The series, similarly to Netflix’s Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich released in May this year, takes a sweeping look at the accusations of sex abuse and trafficking faced by Epstein prior to his death in 2019.
It leans on testimonies from eight different women who say they were abused by Epstein, as well as experts and former members of his and Ghislaine Maxwell’s close circles. In addition to personal narratives, Surviving Jeffrey Epstein paints a damning picture of how the disgraced financier allegedly groomed his victims.
The team behind the programme have said they updated it on short notice following Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest in July on charges that she conspired with Epstein to sexually abuse minors. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her lawyers have argued she has been made a scapegoat following Epstein’s death.
Two more episodes will air on Monday 10 August on Lifetime, including one taking a closer look at the allegations against Maxwell.
Here are the most startling elements aired in the first two episodes of Surviving Jeffrey Epstein:
The birthday song
Journalist Christopher Mason, a former acquaintance of Maxwell’s, alleges in the documentary that she once retained his services to write a birthday tribute to Epstein in order to mark his 40th birthday.
“I barely knew him, but Ghislaine was very specific about certain phrases and information that had to be in the song,” he says in the first episode of the series.
He describes the birthday gathering as “six guys wearing black tie” – a far cry from the “big party” he was expecting.
“[Maxwell] asked me to knock on the door at the appointed hour, walk in, sit on the floor, and perform this song,” he adds.
Mason then reads the song out loud, beginning with a fairly innocent quip about Epstein turning 40 and having grey hair. The tone, however, changes as he continues: “He sure looks older but it’s clear from his smile, the older he gets, the more juvenile. Ghislaine is lavishing him with her affections, she claims he has 24-hour erections.”
The lyrics, per Mason’s account, later reference Epstein’s past as a maths teacher at the upscale Dalton School and go on: “The naughty boy blushes to think of school girls and all of their crushes.”
In between reading the lyrics, Mason muses: “God, it seems so creepy, I’m afraid.”
How Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly gave Epstein a “veneer of respectability”
The alleged role of Maxwell in helping Epstein find victims is explored in the first part of the documentary. The fourth and final episode, airing on Monday 10 August, was redone following her arrest to further focus on the topic.
“Epstein’s victims have talked about how they weren’t sure who this guy was, but because Ghislaine seemed so proper, surely it’s got to be legit,” journalist Daniel Bates says.
“Her posh upbringing, her accent gave this veneer of respectability. Coming from a woman, I think it was incredibly manipulative and I think it was absolutely critical in Epstein’s operation.”
Epstein’s 'sociopathic' behaviour
Dr Barbara Ziv, a psychiatrist and a key expert witness during Harvey Weinstein’s and Bill Cosby’s trials, provides her insight into Epstein’s psyche and modus operandi in the documentary.
“He was manipulating vulnerable and alone individuals. Girls that he knew wouldn’t have any adults in their life who would stand up for them,” she says. “And I think that’s part of the deviance for Jeffrey Epstein.”
Ziv later adds: “His behaviour really was sociopathic: manipulativeness, superficial charm, lack of anxiety, and predominantly, lack of empathy.
“He made a choice to act on these sexual impulses in the way he did. And he made a choice to exploit vulnerable individuals.”
That time Epstein was 'Bachelor of the Month'
Surviving Jeffrey Epstein also explores the ways in which Epstein developed a veneer of likeability back in the Eighties – going from his teaching job at Dalton to a career in finance.
In 1980, in fact, Epstein made an appearance in Cosmopolitan as the magazine’s “Bachelor of the Month”.
The documentary briefly revisits that moment in time and includes a snippet of the insert, which reads next to a photo of a young Epstein: “Financial strategist Jeffrey Epstein, 27, talks only to people who make over a million a year! If you’re ‘a cute Texas girl’, write this New York dynamo at 55 Water St, 49th floor, NYC 10041.”
“Not your typical Dalton teacher”
Susan Semel, a former teacher at Dalton, describes Epstein as such: “This is not your typical Dalton teacher.”
Holding up a photo of Epstein during his time at the elite institution, she adds: “Usually, [teachers] did not sport wide lapels, gold chains, and open shirts exposing a certain amount of chest. Straight out of Saturday Night Fever.”
Surviving Jeffrey Epstein airs on Lifetime on Saturday 9 and Monday 10 August