Skip To Content

    12 Wild Moments From "The Vow" That I Haven't Stopped Thinking About

    Branding, sex trafficking, tax fraud, and volleyball. A season two in the works hints this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    We hope you love the shows and movies we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of revenue or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh and FYI — platform, prices and other availability details are accurate as of time of posting.

    HBO's docuseries The Vow ended on Sunday and, oh my, what a watch it has been. The show follows ex-members of NXIVM, an organization that presented itself as a self-improvement and executive success program but was eventually revealed to be a cult.

    Sarah Edmondson in "The Vow"

    In a lot of ways, the show is difficult to talk about — what happened to the members, especially the women, is legitimately horrifying. In the upper echelons, they were branded, coerced into blackmailing themselves, and convinced to have sex with the cult's founder, Keith Raniere, as a path to enlightenment. There are moments that are genuinely hard to watch, especially the footage of Raniere that showcases how skillfully he manipulates people into acting against their own self-interest.

    And yet, the series doesn't stop there. It's packed with so many wild moments that, despite its overall serious tone and message, make for some pretty engaging television. Let's dive in.

    Light "spoilers" ahead but we've kept them vague enough that they'll probably make you want to watch the show more just to figure out what's going on.

    1. Midnight volleyball meetings with the guru.

    A man in glasses hitting a volleyball

    The way NXIVM members got close to Raniere was by attending his volleyball games, held after midnight in a public gym in Albany — devotees who stayed until the end were rewarded with a Q&A session with the leader.

    2. Public, barefoot therapy sessions.

    Two barefoot women sitting in front of an audience

    The executive success program involved getting rid of members' "disintegrations" which basically meant going through their psyche in front of an audience. The barefooted-ness is never discussed.

    3. Minor celebrities.

    A woman giving a testimonial, with the text "Alison Mack, actress"

    Besides Alison Mack, actors from Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Dynasty, and more were involved in the cult.

    4. Even more minor royalty.

    A woman in a tiara with the subtitle text "My grandma, she's a princess"

    A member's grandma is the Princess of Yugoslavia! A phone call about a "Charles" turns out to be Prince Charles of England! It's practically The Crown.

    5. An adult man named Nippy.

    A screenshot of a man in walking downstairs with a title card identifying him as Nippy

    Enough said.

    6. Multi-level marketing schemes.

    A tape recorder with the caption text "Hello, I'm Keith Raniere, the president of Consumers' Buyline"

    Keith Raniere started out as the founder of a "community deals program" that was basically a pyramid scheme, and NXIVM shared a lot of the same features — to move up in the organization, you were required to enroll other people in courses. Some people racked up thousands of registrants!

    7. A secret baby.

    A man being interviewed with the caption text "because she had a baby with Keith Raniere"


    8. This very adorable dog.

    A woman holding a dog in her lap

    Honestly the best way to break the tension of a serious interview. This pup's lil head popping up may have been my absolute favorite moment of the show.

    9. The Dalai Lama.

    A group of people with the caption text "Behind this beautiful sort of face, is some rotten things there,"

    Besides the fact that NXIVM got the tacit approval of the Lama, I just love that Raniere thought that a North Face jacket was the correct attire to meet a world luminary in.

    10. A week long adult summer camp/birthday party.

    A man and a woman blowing out candles on several cakes

    "V-Week" was the highlight of the NXIVM social calendar, a full on adult summer camp with dances, skits, and oh yeah, Keith Raniere's enormous, lavish birthday party.

    11. Sexism, sexism, sexism.

    A man speaking, with the caption text "Do you understand why we hate you?"

    The deeper you get into the ideology, the clearer and clearer the sexism gets. Events put on for women to understand men were really exercises in humiliation and degradation, and NXIVM's marital advice included wives sleeping on the floor as penance for mistakes.

    12. A cliffhanger.

    An imposing building and the text "Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn"

    *Ring ring!* Who's that? Oh, just an ominous call from a jail cell to end the season with, of course!

    Talk about the perfect setup for season two — which was just announced by HBO and should air early next year.

    Intrigued? Sign up for HBO Max for $14.99 a month and access countless TV shows and movies.