Who Is Leah Remini Trying To Save With Her New Scientology Series?

Photo: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock.
Ever since she publicly left the Church of Scientology in 2013, Leah Remini has been consistently vocal about her 35 years as an active member of the controversial church. She's done countless interviews, spilling secrets about other famous Scientologists like Tom Cruise and his then-wife Katie Holmes; she also penned a best-selling book, Troublemaker. So it should come as no surprise that she has launched a television series on A&E: Leah Remini: Scientology & The Aftermath.

But the show is different than what we've seen from Remini before, which was mostly tongue-in-cheek descriptions of what she personally experienced, and saw, as a celebrity member of the church. This time around, the 46-year-old is exploring the experiences of other, less fortunate Scientologists.

Instead of retelling her own story, Remini is encouraging those who are fearful, and thusly unwilling, to challenge the church's principles.

In the opening scene of the premiere episode, which aired November 29 at 10 p.m., Remini explains the premise of the series while sitting in front of a black screen. "When I first started filming this show I thought I would just be documenting stories of families that were torn apart by the church of Scientology's policies and practices," she says somberly. "But what I uncovered was much deeper and darker then I ever expected."

That admittedly cliché line rings true throughout the first episode as Remini — with the help of former Scientologist spokesperson Mike Rinder — visits the homes of former members who allege that they suffered at the hands of the church, and draws out their stories.

After her ominous introduction, Remini begins unraveling her own past involvement in Scientology. As a struggling actress, whenever she found success in Hollywood, she would immediately credit her accomplishments to the church; through alleged, manipulative teachings that preyed on her insecurity, Remini came to believe that she owed her career to the Scientology community. The resounding promise, she claims, was that a person could reach full potential in every aspect of their life if they only followed the faith, and remained loyal to its teachings.
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Remini's mission to help other Scientologists share their sorrows and strike against the church is part of a process of atoning for her own past.

These days, Remini says she is committed to "exposing the abuse of the religion," which she refers to as a "cult." But it also seems clear from her testimony that the King of Queens star might be atoning for her own behavior by working so hard to "save" others. As a viewer, I found it obvious that Remini's process of leaving the church was much easier than her fellow former Scientologists: Her family is still intact. Her career has continued on. She's independently wealthy, and always had a life on the other side of the church's walls.

As a foil to Remini, we are introduced to Amy Scobee in the first episode, who first joined the church as a teenager. By age 16, she had joined Sea Org and signed the infamous "billion dollar contract." She lied to her father about her whereabouts, and was separated from him for nearly four decades. She moved up through the ranks and eventually became the head of the Celebrity Centre, a part of the organization that tended to people like Remini, and spread the gospel of Scientology far and wide. But Scobee also claims that she was raped and abused during her time in the church, as well as forced to disconnect from her mother, Bonny, who remained in the church even after her daughter walked away.

The tension between Remini's story and Scobee's experience is a driving force of Scientology & The Aftermath — as is Remini's guilt over actions she took while still a member of the church she now denounces. She recruited members, publicly defended the faith and its teachings, and even used her influence to keep other members from leaving. And while Remini might be unafraid to unleash her disfavor about the church now, her evolved position contrasts starkly with early days videos of her attending the Celebrity Center, when she was in her 20s.

In one of the flashback clips that pepper the episode, twentysomething Remini calls the Church of Scientology "the best friend who is always home, the best friend who doesn't have a problem, the best friend who is always there for you regardless," she says in one of these clips from the mid '90s. "That’s what Celebrity Centre has been for me and my family: pure friend." Quotes like these are exactly what Remini is trying to overwrite now: In a way, her mission to help other Scientologists share their sorrows and strike against the church is part of a process of atoning for her own past, and forging her own path forward.

"
The church will be exposed and I'm not gonna stop," Remini says near the end of the premiere episode. If this A&E series is any indication: She means to keep that promise.
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