There are certain things, certain experiences that we all share as human beings. Anyone who has had to look after a baby, toddler or young child for any amount of time will tell you that dissapointment, things not being quite what you hoped, the unexpected can all be traumatic. No cake being availible when you thought there was some, a balloon popping, and in my personal parenting experience having a bath or seeing pepper on your food, can all turn into trauma. As we grow of course thankfully we get better at managing the unexpected and dissapointments of life. However, as we grow the stakes do get higher.
For River Donaghue his childhood was filled with emotionally literate adults who were dedicated to the hard work of personal growth, and fostered the same attitude in him. For many who have experienced authoritarian and fearful childhoods this sounds like a dream. However it was only when River was older he realised he had actully been raised in a cult called Lifespan.
As River delves further into Lifespan he discovers the courses, which of course cost in thousands of dollars, and essentially operate as multi level marketing, have had terrible effects on others. Some had pshychotic breaks and were hospitalised, one woman died from an asthma attack during a course, and another student completed suicide.
Once the public found out about these shocking events membership of Lifespan plummeted. It’s founder John Hanley essentially sold the cult (training materials and all) to someone else, who now operates it under a different name, and moved to Mexico where he still “trains,” people. Like an organisim the cult was able to adapt and evolve, to carry on growing and sucking in more people and lives with which to feed itself.
To be honest, on the face of it Lifespans operation is not particularily unusal in the world of cults, see former episodes on The Orgasim Cult or Dragged Into The Light by Antony Russo. Take a person who is vulnerable, break them down, build them back up. The problem lies when the building back up does not happen, or someone presents with a different background and does not behave as the identikit generic human the cult wants, and instead like an individual with a complex life and past, and many fascets to themselves.
What however is interesting is how Donaghay negotiates his childhood memories, which were not traumatic, with a cult which has been entangled in the ending of lives, and the mental breakdowns of others. In essence Donaghay has an existential crisis centering on the frame of his childhood, his family and identity. This is a crisis that is not unusal in crime. How many sexual abusers got away wither their behaviour because others could not, or would not believe they had done anything wrong, purely because they had never seen them do anything bad?
No matter what the trappings of our adult lives are, carears, homes, families, cars, holidays and agency, essentially we still want to be able to put everything in the world in an easy containers of good or bad. This is at the root of many issues that we come across in society. The idea that only a specific type of person can be an alcoholic or drug addict, that a specific religious belief makes someone more likely to be a terrorist, that people in certain professions cannot also be criminals, women don’t commit sexual abuse, that old people are always nice and deep down everyones parents really do love them. I could go on. It is this nievety which many carry through their whole adulthood that often stops issues being dealt with head on and with cold headed practicality.
It is only when we get to the higher understanding that most people, most organisations, are neither wholly good, or wholly bad, that we can transcend some of these entrenched issues and see things clearly. One thing can be very bad for some people, and positive for others. Neither negates the other, they both just… are. We don’t all have to feel the same about everything. It is this realisation that Donaghay eventually comes to, and manages through his tenacity to track down Hanley, and come to develop some form of peace.