I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say we are a world, a collection of people who make up a collective society, obsessed with belonging; with finding “our people,” with being a part of something bigger than ourselves, with knowing — or attempting to know — that we fit in somewhere, somehow. It is a very real, raw and overwhelmingly human experience. And in the same vein, we are also a society of extremes — we want it faster, bigger, better. Often, we push our desires into obsessions. When paired, a fear of ostracization and the want for it all can become lethal.
The Hulu original series The Path explores that dangerous, possibly deadly, combination. In an elevator-pitch sentence, it’s a show about a cult that’s equally what it seems and so much more. Without spoiling anything, The Path focuses mainly on its opposing male leads — Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul), a convert of the fictional Meyerist Movement who begins to question the entire ground upon which it stands, and Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy), the leader and pseudo-patriarch of Meyerism itself. The Path is not perfect, but it does a damn good job approaching a pinnacle of excellence. In its initial ten-episode run, the Jessica Goldberg-created drama builds brick upon brick of tension and lays the groundwork for a promising second season. But, like many shows just starting out, the first season has its triumphs and its flaws.
The Meyerist Movement is alluring, in a way that you can recognize a cult can be, and The Path executes the nuances of such a movement quite well. It’s multi-layered — there’s trickles of apocalyptic cult thought, there’s mystic myth elements, there’s a hyper-religious adjacency imbued throughout; and it’s all paired with a sometimes-dormant threat that can easily and quickly surface itself and burst into chaos. The craft and presentation of the fictional movement — one that feels restrictive all the while promising freedom and “light” — is consistently unsettling, undeniably sinister and sizzle-sweats with a feverish heat that rises as the season progresses. Striking a balance between real danger and a believable pull is difficult, but The Path has a steady hand and finds the sweet spot with ease. Perhaps the most daunting truth that the Hulu series portrays is a simple one: Anything, no matter how deeply it’s rooted in purity and honesty, can spiral into corruption. You are forced to face that, and the unfiltered discussion and exploration of religion in The Path is a merit in and of itself when compared to the often hesitant nature of other television series.
Let’s just let facts be facts: I have and likely always will be taken by these actors and their performances. Paul captivated me – and undoubtedly millions of others – as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. Dancy had me hooked as Will Graham from the very first episode of NBC’s Hannibal, where he played my favorite role of his yet. The writing, character development and pacing of The Path – along with the complex core at the heart of the show’s story – lends itself to the talents of these actors beautifully. In fact, it seems a symbiotic relationship: the show and the natural merits of its leads work with one another and elevate each to a crisp and highly enjoyable level. Both Paul and Dancy are wholly fantastic.
But are Cal Roberts and Eddie Lane the most enthralling characters they’ve played? Not necessarily — not at first, at least. In all honesty, I had trouble pushing past the Pinkman/Graham wall in the first few episodes; I kept searching for the characters of whom I’d grown so fond in these new and mysterious on-screen men. But once that crumbled away — around episode 3, I can recall feeling it fade — I was convinced, and hooked. Dancy as Cal Roberts is addicting, both in the quiet danger he brings to the role — the kind that leaves you yearning for something you can’t place your finger on, for reasons of which you’re not entirely sure — as well as in the way he settles into crafting an already complex and troubled individual. Paul as Eddie Lane is equally so. He’s evocative in an almost restrained manner, doling out the darkness in concentrated bursts throughout the season. The more emotionally saturated scenes of Paul as Eddie were reminiscent of his work as Jesse Pinkman. He’s an actor who knows how to deliver time and again.
Both in terms of the conventionality of some aspects of the show’s construction and in the way certain characters are written. While this feeling of slight dissatisfaction is essentially my only gripe with the series, it is one prominent enough to have affected my viewing experience. As most viewers of the series would agree, The Path‘s strengths lie in its stripped-bare introspection. When the audience is allowed to dive into the world of The Movement, head-first into the eeriness of it all, the show is a marvel. But it feels unfocused and off when it tries to incorporate more “traditional” elements of dramas, particularly the police subplots and the Friday Night Lights-esque familial tensions. I wanted more cult exploration and less of the distracting off-shoots. Moving forward, if Goldberg’s series narrows in its focus on The Movement, the creepy skeleton of the show that is so gripping, it will become an even larger force of television greatness.
Unfortunately, female characters in The Path aren’t given the same attention to detail as male characters are. In complete truth, they are overshadowed by the men — and not for lack of their actors’ performances, but for a bit of underwriting. Michelle Monaghan as Sarah Lane, Eddie’s wife, and Emma Greenwell as Mary Cox, a recent Meyerist convert who is completely taken with Cal, are phenomenal but aren’t as full-fledged as their male counterparts. I yearned for more time with them and more exploration into who they are both as women and as people living in such a society. Greenwell and Monaghan are expectedly wonderful but admittedly dulled by the powerhouse men, something which I hope (and have faith) will change in seasons to come. It simply comes down to the script and the story.
While The Path isn’t without flaws, it’s also not without credits. The series shows immense potential for growth into new territories, bigger plots and even more psychologically thrilling twists and turns. It has taken its time to establish itself, a smart move that may very well catalyze the series to evolve into a drama that can stand with the best of them.