by Paul Serran
It is said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, in the sense that, the farther away in time from an event that we are, the least likely we become to be touched by the tragic aspects of it, and more inclined to see the humor that lies underneath it.
This applies to the whole of the NXIVM saga, and more specifically, to the most watched documentary series about it, now in its second season. As the public becomes more and more familiar with the cast of characters of this real life drama, the more opportunities there are for turning the tragic story upside down and finding the humour that lies underneath it.
Writing for Primetimer, Joe Reid achieved this exact effect in his hilarious article Something’s Lurking in Nancy Salzman’s House in The Vow Part Two.
The reviewer focuses in a small detail in the production, ‘a version of home decor that may haunt you forever.’
The second episode of the series, writes Reid, ‘continues to track the downfall of the self-help cult NXIVM and the trial of its founder, Keith Raniere’, with a special focus on NXIVM’s co-founder Nancy Salzman.
At the time of filming, Nancy was under house arrest in Clifton Park, New York, awaiting her sentencing to one count of racketeering and conspiracy, as she tried to ‘unpack her long and complicated history with behavioral therapy and eventually, Keith Raniere.’
‘It would be great to say we were following along closely as Nancy talked about her childhood, her nursing career, and her earliest encounters with Keith, but that wouldn’t be 100% truthful. Because we were absolutely distracted by the piece of home decor that appeared at the two-minute mark of last night’s episode’.
Reid is talking about a ‘life-size, three-dimensional cutout of an old woman wearing a housecoat, resting against the wall in Nancy Salzman’s new home. Nancy doesn’t address it, doesn’t explain it, doesn’t ever ask it for advice. The production makes sure it’s visible in the background of every single interview setup she does in that house’.
‘The viewer could well be experiencing an ocular event of some kind. “Does everybody see that old lady behind Nancy Salzman?” you’ll ask with a note of panic, like there’s a chance she might just be the It Follows demon coming to claim Nancy as its next victim.’
The article examines ‘the quiet desperation of Nancy Salzman’s living situation’, as she lives in a much more modest house that is ‘a monument to beige’.
‘The only pop of color that exists in Nancy’s house-arrest world is the blue flowered housecoat worn by the ghostly matron propped against the wall in her living room.’
Incredibly enough, the reviewer is right about the hilarious compounding effect of this creepy apparition in every single shot of Salzman speaking in her home.
‘The woman and her floral housecoat appear almost impressionistic, like Van Gogh was commissioned to paint life-size cutouts of old women for customers looking to scare the hell out of their friends by sticking a random old lady in their house while they sleep.’
Reid wonder what is the meaning of this figure ‘idly scratching at her forearm; something is nagging at her soul.’
And also, the reason why ‘NO ONE MENTIONS THIS OLD LADY CUTOUT.’ It’s a bit scary, but also very funny.
After having loads of fun with this detail, the article speculates in a more serious tone if that sculpture would not be a depiction of Nancy’s mother, who suffered from chronic pain, and ‘spurred her to go into nursing as a career, and from there into pseudoscience like hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming.’
Would that really be ‘the matriarch whose pain [Nancy Salzman] can never heal?’
If you, like me, are somewhat short in sympathy for the former ‘Prefect’ of NXIVM, Joe Reed digs deep into the tragedy of NXIVM and unearths an absolute crazy and hilarious gem of an article.