Few shows have packed more tension into eight episodes than the first season of A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which last year saw the King of Queens star (and ex-Scientology member and advocate) transition from the world TV comedy to publicly examining the controversial church. The 46-year-old partnered with one of Scientology’s former senior executives, Mike Rinder, for a deep dive into the religion, using riveting expository interviews with past parishioners and high-ranking church officials to highlight allegations of coerced abortions, brainwashing, sex abuse cover-ups, and the destruction of its followers’ families.
Season 1 ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, however, as Remini and Rinder met with lawyers to explore serious options to take legal action against the multi-billion-dollar organization; as season 2’s summer premiere date looms, Remini and Rinder bridged the gap between episodes on Monday night when they co-hosted the two-hour Merchants of Fear interview special, during which they spoke with several journalists who’ve investigated the church in the past and offered an extended sneak peek at what season 2 has to offer.
Read on for key takeaways from Merchants of Fear that are sure to prime viewers for season 2.
Remini interviews Crash director Paul Haggis for season 2
During the closing moments of the special, Remini teased the appearance of a Hollywood heavyweight in an upcoming episode.
“I publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. I was declared a suppressive person, an enemy of the church, eight years ago. I guess I was the first person of real note to speak out against the church,” Haggis says in the clip, referencing his resignation from the church, which he announced in a letter after discovering what he suggests was troubling information about church operations. “They weren’t happy with that.”
He goes on to criticize the church’s actions, which he claims included sending lookouts to his property to spy on him and intimidate him, saying they “need to be held accountable” for what they do.
“At the beginning, I excused them. They were my friends, and I excused them,” he continues. “You know what? Damn them now, for being purposely blind [to their faults].”
Season 2 will again feature intense pursuits
During the first season 2 preview, a member of the show’s production staff is seen approaching various members of the church with questions at a Scientology gathering in Los Angeles. After refusing to answer the show’s questions, two parishioners begin tailing the crew by car, and the clip cuts out just as show staff exit their vehicle and confront their pursuers in the middle of the street.
New allegations of sexual assault will be detailed in season 2
Another season 2 teaser sees Remini speaking to a woman about an alleged sexual assault that she says occurred at the hands of a Scientology member. “I said no so many times, and he heard me. I said it dozens of times,” the unnamed woman, whose face is obscured in the footage, says. “The thing with rape is that it’s like this grenade that detonates in its own time.” Remini responds: “Here’s the point: The church covered it up. That’s the point.”
Remini and Rinder are not dropping their potential legal case against the church, and the LAPD may be involved
“Engaging in litigation with Scientology is not something that anyone but a fool does lightly,” Rinder explains in additional footage from season 2, which reportedly will shift from documenting alleged church abuses to chronicling Remini’s dedication to bringing justice to those who say they were victimized by the organization. “This season we have to do something about it,” she said.
Shortly thereafter, in a different scene, Remini is seated at a table, while an off-camera crew member informs her, “The detectives are here. They’re at the top of the steps,” before the screen cuts to black.
Later, Remini prods Rinder to take action. “I’m assuming that we don’t need more evidence than what we’ve heard for the LAPD to go after and prosecute, right?” she asks.
Season 2 discusses cases of alleged child abuse
“It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories of abused children,” Rinder says in a season 2 first look. “We see the effect it has had on people and their lives.” The next sequence focuses on an adult woman who claims she was abused as a child. “I just didn’t want to exist in that moment… I would repeat this line: ‘I want to die, I want to die, I want to die,'” she says. “Imagine a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old child saying that to themselves that they want to die… we’d been raised to believe that the outside world… is completely evil.”
Rinder confronts his guilt during season 2
A former senior executive with the church, Rinder has expressed deep regrets about his prior actions with Scientology (including monitoring journalists and mounting smear campaigns against detractors, he says) over the course of the show, and things seem to come to an emotional head in season 2.
“It’s painful to look back at that and try and put myself back into that position,” Rinder says through tears when Remini asks him what he would have done if confronted with church members’ abuse claims while in his former position. “I’m not sure that I was really any different than those people [who are in the church now].”
The church has issued new responses to the docuseries
Season 1 of Scientology and the Aftermath was punctuated by title screens highlighting the church’s official response to the show’s content and credibility, and Merchants of Fear opened with a fresh statement, dated May 18, 2017:
“What distinguishes your ‘reality’ show from others is its singular goal of seeking profit from spreading hate and bigotry,” it reads. “You carry on spreading sweeping falsehoods with wild abandon… It is Leah Remini and Mike Rinder who are trying to break up families with their deprogramming attempts and calls to disrespect family members’ religious beliefs. Scientology promotes strong family values.”
The statement continues: “Leah Remini has nothing better to do with her life and her career than to spread bigotry and hatred and to foment violent prejudice with your anti-religious ‘reality’ TV show.”
Read the church’s full response to Scientology and the Aftermath here.
A Rolling Stone article about Scientology allegedly drew Tom Cruise’s ire
During Merchants of Fear, Remini and Rinder interviewed Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman about a story she wrote for the publication in 2005, right around the time Cruise made headlines for his notorious jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch moment.
Reitman says she traveled to Clearwater, Florida (known as a “Mecca” of Scientology), to embed within the church. But Rinder said that “Scientologists [are told they] should never let themselves be interviewed by the press,” and the organization allegedly tried to outpace Reitman’s research, instead offering her tours of church facilities while feeding her positive stories about church programs. Reitman says she told church officials she was through with her tour and needed to leave the city, though she’d actually intended to stay in the city to conduct secret interviews with critics of Scientology. “She didn’t get on the plane because I knew the plane reservations… we absolutely [checked her plane reservation],” Rinder said.
As Reitman entered the later stages of writing her article, Cruise allegedly called the reporter’s superiors at Rolling Stone in an attempt to remove her from the story. Rinder says he was dispatched to New York City to dissuade the magazine from publishing her piece, while also feeding editors information that was detrimental to her character; he was dubbed “Mr. Scary” by the Rolling Stone office’s assistant, according to Reitman.
Former member Len Zinberg says he behaved like Nazis or Al Qaeda
Former church member Len Zinberg claimed he helped execute offensive tactics against The Scandal of Scientology author Paulette Cooper, a key critic of Scientology in the 1970s, including delivering an envelope filled with pages from her diary to her father, a move that was “designed to put a wedge between her father and herself,” he said. He also detailed an alleged attempt to frame Cooper for sending death threats and bomb threats to the church and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“My behavior as a Scientologist was the functional equivalent of a Nazi or an Al Qaeda member,” Zinberg said in an emotional moment. “There’s no way for me to escape that that was what happened, so I emailed Paulette. I told her what I’d done… I said something along the lines of, ‘I’m a 67-year-old man, and I have two children, and I want your forgiveness, but I realize I’m totally undeserving of it because I’ve been a coward for the last 35 years.'”
He continued: “She wrote back, she thanked me, and she said, ‘Your children should be proud of you…'”
Scientology and the Aftermath returns for a second season on A&E later this year.