer’s Byline, he wanted Nancy to come and train his employees in NLP. She turned him down due to a lack of confidence in herself. Ten years later, she was an empty-nester, divorced and alone. That’s when she decided she was ready to meet him. OMIGOD. She could not have chosen a worse time. Let’s get real, is there any good time to meet Keith? No. But she is saying during a period in her life when she felt vulnerable (I think it’s fair to say) and in transition, she decided to introduce herself to sociopath-con-artist-extraordinaire, Keith Raniere. What could go wrong?

Nancy found Keith very impressive; she can’t even explain what it’s like to meet someone like him. She felt he had an exceptional understanding of psychodynamics and “he worked with it.” She gives an example by talking about rapport. Rapport, she explains, is when a person feels connected with someone in such a way that it creates trust. By “mirroring” a person’s behavior, vibe, body language, volume of voice and so on, that sense of connection can be created in people. As a result, on a subconscious level, the person being “mirrored” feels trust. Nancy says Keith was a master at it. Oh, I bet he was.

Keith told Nancy he had an idea for a model for behavior change. He wanted to use NLP as the foundation of this model and build on it. They drew “charts of perception” and she found the discussion incredibly compelling. As with anyone he wants to quickly establish dominance over, Keith spent hours with Nancy during their initial meeting. For several weekends after, Nancy and Keith would talk. We hear little snippets of audio clips of some of the conversations Keith and Nancy have had. You can hear how seriously she took him, how much she deferred to him as the authority and expert.

Sometimes, after talking with Keith, Nancy felt like the ground was unsteady. She came to realize that as a result of these conversations her perspective had shifted. She felt so much more positive since meeting him. I’ve seen this episode a few times now and I still get a feeling of anxiety listening to her. My body is like, danger, danger, danger…

It’s her tone of voice. She conveys very well the sense of wonder she was feeling. She was so in awe of him. We know Keith is a sociopathic predator. She didn’t. And she just handed herself over, because he had already manipulated her into trusting him.

See, this is the problem. Predators always have the advantage, because they know what they are. Normal human beings don’t go around feeling wary about potentially meeting a sociopath. (Unless you’re using a dating app or something, but that’s another story.) Unless your spidey senses start tingling, how would you know what you’re getting into? So, the people with normal emotions, without that criminal mindset, are always caught off guard. That said, I tip my hat to anyone who maintains a healthy degree of skepticism through life. Because from what we hear in this episode, Nancy did not.

Nancy felt that if she could learn how to help people, in such a short amount of time, the way Keith did? “I would do anything.” Keith agreed to mentor her as long as she committed to him for life. The only circumstances in which Keith would want to end their relationship would be if he ever thought she was using “the curriculum” in an unethical manner. Oh, the irony! Keith is one ballsy motherfucker. I’ll give him that.

We cut to journalist for the New York Post, Emily Saul, in her apartment. She is contemplating the whole situation with Keith and Nxivm. Maybe it all started off as a genuinely good thing, but what happened then? What made him decide he needed followers and his own society? Did it just progress to that point or was it the goal all along?

Emily wonders who might be testifying in court against Keith. Maybe Lauren Salzman. Maybe Allison Mack. Maybe even Nancy, because she would have so much insider info. Probably Mark Vincente. She expresses sympathy towards Mark because she thinks, as Keith’s closest male friend, it must have been tough to have his whole world fall down around him.

We cut to Mark who says that he is indeed, testifying against Keith. He says he is “terrified” to face him again after two years. We then hear audio from 2017, the day after Mark had officially resigned from Nxivm. He is talking to Nippy Ames and a man named Eduardo. He warns them he has some serious shit to tell them and to please keep it confidential or he is fucked. “There are landmines ahead,” Mark warns them.

Eduardo

Eduardo is sitting at a table giving an interview to the filmmakers. He tells us that Mark told him about DOS and the branding. Mark then asked him to join the mission to take down Nxivm. After talking with Sarah and expressing sympathy for what happened to her, Eduardo chose to go to Albany and investigate the situation on his own, first. What he found was a sorority of women—women who were his friends, who he had great respect for and trusted—that told him they were a part of a good thing.

