Mark Vicente in The Vow (2020); India Oxenberg in Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult (2020)

Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult Picks Up the Slack That The Vow Fails to Highlight

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As someone who grew up with a heavy dose of true crime, cults have always been something I was trained to be on alert for. And as I watched the two NXIVM series, HBO’s The Vow and Starz’s Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, the shows served to highlight just how the mind of Keith Raniere, the leader of NXIVM (who was referred to as “vanguard” in the cult), worked to create this dangerous cult.

What makes The Vow and Seduced work differently is the framing. Whereas The Vow brings us into the cult through two of their former top members and true believers, Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmondson, Seduced focuses one of the victims, India Oxenberg. India Oxenberg was the kind of priority member NXIVM wanted.

Oxenberg was the daughter of actress and Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, and the granddaughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. So literal Hollywood and European Royalty (and yes, they are loosely related to the British Royal family through Prince Phillip). Oxenberg would have been an amazing grab for a book club, let alone a cult run by taking the fortunes of rich kids.

I found The Vow to be tedious, especially with nine hour-long episodes that seemed to circle around the point for a really long period of time. That feeling was reinforced when I watched Seduced, which in only four episodes tells India’s story, features interviews with cult experts Janja Lalich, Steve Hassan, and Rick Alan Ross, and also talks to other victims of the cult. Mark Vicente is framed as being creepy from the very beginning and the role that Vicente and Edmondson played in not just recruiting, but keeping people in the cult is highlighted in a much more illuminating way.

Throughout The Vow, I felt a sense of frustration at how Vicente didn’t seem to notice what was going on with his wife and fellow member Bonnie, and in Seduced, you see Vicente playing into Raniere’s casual predatory behavior. The way Raniere talks about rape, including the rape of children and animals, is horrifying. In every picture of Bonnie you see in Seduced, the woman is clearly disgusted.

While Vicente and Edmondson were victims, they were constantly profiting off of keeping people into the cult and while they clearly feel shame now, they were all full-ass adults while they did this. India Oxenberg was brought into the cult, through an event hosted by Edmondson, when she was 19 years old.

I agree with A.V. Club‘s Ashley Ray-Harris that The Vow feels like the high ranking members are getting ahead and trying to convince us that Keith, at the beginning, seemed legit, but then you see in Seduced how Vicente helped gaslight India Oxenberg when she wanted to work outside of the organization.

If you have only seen The Vow and felt like something was missing, it is because something was. Seduced does the work of showing exactly what that was. There was nothing special about Keith Raniere and everything he had to say was bullshit. He just had enough people to help him support his bullshit for a long time.

(image: HBO, Starz)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.