On the heels of HBO’s The Vow, STARZ drops the docuseries Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, a detailed, sharpened look at India Oxenberg’s life inside the cult and outside of it.
One of the critiques of HBO’s The Vow, the docuseries that follows the implosion of the NXIVM cult, is that structurally it’s a mess. Even going into the final episode of the nine-episode first season, we still don’t know a ton about NXIVM founder/cult leader Keith Raniere (maybe the creators are waiting to delve into that in the second season, which was just greenlit by HBO). While one might argue that the dizzying format of the show mirrors what it feels like to fall into NXIVM—the way you’re not really sure what’s going on and what you’re watching—chronologically, it’s sometimes challenging to follow where you are in the timeline—even if that’s the point of the thoughtful storytelling.
STARZ’s docuseries offering, Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, lays it out quite clearly for audiences and helps the cult members in telling their stories with precision and understanding. It’s hard not to watch or read content about NXIVM and not think, “That would never happen to me,” but Seduced argues that it could happen to anyone. And while The Vow paints former board member Mark Vicente as a victim, mainly because the show is often through his point of view, Seduced shows his complicity in recruiting members like India Oxenberg (daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg) and the monetary pressures/kickbacks that gave people like him incentive to put warm bodies in the seats. But as you learn with both docuseries, everyone is a victim, whether they are masters or slaves. The only people who aren’t victims are Raniere and NXIVM president Nancy Salzman—the masterminds behind the destruction.
In Seduced, we meet more NXIVM members, including Tabby, who comments that she was too poor to do a lot of the classes and ends up going into more than $50,000 in debt (while watching, I wrote in my notes: “We are all Tabby”). One thing both docuseries could benefit from is including more about “real” people like Tabby and how they assimilated back into society following the cult (watching India going to trauma therapy sessions in Malibu, you wonder what the more financially deficient Tabby is doing to deal with her trauma).
The docuseries keenly returns to the Albany headquarters of the company in Clifton Park and films India haunting the buildings like a ghost, which serve as some of the most captivating scenes. It’s chilling to think that just a few years prior, this place was filled with people and recruits and now it’s a faded memory, or more accurately, one that’s tattooed over the same way that India attempts to mask her DOS branding.
Seduced is a strong entry into the post-NXIVM narrative, and one that importantly takes us with India through the recovery process. With The Vow becoming a pop culture talking point and getting a second season, I suspect there will be more stories to come out from this true crime. Even the end of the STARZ series offers an eerie final “And his eyes open” type of horror scene that hints that we’re not done with Keith or his damn cult, and that while there are many victims speaking out, there are just as many members who remain “Ready.”
The four-part docuseries Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult airs on STARZ starting October 18.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.