Eduardo.

Eduardo tells us that Keith and Nancy, but especially Nancy, helped him tremendously in his life. He credits Nancy for helping him and his wife, who were trying to get pregnant at the time, work through some marriage issues. Getting choked up, Eduardo says that being a father is the best thing that has ever happened to him. And without Keith and Nancy, he would not be the loving husband and father he is today. “…there are thousands of people that would tell you similar stories,” he says. With the arrests and everything else happening, it feels like the world has turned upside down.

Eduardo is genuinely sympathetic and sincere. His perspective certainly adds to the complexity of the Nxivm situation. How simple it would have been for people to see clearly if it had been all bad, right?

Back to Nancy. She describes Keith as “very kind” at the beginning of their relationship. “He gave me everything I wanted.” He gave her a company and the tools she needed to do the work she loved. They started small, but grew quickly. Nancy really believed in what she calls “the education.” “We opened up centers all over the world,” Nancy says. It looks like “all over the world” really meant all over North America. Mexico and Canada are the only additional countries shown to have opened ESP centers.

Nancy tells us, “I wanted to affect as many people as I could.” So, sleeping only a few hours a night, she got to work. We see plenty of clips of Nancy teaching, teaching, teaching. This differs from the usual footage we have seen of Keith talking, talking, talking. Anyway, it’s apparent from the clips that Nancy had a lot of passion, a genuine enthusiasm when she was working with people.

Nancy in Oprah magazine.

Nancy even got a write up in Oprah magazine after she coached the magazine’s art director. Not really surprising, to be honest. Oprah used to love that new-agey self-help shit. She was into The Secret (laws of attraction) and stuff like that.

Keith’s goal was to reach “the highest level of every human endeavor.” We see a clip of actress Bonnie Piesse at a “Star Wars” red carpet event and Carlos Emiliano Salinas, son of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, on television. We see a clip of Keith and Nancy meeting with the Dalai Lama. Nancy really believed that it was possible, with ESP, to solve any problem that existed in the world. Any problem at all. So, she she finds it “horrendous” that people perceive Nxivm as just a scam and a sex cult.

Night Before Trial

We cut to Marc Agnifilo, lead defense attorney for Keith. He admits it is a “highly sexual case” and he is worried jurors may be close-minded and judgemental. He tells us that Keith said something “very smart” to him about the case. Keith likened the situation to a family feud. Anything that’s been done, that is perceived by the government as bad, was within the family itself. Not done to any outsiders. “And now the family’s destroyed,” Keith had said, implying that’s the real crime. So disingenuous. Marc knows that a crime committed between family members is still a fucking crime. Spare me this bullshit. Anyway, Marc expresses anxiety about the trial as he feels he has Keith’s life in his hands.

Listening to Marc is like listening to an athlete mentally pump himself up before a game, albeit in a drier way. It is true Keith’s life is in the hands of his lawyers, but it’s interesting to me to see the various ways lawyers create emotional investment in their cases. A certain degree of passion is needed to be effective in court, I would think.

We cut to lead prosecutor, Moira Penza, who tells us this case is the most important one she has ever worked on. I believe her. I doubt she has to pump herself up at all. Moira believes Keith is very dangerous in part because of the great number of people he has victimized. She describes what Keith has done in Nxivm as “the psychological torture of women in a systemic fashion.” She wants to expose the very dark things that, for decades, have been going on within the organization.

The Trial, Day 1

Press press press in front of the court. Emily heading into court. We see Bonnie and Mark watching the news about the trial on TV. As an upcoming witness, Mark would not be allowed to attend the trial until he has testified. We see ex-ESPian and whistleblower, Nippy Ames, We see Nxivm loyalist Eduardo with a friend. Moira and her team. Marc and his team.

Since no cameras were allowed in court we will look at court sketches and video clips while listening to recreated audio.

Opening statement for the prosecution: A con-man. Leader of a criminal organization. Predator of women.

Opening statement for the defense: Helped high profile people. Well-intended. A bit of a slut. That’s not against the law.

