Leah Remini has produced a new television series called Scientology and the Aftermath which will be premiering tomorrow, November 29, on A&E. I was given an opportunity to see the first episode in advance and I wanted to give you my thoughts and feelings about it as someone who not only grew up in Scientology but who worked at its highest levels as part of the Sea Org for 17 years.
There have been a lot of shows, books, videos and interviews done about Scientology over the years, many of them mediocre or sensationalized but some completely spot-on and really nailing the subject from an insider’s perspective which communicates just how insidious and horrible Scientology truly is for its members and anyone unlucky enough to fall within its area of influence. Probably the best of these was the documentary Going Clear, directed by Emmy-award winner Alex Gibney and written by Pulitzer prize winning author Lawrence Wright. This two-hour film was shown in selected movie theaters before premiering on HBO last year. Up until seeing that, I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to truly communicate the culture, attitude and reality of what it was like to be a Scientologist, but Gibney and Wright pulled it off. Now, Leah Remini has taken a swing at this and based on the first episode, she has produced what is perhaps the best TV show I’ve ever seen on the subject of Scientology.
I respect Leah immensely but honestly, I did not have high expectations for this show. It’s way too easy to sensationalize Scientology, to turn it into entertainment news fodder about its main celebrity members like Tom Cruise or John Travolta. Personally I’m sick and tired of hearing this subject trivialized into celebrity gossip about how often Tom Cruise doesn’t visit his daughter or how John Travolta is trapped because of some blackmail Scientology may have about his secret gay lifestyle.
Even British documentarian Louis Theroux, whose work I respect enormously, took a stab at the topic this year but he missed big time by making a bit of a farce out of the whole thing, not once mentioning the most dangerous and damaging aspects of Scientology’s practices, the emotional and psychological blackmail it wields over all its members through its practices of disconnection and Fair Gaming. Sure, Louis showed a few private investigators following Marty Rathbun around, but that was just child’s play compared to the vicious and underhanded tactics Scientology has used in the past to literally destroy the lives of critics and ex-members. I don’t think it does the public, the ex-members who dare to speak out or the film makers themselves any favors when they pussyfoot around with the harm that Scientology can inflict.
This is why Leah’s series is such a breath of fresh air. In her own unique and bold style, she is taking the fight to Scientology’s doorstep by calling it out for ruining lives and breaking up families through what it euphemistically calls disconnection. If you don’t know what disconnection is, it’s their version of shunning. If the Church of Scientology believes that you are a threat to them or their livelihood, in other words, their money-making schemes, then you will be labelled a suppressive person, meaning an anti-social personality who has a psychotic desire to harm or destroy others. Now mind you, you don’t have to do anything violent or antisocial to earn this. You don’t even have to raise your voice. The only thing you have to do is disagree too strongly with church officials, speak out publicly against it, encourage its members to not take part in its practices or try to get loved ones, family or friends to stop being part of Scientology if you feel that their participation is not in their best interests. Of course, any sane and rational person who learns from news reports and the stories of ex-members what goes on in Scientology has plenty of cause to be concerned. However, Scientologists not only don’t want to hear any criticisms of their group, they actively shut out anyone who tries to warn them about it through this disconnection policy.
Leah’s show begins by discussing all of this in detail and doing so in a very fact-filled and educative manner which I found refreshing given how this could have easily been sensationalized with melodramatic phrasing, bad editing or overdone music. No, it’s straightforward, hard hitting and the facts speak for themselves. None of this will particuarly be new information for Scientology watchers, but this show isn’t meant for you. It’s meant for the broad public who are as yet unaware of what Scientology is really all about. And on that count, it scores big time on being easy to comprehend and thorough enough that any newcomer to this topic is going to understand very quickly that they shouldn’t go anywhere near it. Former Sea Org executive Mike Rinder acts as Leah’s sidekick in the show, helping explain key parts of Scientology and helping her with the interviews of former members. He is particularly good on the educational parts, because it’s obvious that he knows what he’s talking about and while he himself is suffering from the church’s disconnection policies, he keeps it at a sort of “just the facts ma’am” level which counterpoints Leah’s more personal touch.
Speaking of which, while Scientology’s practices and destructive policies are introduced, the real heart of this show is the human element, the personal stories of real people who had dedicated their whole lives to Scientology only to end up being kicked to the curb and disconnected from every family member and friend they ever had. The story told in this first episode, that of Amy Scobee and her mother Bonnie, is heart wrenching and unfortunately, just one of thousands of such stories over the years. Leah’s show is not highlighting a few mistakes Scientology made over the years and it’s not sensationalizing a few minor examples of good people being harmed by bad policies. No, what she’s doing is showing exactly how Scientology really treats its members. Once you get past its glossy promotional pieces and high-tech internet web sites, Scientology is a money-making scam and if anyone gets in the way of its profits, it will not hesitate to do whatever it feels necessary to destroy that obstacle.
Leah obviously cares deeply about what she’s doing. As a celebrity and former member for most of her life, she was kept isolated and shielded from a lot of the bad news about it and given VIP treatment within the Scientology world. She was an outspoken pro-Scientology advocate from the time she was a teen-ager and felt she was really doing good by talking up Scientology to anyone who would listen. Once she saw its darker side, she got herself and her family all out in one fell swoop just a couple of years ago. I’m sure once she was out, she just wanted to put as much distance between herself and Scientology as she possibly could. No one could blame her if she never talked about it once and just decided to move on with her career. I certainly wouldn’t have, because I know how hard it is just to recover from the emotional and psychological scars Scientology leaves on its former members. I’ve talked about this often on my own channel and interviewed other former members about their struggles and it is hard to deal with. So Leah was not under any obligation to pull together a production team and make this show happen, yet that is exactly what she did, all on her own bat. She didn’t just want to recover from the experience, she wanted to make sure no one else would fall prey to Scientology’s glossy recruitment tactics again.
As far as criticisms go, sure, I have some technical issues with some of the editing and I thought there could have been a few improvements in the way some of the points they made were worded. I don’t think, for example, that the show does a good enough job highlighting the fact that the disconnection stories the show is telling are not unusual or strange examples within the world of Scientology, but are actually routine and commonplace.
I also didn’t like how concerned the network seems to be about backlash from Scientology itself, putting up disclaimers and notices after every single commercial break about what the Church had to say about Leah and the people on the show. I think one notice at the end of the show would have been perfectly sufficient to give Scientology their say about it. Perhaps as the series unfolds, they’ll cut down on those notices.
Overall, based on this first episode, this series is definitely worth watching. Be there for the premiere, or set your DVR and watch it. I am positive that you will be glad you did.
Thank you for watching.