Another week, another heartbreaking story courtesy of Leah Remini and company. The Jan. 3 episode of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” finds the docu-series returning to what it does best: Highlighting the blurred line between victim and accessory in the Church of Scientology.
After a closer look at the Church of Scientology’s infamous “auditing” process, we learn the story of former Sea Org member Aaron Smith-Levin, who spent 29 years in the Church. As he recounts the story of his twin brother Collin — who became a well-regarded member of Scientology by the age of 14, but was later seen as something of a failure in the Church’s eyes — it’s hard not to notice that Aaron is speaking in the past tense. At first it seems like that might just be alluding to a case of disconnection. Indeed, a young Collin was ultimately inspired to leave Scientology, causing the Church to pressure Aaron and his mother to disconnect from him completely.
However, emotions soon ran high as Aaron — who, along with his mother, did eventually leave the Church — revealed the tragic coda to his family’s story. While in Sea Org, a phone call from his father informed him Collin had died in a car accident. That outcome in itself serves as a profound reminder of the price of disconnection in the long run — and Aaron’s tearful recollection of how the Church encouraged him not to attend his “suppressive” twin brother’s funeral is likewise a reminder of just how heinous the Church’s policies are.
The most interesting dynamic at play here, though, is how emotional it is to see someone who once actively took part in disconnection now coming to terms with their actions. Aaron’s story leaves no doubt that he and his mother were victims of the Church themselves — encouraged to disconnect, sucked into making a devastating choice for their family under the pretense they were benefiting a greater good.
It’s certainly not the first time the series has shown us someone who made extreme choices when blinded by piety: Mike Rinder himself, Leah’s right-hand man on this show, already revealed a lot about his long time as a Scientology executive, enforcing the very policies and tactics he’s now fighting against.
But it’s near impossible to not immediately be on Mike and Aaron’s sides in this journey. There’s a difference between being irreverent and being reverent to a bad thing, and “Scientology and the Aftermath” does a brilliant job of distinguishing that by placing its spotlight on emotion and humanity. Each episode, we’re led to remember that blind faith can’t be mistaken for ill intention, and that as awful and evil as the worst of Scientology is, the Church is still made up of humans and heroes, and the victims still left inside.
“Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E. Two episodes remain this season.