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The word “disconnection” is thrown around a lot in the Nov. 30 premiere of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath,” which defines it as the act of cutting off “all contact with someone critical of the Church of Scientology.” Leah Remini calls it “the Church’s biggest weapon” — it’s even the title of the episode itself — but more than anything, “Disconnection” spends most of its time restoring connections.
Remini’s eight-episode documentary series finds the King of Queens star seeking to shed light on the realities of the Church of Scientology and what happens to those who defect from it. As a former Scientologist herself who lost a number of friends upon leaving the organization, Remini provides her own history and insight as she interviews others who have been affected by the controversial organization.
Remini explains the show was born out of her desire to capture the story of Amy Scobee, a one-time senior executive in the Church of Scientology who was forced to disconnect from her mother, who remained a member, after she left. When Remini heard her story, her instinct was to send a camera crew to record it, unaware of what the footage would become.
That footage became a part of this show, and that instinct is what drives all of it. It would have been easy for the show to concern itself simply with the dark and intriguing alleged secrets of Scientology — but Scientology and the Aftermath makes this about people.
It’s clear Leah’s intention here isn’t to make headlines, but to help others, and forge a supportive connection with them. While she admits to feeling a “tremendous responsibility” to fight Scientology after having used her celebrity status to promote it for so long, Remini’s pain and anger are nonetheless genuine.
Reacting to an account of statutory rape within the church that went covered up, Remini erupts in frustration as she tries to grapple with the fact that nothing can be done now to bring the church to justice. It’s here that Mark Rinder, another estranged former executive of the church, corrects her:
“There’s one thing that can be done. It can be exposed.”
The remark is more than just a sobering moment. It’s precisely what Leah sets out to do with this new series — exposing not just the secrets of the church, but the hardships suffered by its victims.
Underscoring just how universal that hardship is, the most interesting perspective we’re given is probably that of Amy Scobee’s mother, Bonny. Having chosen to remain in Scientology after her daughter split, one might not expect to find sympathy in Bonny’s decision to disconnect from her own child — but the emotion, and pain, come straight through when she tells her story, making clear that “disconnection” affects both sides tragically.
In one of the episode’s most powerful moments, Amy and Bonny recount their emotional reunion after Bonny finally decided to leave the church herself. Bonny reveals that she is now battling Stage IV cancer, but that she once again has the full support of a family by her side: “So there, Scientology,” she boasts, in a statement of victory over the religion that tried to take everything from her.
In a postscript, we do learn that Bonny passed away two weeks after her interview with Remini. It’s a sad development that underscores the value of loved ones — but also reinforces the evil of Scientology, whose policy of “disconnection” takes people away much in the same way as death.
Scientology and the Aftermath opens with Remini reading a letter the Church of Scientology wrote in response to the series. “A program about our religion hosted by Ms. Remini is doomed to be a cheap reality TV show,” they allege.
Well, it’s TV. And certainly it represents reality. So maybe the question should be, what makes that such a problem?
The eight-part “Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.