Most often a careful character study of a fractured family at the center of a faith-based movement, Hulu’s The Path concerns itself with the notion of belief and the ways in which conviction can be tested or altogether upended. Though its storytelling remains grounded, the series occasionally teeters on the edge of something more. Throughout its first season the series teased a provocative metaphysical aspect lingering just beneath the surface of this unique family drama, a tease that continues in season 2.
Created by Parenthood alum Jessica Goldberg, the series’ flirtation with grand implications beyond what can be seen is part and parcel to its central storyline of a family torn apart by a crisis of faith. But the ghost of NBC’s weekly tearjerker persists, as The Path registers a number of separate storylines, from forbidden teenage desires to political machinations to outright murder that sometimes leaves its plot centered on the possible transcendence of Aaron Paul‘s Eddie Lane somewhat diffuse at times. The first season began with implications that the Meyerist Movement, or cult, as undercover FBI agent Abe Gaines (the always welcome Rockmond Dunbar) has designated them, was involved in some shady dealings and used that as the basis of Edidie’s schism with the movement he once credited with saving his life.
By turns darkly intense and ponderous, The Path boasts a stellar cast that in season 2 is given more to do now that the characters and their roles have been better established. The series isn’t coy about the intentions of Hugh Dancy‘s Cal, who has falsely ascended the ladder – a term the Meyerists use to denote hierarchy and levels of enlightenment, not unlike the Operating Thetan Levels in Scientology – of the movement and assumed a co-leadership position with Eddie’s estranged wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). He’s using Meyerism to fill a deep personal void and responds violently when the movement or his position in it is threatened. In season 1, Cal murdered the movement’s resident “shaman” Silas, burying his body in the woods and late in the season 2 premiere, he unburdens himself to Sarah, dragging her into the metaphorical pit he’s dug for himself and Meyerism as a whole.
It’s a compelling avenue for the show to travel, one that thoughtfully extends certain ideas laid out in season 1, while allowing for a more pronounced sense of conflict now that Eddie is less directly involved in Sarah’s day-to-day life. Converting Cal and Sarah’s pent-up sexual tension into a mix of barely contained rage and the pangs of overwhelming guilt turns the would-be adulterers into a pair of criminals complicit in covering up the murder of Silas for the good of the movement. Monaghan makes for a convincing believer and imbues Sarah’s lifelong indoctrination in Meyerism with just the right amount of self-righteousness and frankness to keep her from toppling over into one of the other. Dancy wears Cal’s wicked fecklessness on his sleeve, making the grudge-based leadership decisions at once more predictable and engrossing, since now he’s scrambling to keep his head above water and using Sarah as a floatation device.
For all the trouble it’s caused him, Eddie’s departure from the movement seems to have come at just the right time. Not so much lost as allowing himself to remain adrift after being unmoored from Meyerism, Eddie’s working day labor and going out for drinks with the sort of blue-collar guys he might have been had he not chased the light. But Goldberg isn’t letting Eddie start over completely. In the season finale he ventured to South America, seeking confirmation of the vision he had of a snake in Dr. Steven Meyer’s bed. The cancer-stricken founder – played by 2001‘s Keir Dullea – seized upon Eddie’s visit, proclaiming him to be “the one” before becoming one with the light himself – i.e., taking a dive off a cliff. Meyers’ assertion that Eddie is in some way special is yet another example of The Path‘s inclination toward the metaphysical as a possibility, but Goldberg uses the diminished capacities of the founder as a back door – one that’s closes just a little when Eddie reveals his body is covered in a scar resembling a giant tree.
The episode’s closing moments are another example of The Path‘s ability to ask intriguing questions about the nature of its world and what part faith actually plays in the grand scheme of things. Eddie’s departure from the movement makes him the least likely to embody what Steven claims he does, and yet Goldberg isn’t necessarily breaking new ground by having the faithless be confronted with a possible transcendental experience.
Much like season 1, though, Goldberg is as interested in various other goings-on as she is in Eddie’s metaphysical experiences. Eddie’s son Hawk (Kyle Allen) – who still seems too old to play Paul’s kid – flirts with rebellion, first smoking a joint and then tossing rocks through windows. Meanwhile, Dunbar’s Agent Gaines does his own flirting, taking his undercover investigation a step too far with one of the women from the movement. Between Cal, Sarah, Hawk, and Agent Gaines, The Path has plenty of storylines to stay busy over its 13-episode second season. And yet it also sees fit to introduce James Remar as Meyer elder Kodiak, investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding Steve’s death.
The scope of the various threads smacks as much of ambition as it does story padding. But the implications of Eddie’s experience with Steve help to see past the filling. The Path excels at being an engrossing family drama and it certainly knows how to tease a thing or two. The series has an opportunity to make something satisfying out of the seemingly inexplicable questions it has now doubled down on.
The first two episodes of The Path season 2 are available now on Hulu.
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