'Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath' Season 3: TV Review
The third season of the A&E docuseries finds Remini and co-host (and former Scientology spokesperson) Mike Rinder continuing to investigate the controversial church.
As A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath enters its third season, the series questions itself. What impact is the show having on the Church of Scientology? Is the series having an impact? What should the impact of a series like this be?
It’s natural for a docuseries to look beyond its two hosts and begin to examine their methods and influence. The show profiles former members of the church as they recount their experience within Scientology and their decision to leave the church. The first two seasons relied heavily on Remini and Mike Rinder facilitating conversation by using their own histories breaking with the church. As the prominence of the series and Remini herself has shifted and grown, it’s not unreasonable to raise an eyebrow at the utility of “awareness.” The third season attempts to expand the focus by examining the tax-exempt status of Scientology, how the Church follows and harasses people who speak out publicly, and the search for Shelly Miscavige, the wife of the leader of the church who has not made a public appearance since 2007. These are all massive questions and incredibly ambitious to tackle.
One tactic to answer these questions is to bombard the audience with more information. The third season begins with two specials that exist outside the season, presenting another three hours of content before the season premiere. One pre-air special has Remini and Rinder interviewing Remini’s mother and sisters and Rinder’s wife; it’s a lot of information that requires emotional heavy lifting. It’s not easy for a series to leave you both breathless and melancholy but Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath manages to achieve both. Unfortunately, neither the pre-air special nor the premiere episode attempts to tackle these big questions, instead presenting more of the same interviews and explainers about the religion we’ve already seen in the first two seasons.
Remini remains on as shepherdess and she’s joined again by Rinder, former senior executive of the Church of Scientology International and the Sea Organization. Remini is trying on a more reserved demeanor, but the moments that find her in full passionate outburst are the most compelling.
In the “Emotional Aftermath” special, Remini stops the conversation to point out that Rinder is unable to comfort his wife because of the way Scientology teaches followers to reject any emotion that isn’t anger. The moment feels like she’s going a step too far — interfering between husband and wife — but it’s revealing, demonstrating far more about Scientology than the litany of abuses detailed by the subject of “Star Witness,” the premiere episode.
The Church of Scientology is firing back at Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath by saying perpetrators of abuse do not reflect Scientology today. The series argues if they can feature someone who recently left the religion, their claims will reveal the ongoing culture of abuse. The show finds that account in “Star Witness” with Valerie Haney, a recent escapee of Scientology who worked directly for David and Shelly Miscavige. Remini and Rinder know how vital and necessary her testimony is. Haney paints a clear picture of Shelly Miscavige’s supposed disappearance, and the story of her escape from the Gold Base compound is engaging. Still, much of what she says consists of first- or second-hand accounts of abuses committed by the church and David Miscavige. And after four or five or 10 secondhand stories of Miscavige’s abuses, the effect is lessened.
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath doesn’t do anything to play with or manipulate the structure of a documentary series; it’s all glossy sit-down interviews and stately roundtables. Varying how the information is delivered to the audience would prevent viewers from tuning out. There are brief breaks from the polished template, and those moments really show the desperation and frustration of Remini, Rinder and Haney.
There is cellphone footage of Haney in her car being followed and footage of her after being confronted by someone who has been waiting outside her home in the dark. There are slapdash glimpses of Remini and Rinder driving to another interview when Haney calls, afraid and anxious. This is where Remini’s anger comes through and conveys that Scientology picked the wrong woman to mess with. The production value is appreciable, but the unscripted moments are the most engaging.
The third season of Leah Remini: Scientology and Aftermath promises to be ambitious and sprawling. If the show highlighted its less predictable moments instead of recycling well-rehearsed, information-dense interviews, it might begin to more effectively and earnestly answer its big questions.
Airs: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (A&E)