Taking a Misguided UFO to ‘Heaven’s Gate’

It’s the golden age of cult docuseries. 

Following two different series on NXIVM on Starz, and the revival of one on Australia’s The Family on Starz — and what was Charlie Manson but a cult? — here’s a fascinating four part “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” (HBO Max, streaming), about the oddball pair of Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles who encouraged dozens of people to join, shake their earthly connections, cut their hair and dress alike, and eventually lay down and die in hopes of being led up to an awaiting UFO.

The series by Clay Tweel benefits from lengthy descriptions from surviving members who got out before the final escape (and at least one who regrets that he did so). Plus there’s a daughter of the woman who seemingly thought up the idea, though it seems she had second thoughts before she died of cancer. 

But there is also plentiful footage from the weirdly mesmerizing leaders, who called themselves Do and Ti, after the “Sound of Music” song, we are told.

“The departure” takes up the final episode of the succinct series, leading to the grim death of 39, representing the biggest mass suicide on U.S. soil to date. While there are some commentators who have studied the cult behavior, and a pair of social scientists who infiltrated for a summer to figure it out, there is still lacking a good understanding on what draws people to such communities. 

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