First witness is a woman named Sylvie. She was in Nxivm for 13 years, joining in 2006. Her face is blurred so no picture. We hear her court testimony in voice-over. She was an equestrian, as was Clare Bronfman, which is how they met. Clare encouraged Sylvie to try out ESP which she was willing to do in an effort to win favor with Clare. Why Sylvie wanted to win favor, I am not clear on.

Right away Sylvie was struck by the passionate reverence for Keith amongst the ESP members. There was a portrait of Keith and one of Nancy, hung on a wall, Kim Jong-Un style. Everyone bowed and thanked them as if they were in the room. She was given the “Twelve-Point Mission Statement” which everyone read out loud as a group. One line says, “There are no ultimate victims; therefore, I will not choose to be a victim.” I’m sure at some point it was explained what an “ultimate victim” is, but honestly, coming from Keith, it’s all horse shit.

Still, it’s important to emphasize that one of the main tenets of ESP is the whole “being at cause” jazz. Being at cause is a paradox that manages to present itself as empowerment. Here is one scenario: if someone does you wrong, the responsibility is on you as to whether you want to perceive yourself as a victim. It is you, not the wrong-doer, that is responsible for any distress you may be feeling. Feelings are a result of perspective, right? You can choose it, right? Conveniently, this also provides an out for anyone in Nxivm that engages in criminal and/or predatory behavior. In its simplest form, it implies that there is no such thing as crime, only the perception of crime. Therefore, crime does not exist. Keith probably kept it mostly within the context of the ESP community rather than say, getting mugged in a dark alley, but that’s the gist.

We cut to Vero from episode 1 who explains that ESPians were committed to not perceiving themselves as victims, because it was a central component to being a successful person.

The World According to Raniere.

We cut to Moira who tells us that a recurring theme amongst the former members was this fear that they were ultimately responsible for the shitty things that went down. They weren’t really victims, they were just choosing to see themselves that way.

Then we cut to Nancy, leading a small group. She is reading to them about the screaming of abuse being abuse itself. We heard that shit from Keith in an episode last season. I guess he had his rant written down so Nancy could teach the concept formally. I gotta include it verbatim because it’s… Well, it’s something.

Nancy reads: “Most people scream abuse and they have no idea of the morality of what they’re talking about. A lot of times the screaming of abuse is abuse in itself. Because they have no idea what they’re talking about, there’s some inconvenient thing happening and they wish it were different and they yell abuse. It is not necessarily abuse, so they abuse abuse.”

Translation: I, Keith Raniere, am the only determiner of what constitutes moral behavior, because you are too dumb to determine it for yourself. You are always wrong, I am always right and to my ladies in the house, shut the fuck up.

We cut back to Sylvie’s testimony. She explains her understanding of being at cause meant “that anything that happened to you is your own fault and if you call it abuse, then you’re just trying to get out of the responsibility that it was your fault, somehow.” She goes on to say that Keith felt women were especially guilty of wanting to be victims (shocker). Sylvie came to feel like she couldn’t trust herself. As was intended.

A fellow ESPian, someone Sylvie trusted, approached her about joining DOS. It was the usual process. “Collateral” material first, details about DOS after. Sylvie didn’t feel she had the option to not join once she handed over the collateral/blackmail stuff, because she’s right. She didn’t.

We cut to Vero. She explains to us the mindset she had, at least initially, about joining DOS. She felt proud to be a part of it and she felt it was a choice she made. But it was a choice that created a lack of choice, because of the blackmail/collateral. So there was no way to turn back, no matter what was going on in the group. “It’s a trick,” she says.

Back to Sylvie. She tells the court that she was given an assignment, seduce Keith. If you watched the doc series “Seduced” you’ll know how this goes down, because it’s pretty much the same. Step 1: Send Keith flirty texts. Step 2: Send Keith nude photos that get increasingly more explicit…

Keith fascinates himself.

We cut to Keith being asked about the difference between vulnerability and fear. Remember the Sports Barn from last season? In this clip, everyone has taken a break from playing volleyball so they can gather at Keith’s feet and listen to him run his mouth. He is so infatuated with himself in this scene, I swear to God.

