One of Hulu’s first forays into original programming, The Path is a compelling journey. Tackling issues of what faith means to different individuals, and how perception shapes reality, The Path ends up being more than a showcase for peak television actors. While it stumbles a bit in the hazy details, and often has more ideas in its head than on screen, it still remains a complex Spring binge with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
A show like The Path requires convincing world-building. We have to buy in to whatever its characters are buying into, otherwise everything falls apart. Luckily, The Path is provocative from the get-go, asking questions you may not get answers to at the end of each episode. Airing weekly instead of using the binge model proves to be beneficial for this series, from creator Jessica Goldberg and executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood).
The show introduces us to the fictional religion of Meyerism. With its own lexicon and terminology, The Path wastes no time getting us acquainted with climbing “The Ladder,” as its called, to enlightenment. Its followers gather at a compound for worship and spiritual development led by the charismatic leader Cal (Hugh Dancy). Its easy to see why Meyerism’s followers are drawn to Cal – he’s appealling and enigmatic. Dancy’s performance draws you in, and you’ll fall for him and his words, but we quickly learn that Cal isn’t all that he seems.
Most of the conflict is mined from the characters of Eddie (Aaron Paul) and Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). Sarah has a tight relationship with leader Cal and is a powerful leader in The Movement in her own right. Her husband Eddie, while on a retreat in Peru completing another step of The Ladder, suffers a crisis of faith and begins to question the fundamental beliefs of Meyerism. His questioning is the catalyst for his psychological unraveling as Eddie’s relationships begin to crumble, with Paul channeling significant angst in a brilliant post-Bad role. He seeks out a Meyerism defector and this sets the stage for a spiritual brawl. The couple’s son, Hawk, ends up being more than just a teen-angst vehicle as well, as he completes the steps to become an adult in The Movement and take his vows. Like Eddie, he suffers a religious crisis of his own after he develops feeling for a girl at his school who wants nothing to do with The Movement.
While its supporting characters are not nearly as convincing as its leads, they still add much to the world-building and character of the not-a-cult Meyerism. Mary (Emma Greenwell), a recovering addict, is our entrypoint into Meyerism as she is “saved” in a rescue effort and becomes devoted to The Movement. Greenwell is game and gives Mary many different shades as her character explores blossoming spiritual attraction as well as romantic attraction. Meanwhile, FBI agent Abe (Rockmund Dunbar) is investigating The Movement after their suspicious activity following a natural disaster in which they welcomed victims into their compound. Most of this conflict is external, as Abe gets closer and closer to the truth, but it remains the least compelling piece of the puzzle. We know the investigation won’t really lead anywhere, and seeing Abe stumble and face personal faith crises of his own grows repetitive and a tad inconsequential.
The Path accomplishes what it sets out to do, and more. It explores faith in a variety of different avenues – Sarah’s faith to both Eddie and Cal, Mary’s newfound faith, Hawk’s faith to his family and Ashley – and does so without feeling preachy or ostentatious. It remains a well-acted and beautifully produced show, leaving me anxious for its second season.