Hot off the news that she is going to rejoin her King of Queens husband Kevin James on his current CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait, Leah Remini returns this week with season 2 of her surprise smash hit documentary series for A&E, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
Indoctrinated into the church as a child when her mother began dating a Scientologist, Remini spent her life taking Scientology courses and buying the books and ascending through the secret levels of an Operating Thetan and purging herself of bad Body Thetans and Oppressive Persons. But after gradually growing apprehensive about some of the organization’s methods for dealing with lapsed members in the press, her faith really started to sour when she attended fellow member Tom Cruise’s 2006 wedding, where she was implored to aggressively recruit Jennifer Lopez into the Church. When she innocently asked a church official where Church leader David Miscavige’s wife was because she wanted to say hello, Remini was sternly rebuked, and subsequently stonewalled when she began her own investigation into what happened to her friend.
All of this is recounted early in the first season of Scientology and the Aftermath, as well as Remini’s abrupt departure from the Church and its immediate effort to silence her. It’s all enormously compelling, but to her credit Remini realizes that the story is far bigger than hers, so the bulk of the first season finds her getting other former Scientologists on camera to tell their own.
Chief among these is the church’s former head of communications and public relations, Mike Rinder, who before his own disillusionment with the church was its most vociferous public defender and most aggressive enforcer of its code of silence. Rinder has been prevented from contacting his now ex-wife of 31 years or either of their adult children since he left the church — a tactic to dissuade Scientologists from leaving or speaking out that the church calls “disconnection” — and is a unique position to spill all of its secrets, having ascended both to the upper echelons of the religion itself and to the organization that promotes it. After Remini enlists Rinder to participate in the show, the two team up to find other former Scientologists to discuss both the church’s beliefs and history, including the ascent of current leader Miscavige, and some of the its most troubling practices, including disconnection, the exorbitant financial cost levied on Scientologists to continue with its teachings, its extremely aggressive approach to dealing with apostates, its well-publicized litigiousness, and its internal propaganda arm.
Remini’s approach of putting real human faces on screen discussing their real experiences really drives the material home in a way that even HBO’s outstanding Scientology doc Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief did not. It’s one thing to be told that Scientology breaks up families as casually as you or I would break an egg, but it’s another to hear it from their mouths, to see them struggling to verbalize what the church has taken from them.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Remini, emboldened both by the show’s warm critical and audience reception and by the church’s typically vehement denial that any of it is true, promises to double down in season 2, exposing more specific crimes with the hope of getting a Federal investigation opened on the Church into “all of the abusive practices of Scientology — sexual abuse and physical abuse.” That may be a difficult prospect, considering that the church was able to win an extremely dubious religious exemption in 1991 from paying any income tax on its earnings through sheer harassment of individuals working at the IRS, but it’s clear (no pun intended) that Remini is not to be deterred.
Season 1 of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath is available on-demand; season 2 premieres tonight at 9pm ET on A&E.