We had another good time last night watching the social media response to the latest episode of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, and it looked like another hit. Next Tuesday, there’s one more episode that will focus on Leah and was filmed earlier. So maybe now is a good time to look back on the series as a whole to look at who Leah brought on her shows, and to provide some links for further reading.
Is this thing a juggernaut or what?
Episode 1, “Disconnection”
First aired: Nov. 29, 2016
Leah’s episode about Amy Scobee and Mat Pesch was especially emotional because she had managed to film Amy’s mother, Bonny Elliott, just before Bonny died of cancer last year. Bonny’s explanation of how Scientology had forced her to choose between Amy and her husband, Mark, was a powerful way to introduce Scientology’s toxic policy of “disconnection.” Amy also described being raped as a 14-year-old Scientology mission staff member by an older male coworker, something the church covered up.
Scientology retaliated against the episode with an attack website that included a video about Leah. She explained to us, however, how the video actually had a fascinating connection to Katie Holmes.
And this episode caused another rather stunning response from the church: Scientology attorney Gary Soter warned A&E about airing the episode, claiming that in her rape, Amy had been the “sexual aggressor.” We’re still shocked that more media hasn’t picked up on this story.
Episode 2, “Fair Game”
First aired: Dec. 6, 2016
This episode focused on Leah’s sidekick, former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, as well as Mike’s wife, Christie Collbran. They live not very far from Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, and they’ve been the subject of some intense surveillance by Scientology operatives in recent years. Mike shared video showing him catching private investigators paying sanitation workers for his garbage bags, for example, and he also found a camera aimed at his house that was hidden down the street in a birdhouse.
The day the episode aired we provided a number of links to other past stories about the ways Rinder has been harassed and followed by Scientology private eyes.
In the version of the episode we saw, Christie Collbran also got to tell heartbreaking story about being disconnected from her own parents once she left Scientology’s Sea Org. But that portion didn’t get broadcast when the episode was edited down and aired. But you can now see Christie’s portion at A&E’s website and we highly recommend it.
Episode 3, “The Bridge”
First aired: Dec. 13, 2016
Leah and Mike explained the basics of the “Bridge to Total Freedom” to series executive producer Alex Weresow. Then they heard the story of Mary Kahn, who had joined Scientology in the 1970s and had loyally moved up that Bridge into the expensive upper levels before she started to have doubts. And that’s when things got ugly. Scientology pressured her husband David to divorce her, and she also knew that if she continued to pull away from the church she might lose contact with her younger son, Sammy. She described the nightmare she went through subjecting herself to intense Scientology interrogations only so she could hold her family together before finally she had to walk away entirely, and her son then walked out of her life.
We interviewed Mary and David, and we also spoke to their older son, Michael, who had not appeared in the episode.
When the episode aired, Scientology added a vile attack on Mary Kahn to its smear website, and it included a video of Sammy, Mary’s son, doing his best impression of a North Korean P.O.W.
Reddit Special 1, “Ask Me Anything”
First aired: Dec. 19, 2016
By this time, the series had turned out to be such a hit, A&E was scrambling to find ways to seize the moment. It had begun showing “sneak peeks” of episodes on Monday nights, and on Monday Dec. 19 it broadcast an entire special episode that had been quickly put together only the week before. It featured Leah and Mike answering viewer questions from the Reddit website. But Leah also took advantage of the situation to have on several special guests.
Our readers are very familiar with journalist Paulette Cooper, who was the subject of our book The Unbreakable Miss Lovely. We thought Paulette did a great job rapidly laying out the basics of her very complex story — in 1971, she became one of the first people to publish a book about Scientology, and she nearly paid for it with her life. By bringing her on, Mike and Leah were paying homage to the people who had come before them to expose Scientology’s abuses. Leah and Mike also spoke to former Sea Org member Chris Shelton, whose videos show up regularly here at the Bunker. Karen de la Carriere was once married to the president of the Church of Scientology, and she described what it was like when her son died after he had disconnected from her, and the church wouldn’t even let her see his body. Her current husband, Jeffrey Augustine, talked about his blog, where he focuses on Scientology’s underlying documents and contracts.
Episode 4, “A Leader Emerges”
First aired: Dec. 20, 2016
Tom DeVocht, Jefferson Hawkins, and Ron Miscavige helped Leah and Mike develop a picture of how David Miscavige took over Scientology after the death of L. Ron Hubbard in 1986. They caught up with DeVocht in Seattle, where he moved a couple of years ago and is raising his young daughter Ellie. DeVocht revealed that one of the things which began his disillusion with Scientology after so many years in its Sea Org was hearing David Miscavige talk about having to gin up “OT 9” from random papers left behind by Hubbard.
Hawkins told Leah about what it was like to get pummeled by Miscavige, who would jump on his lieutenants, fists flying, even though he is not a very large man.
Ron Miscavige and his wife Becky Bigelow described escaping from Scientology’s Int Base in March 2012. Ron later learned that his son was paying private investigators to watch his every move, paying them $10,000 a week. But that’s not what motivated him to write his memoir, Ruthless, which came out last May. Ron explained it was when he realized that his daughters had disconnected from him on David’s orders that the became determined to write his book.
