What Was That? My Thoughts on The Deep End Docuseries

The fourth and last episode of Freeform’s docuseries The Deep End aired about a week ago, and I’m still not sure what to think. There is nothing I enjoy more than digging into a cult. I’m captivated by the lessons, the recruitment strategies, the leader’s agenda, and more. But, ultimately, I’m fascinated by the cultists. What makes people so susceptible to charismatic leaders? I strive to be as open-minded as possible; I want to understand, not judge. And with an open mind, I dove into the world of Teal Swan.

My first experience with a cult was in the 1990s when I watched the dismantling of the Branch Davidians complex in Waco, Texas. As a child, I thought David Koresh was a crazy Jesus freak with brainwashing abilities. I attended church, but my experience differed from what I saw on television. Back then, I knew that cults were evil. It was that simple. While I still believe cults are dangerous and sometimes delusional, I no longer view all members as insane or malicious.

Cult members are unaware that they are joining a cult; they perceive themselves as joining a group of people who share their values and enjoy a strong sense of community. The more I learn about different cult members, the more I understand why they want to be part of the organization. Especially when the individual is in pain and seeking healing. NXIVM, associated with former Smallville actress Allison Mack, has been responsible for several victims who only joined to better themselves. Tony Robbins workshops, which are seen more as a money grab than a cult, often appeal to those seeking healing as well. The Deep End raises the question: Is Teal Swan a cult leader or a self-help pioneer?

Teal Swan was born in the 1980s as Mary Teal Bosworth. Swan discusses her lousy childhood experiences in the documentary The Deep End. She was bullied at school before being sexually assaulted by an adult she trusted. She later found, after recovering suppressed memories, that a Satanic cult was targeting her because of her psychic abilities. Unfortunately, her allegations are impossible to verify, raising the first question concerning Swan: is she telling the truth about her early trauma? Perhaps the answer to that question is unnecessary, which leads to the second question: is she an expert striving to improve the world around her, or is she a sociopathic fraudster who endangers the lives of those who follow her?

Another reason Swan is so controversial is her suicide guidance, as well as some of the activities she conducts at her seminars. You should watch the docuseries in order to get more clarity.

So, what am I thinking? Honestly? I have no idea. Before finishing The Deep End, Swan was unknown to me, so I had no expectations. I realized from the promotional materials that her tactics were unusual, but it didn’t suggest she wasn’t credible. Instead, like many cult leaders, I expected more grey areas regarding Swan. I went over the episodes, looking for both positive and negative aspects. It was hard to find the positive.

The series is incredibly interesting, and I’m glad I watched it for many reasons, but, in some ways, I also wish I hadn’t. Swan comes across as an egotistical brat who refuses to listen to anyone who contradicts her. I felt like I was watching her unravel episode after episode, largely because she couldn’t control the thoughts and actions of others around her. Her behavior was obnoxious for a grown adult. It really scares me that she is out there counseling people with suicidal ideas.

All of that being said, these are my personal opinions, and I’m no expert. What I can say for certain is that if you’re searching for a docuseries on a possible self-help cult, The Deep End is worth watching (now accessible on Freeform and Hulu).

Check out the trailer below:

“The Deep End,” a four-part docuseries, is an arresting and provocative exploration inside the world of one of today’s most controversial spiritual teachers and her dedicated followers. Filmed over three years with unprecedented access, it is an unflinching portrayal of the incredible lengths people will go to in their search for connection.

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