Rather than answer the question in a direct fashion, Keith talks paradoxically. There is a common theme through so much of what he lectures to his followers. That you shouldn’t listen to your gut, especially when it comes to fear, because it’ll steer you wrong. And the only way you can evolve and grow as a person is by overriding it, because then you’ll conquer it. So, in other words, fear is good. It’s an indicator you’re doing something right.

As usual with Keith, he takes something that has elements of truth, depending on context, and distorts it.

Back to Sylvie. Step 3: Meet Keith at his house for sex. Needless to say, this was not what Sylvie signed up for, but now it was too late to back out.

Marc Agnifilo questions Sylvie on the stand. He asks her about the texts she had sent Keith. Flirty texts, texts saying she wants to see him or that she dreamt about him. She explains that she was following the instructions of her Master when she sent texts like this. Marc asks, so you were lying? Sylvie says she was trying to be “the best slave I could be so that things would work out for me.” She concedes that maybe that wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, but it’s what she did.

Nippy talks to the filmmakers outside of the courthouse. He admires Sylvie’s bravery, but feels that the matter of coercion and how it works in DOS didn’t come through during her testimony. Barbra Bouchey (ex-ESPian and ex-girlfriend of Keith) is interviewed by a reporter and she expresses the same opinion. Score one for Keith’s attorney, Barbra says.

Nippy, having lunch at a diner, Facetimes with Sarah. Eduardo and other loyalists were present when Sylvie was on the stand, Nippy tells Sarah, but rather than listen to her testimony, they chose to walk out. Sarah can’t believe it. She doesn’t understand why the loyalists are refusing to listen even though these are people that were trusted friends.

“Fuck me. I’m going to call Eduardo right now,” Sarah says. Nippy tells her not to bother. He thinks at this point, if people don’t see the con, it’s a willful blindness. “Good luck. See where that gets you,” Nippy says about the loyalists. I like how proactive Sarah is with the phone. She’ll call anybody, tension be damned.

We cut to Mark Vincente and his wife, Bonnie Peisse. Mark is getting ready to testify. He says that he is “terrified.” We cut to Bonnie sitting on a park bench smoking nervously. She’s very scared about what will happen if Keith gets off. She knows he will be hell-bent on revenge and will come after her and the other whistleblowers. She chose not be present when Mark testifies as she feels her presence will only stress him out more given how panicky she gets.

Mark on the stand. He is asked what Keith’s role was at Nxivm. “Keith was the philosophical founder. The driving ethical, moral and humanitarian force behind the entire company.” Mark has a way with the word, I must say.

Keith looking at Mark in court.

We cut to Mark after he has testified. The prosecutor had asked him to point out Keith in the courtroom. Mark tells us how fucked up it was to look over at Keith at the defense table. “The way he looked at me when I pointed at him was like, I’m here for you. I’m still on your side. I still love you.” That just made Mark more determined to stay strong on the stand. But later, he admits, a thought came into his head. Maybe Keith is right and he really is a good guy? It didn’t sway him; he just found it kind of horrifying that something like that would enter his head at all.

We cut back to Mark on the stand. He shares with the court an example of a ESP principle containing (more) paradoxical logic that Keith had created for his followers. “Speaking with honor.” If a person spoke dishonorably, it was due to pride and you would be labeled “suppressive.” And while one could speak dishonorably about others, it was not okay to speak dishonorably about Keith. If you spoke badly about Keith, it was an indication of being suppressive. We cut to Moira Penza who explains that a suppressive person was seen as someone who actively sought to destroy all the good Nxivm was bringing into the world. Therefore, if you spoke of the abuses done by Keith this was only an indicator that you were abusive. “There was a trap that was built in,” Mark says.

Metropolitan Detention Center. Brooklyn, New York

We hear audio of Keith talking about his reaction to seeing Mark on the stand. “It was very sad,” Keith says, using his sad voice. “It felt like death, but not… um… it’s like wanting to reach out and say don’t do this… please don’t lie.” Keith says that because Mark believes he is evil he will do whatever it takes–lie, cheat, wage a hate campaign–to destroy him. “He believes he has to stop me,” says Keith. His tone is one of pity. Like, poor confused Mark.

Back at the hotel room with Bonnie, Mark tells us that he realizes, now that he has faced Keith in court, that he is free from him. “He’s not in my head anymore.”

Clifton Park, New York

We are back with Nancy. She is looking at pictures of Mark. “I really loved Mark and I felt like we were really friends,” she says. We cut to video of Mark talking to a group of ESPians. Nancy is there and he praises her to the group, “she broke my pride, she broke my arrogance, but she did it with love.”

Nancy says it was very painful when Mark left Nxivm. He and Sarah, she says, “were so destructive.” Sarah, for example, canceled the memberships of the enrollees at her center in Vancouver and gave them refunds. “That was our money. She didn’t have a right to do that,” Nancy says, indignantly.

Nancy plays a phone message Sarah left her during this time. In the phone call Sarah says that she is angry and hurt that Nancy hasn’t reached out to her. Sarah tells her it’s because Nancy “doesn’t have the fucking balls” to call and ask what’s going on.”I’m not being destructive,” Sarah says. Rather, she is stepping away from a situation she found “fucking traumatic.” She ends the message by saying, “Wake the fuck up.”

“Would you respond to a message like that?” Nancy asks. She feels angrier towards Sarah than towards Keith, she tells us, though she does admit it’s not terribly rational to feel that way. “I think Keith is just the way he is,” she says with a bit of a shrug. And though everyone assumes she knew all that was going down in Nxivm, she didn’t really.

Nancy says that it was at her birthday party, in 2017, that she was first told about DOS. That is also where Nippy, if you recall from last season, confronted Lauren in the parking lot regarding the branding. Nancy describes Nippy as having had “some kind of tantrum.” We hear audio from the confrontation that Nippy had secretly recorded on his cell phone. “What the fuck is going on here?!” Nippy asks Lauren, regarding the branding and the blackmail.

Nancy with her daughter Lauren.

Nancy tells us she called Keith and asked him what was going on. Keith told her nothing was going on. Nancy told him that it was clear everyone from the party that night knew something she didn’t. So, Keith sent Lauren to talk to her mom. Lauren described DOS as “like a sorority,” started by some women and denied that Keith had anything to do with it all. When Nancy talked with Keith later, he continued to deny any involvement.

Nancy was very angry at the women for being “thoughtless.” They hadn’t thought about how what they were doing would affect Nxivm and everything, that for 20 years, she had worked for. We are starting to understand, somewhat, why Nancy chose to stick her head in the sand when it came to Keith. Her entire life’s work was wrapped up in Nxivm. That was not something she would have been able to walk away from easily, needless to say. Later, Keith stood up in front of the whole organization and denied any involvement with DOS. “And I still believed him,” she says.

We cut to video of Keith talking to the members at the “Nxivm Emergency Meeting” we saw in the last episode. Sounding exasperated, he denies denies denies that “the sorority” has anything to do with Nxivm at all. And furthermore, much of what is being said about it isn’t even true.

There were bad things that were going on, Nancy admits, but not everyone who is being blamed for the bad things actually did anything wrong. What she was doing was separate from DOS, she says. DOS was Keith’s thing. Nancy doesn’t think it’s right that, as a result, her company has been destroyed.

The shiny happy people of Nxivm.

“I spent 20 years of my life trying to make the world a better place and this is where I ended up… Actually, I spent 40 years trying to make the world a better place, because I started before I knew Keith Raniere.” She tells us that 17,000 people had positive results from their experience with ESP. “Where are they?! Why aren’t they standing up for us?!” End.

Next episode: “Stimulus and Response” Nancy explains how the ESP curriculum came together. We talk with loyalist Marc Elliot, who you may remember from last season. We meet Isabella who, like Marc, joined ESP for help with her Tourette’s.

1) https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-features/the-vow-part-two-season-2-nxivm-nancy-salzman-interviews-jehane-noujaim-hbo-1235243563/

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