We wrote much more detail about the crisis in the Miscavige family last year, and revealed that a surprising figure involved in it was none other than Lisa Marie Presley, who encouraged Ron to write his book.
Episode 5, “Golden Era”
First aired: Dec. 27, 2016
Marc and Claire Headley have been favorites of ours since we interviewed Marc about his 2009 book Blown for Good. Both raised in Scientology, they were a married couple at Gold Base, also known as Int Base, the 500-acre international management compound near Hemet, California. Both of them witnessed all kinds of amazing Scientology history there — Claire supervised the auditing of Tom Cruise, for example, and watched the church spying on him.
In the episode, Marc explained to Leah and Mike how for years he had helped put on large Scientology events, and so he knew that the numbers David Miscavige cites at these events are exaggerated. Then Marc and Claire told their harrowing escape story, and Claire described being forced to have an abortion in the Sea Org. Claire previously appeared in a terrific film about Scientology’s forced abortion policy put together by the Tampa Bay Times.
Also in this episode, we see Leah and Mike dealing with private investigators stalking them on their trip to Denver to see the Headleys. Before the episode had aired, Leah told us about one private eye they had managed to identify, former disgraced cop Daril Cinquanta, and we managed to get him on the phone.
Episode 6, “Auditing”
First aired: Jan. 3, 2017
We were familiar with the story of Aaron Smith-Levin; we had interviewed his mother, Gayle Smith, for a lengthy story, and Aaron had become a regular contributor of videos to the Underground Bunker. But we really weren’t prepared for how well Aaron would tell his story and how much Leah and Mike managed to cram into this hour of television.
The story of Aaron’s twin brother, Collin, is not a simple one. But Aaron managed to tell it quickly and clearly, helping viewers to understand how young Scientologists get caught up in the pursuit of “technical perfection” as auditors, and then can become disillusioned and drop out, with the result of families being ripped apart. Of all the emotional moments of a very emotional series, Aaron describing what it was like to learn that the brother he had been separated from by Scientology had died in a car accident was the one that has stayed with us the most.
The night the episode aired, Scientology predictably posted a website attacking Aaron, but he fired back, explaining to us how the page was full of distortions and exaggerations. It was one of the most effective dismantling of a Scientology attack we’ve ever seen.
Episode 7, “Enemies of the Church”
First aired: Jan. 10, 2017
We have pointed out numerous times that Scientology should not be going near anyone with a history of mental illness. And the Reisdorf family story sure proved that all over again. Brandon Reisdorf had an undiagnosed bipolar condition, but his family were Scientologists and so it the last thing they would consider doing was get him help from psychiatry, which Scientology hates with a white-hot fury. Instead, they subjected him to Scientology’s quack cure, the “Instrospection Rundown,” which meant locking him up in a room 24-hours a day and denying him any sensory input. It only made him worse, of course.
Then, when his parents were declared enemies of the church, Brandon and his brother Craig had difficult choices to make. Brandon stuck by his parents, but his brother chose to stay with the church and disconnected from the family. In a manic episode, Brandon reacted by driving from San Diego to Los Angeles to throw a hammer through the window of Scientology’s L.A. org. As his father Gary pointed out, any other church might actually try to get Brandon some help. But Scientology pushed for Brandon to be charged with a hate crime — vandalism of a “place of worship,” which was a felony. Leah and Mike’s interview of Brandon was a real highlight of the series.
The night the episode aired, Scientology posted an attack page on the Reisdorfs that included video of Craig, Brandon’s brother, and we found it to be one of the strangest P.O.W.-style “attacks” yet.
Leah and Mike also talked to three journalists about what they’ve been through trying to report on Scientology — the BBC’s John Sweeney, videographer Mark Bunker, and the proprietor of this very website.
Reddit Special 2, “Ask Me Anything Special, Part 2”
First aired: Jan. 17, 2017
Last night’s second Reddit special was a particularly strong way to wrap the first season up. (One more special episode, which was filmed earlier, will air next week). Leah and Mike answered more questions from viewers, including whether celebrities are treated differently in the church, and how Scientology views homosexuality.
And once again, Leah took the opportunity to bring on more special guests. Author Lawrence Wright did a beautiful job taking apart Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “stolen valor,” showing that Scientology had produced fraudulent records trying to convince him that Hubbard had been awarded combat medals that his actual war record proved he never received.
Attorney Ray Jeffrey talked about what it was like to face the legal onslaught of Scientology’s unprincipled attorneys when he handled the defense for Debbie Cook in 2012. We ran through some of his other cases when we previewed his appearance on the show.
Cult expert Steve Hassan broke down when he told Mike Rinder how much it meant to him that Rinder, who was once such a fearsome operative for the church, was now doing what he could to make up for those years running Scientology’s “Office of Special Affairs.”
And Leah broke down too, thinking about how far they had come this season, and how much the huge support of fans had meant to her.
The last episode of the series, “Apostate,” which will focus on Leah Remini’s own story, will air next Tuesday, January 24.
We sure hope she gets a second season. For now, however, we still haven’t heard anything definitive about that.
So, tell us, which was your favorite episode of this remarkable series?
June will be here before you know it
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
[Thank you, Observer.]
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield