I busted my ankle a few weeks ago. So while I should be out exploring my new neighborhood and looking for a job and doing fun summertime things with my friends, instead I’m drinking a lot of beer on my porch and reading stacks of books and binge watching a bunch of tv shows I wouldn’t otherwise have made time for. My new favorite of these is The Path on Hulu.
Briefly: The Meyerist Movement is a religious group, vaguely similar to any number of fringe religions. It particularly resembles both Scientology (strict hierarchy, information dosed out only when levelling up, gadgets to measure body energy, lots of acronyms and jargon) and hippie commune-type groups like the Source Family (vegetarianism, environmentalism, social outreach, therapeutic use of cannabis and ayahuasca, meditative sex). From what I gather, the Meyerists’ deal is something about a ladder made of light that, when ascended rung by rung (instant hierarchy with bonus metaphor? Score!) will lead them to a garden where they’ll live forever in peace after the nonbelievers destroy the world. Which is apparently going to happen pretty soon, because of things like television and Twitter and cheeseburgers. At least once an episode someone says “It’s not a cult” either in anger or exasperation. We follow the Lane family, Eddie and Sarah (played by Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan, respectively), as well as the Movement’s interim leader Cal (Hugh Dancy) who has taken charge while the founder is allegedly away writing the last few parts (“rungs”) of the group’s doctrine. There are a few storylines here. First, the founder is actually in Peru dying of cancer and no one knows but Cal, so he’s perpetrating some underhanded shit to keep the Movement going and under his control. Second, Cal has a thing for Sarah, because they were sweeties when they were younger, having been the only eligible teens in the cult at the time, maybe? I don’t know. Third, Eddie and his eldest son are having simultaneous crises of faith – Eddie because he finds out the Movement might have murdered some folks who left the group and his son because he falls in love with an outsider. And fourth (but it reads as more of an afterthought even while it’s happening), there’s the FBI agent who joins the Movement in order to investigate it as a cult, but then actually starts to dig it.
I think the most important character here is Hawk, the fifteen-year-old son (played by Kyle Allen, who looks eerily like baby Heath Ledger, not that that’s relevant but it does creep me out just a bit). In the first episode, he’s begging his parents to let him drop out of high school to take his vows early. He grew up in the Movement and knows nothing else, and fifteen is exactly the age when the world starts to creep in on you, to press at the boundaries of your comfort bubble. I suspect any kid from the cult at the edge of town would have a rough time in high school. Fifteen is also the age when you start to push back at the world when it nibbles at you, right? You want to express yourself, while still figuring out what “yourself” even means. So when he meets a girl (there’s always a girl), their exchanges seem one-sided because the Movement is all Hawk knows. This girl has the horrible responsibility of showing him what else is out there. In one scene, they’re listening to music, and she plays him something he’s never heard before and he’s shocked that he likes it. Then, after she makes fun of him for liking “old people music” (the cutoff for popular music in the rules of the Movement is 1975), so he plays her something and is equally shocked that she likes it, as well. It’s a small moment, but that’s the kind of stuff that being a teenager, especially a teenager in the throes of first love, is built on. And he realizes how much he’s missing. Then, on the flip side, when her family suddenly loses their home, Hawk convinces his parents to take them in at the Movement’s compound. He shows her what she’s missing out on – people who care for and help each other unconditionally, unlike the outside world which has been nothing but cold and dismissive in her family’s time of need. It’s a really interesting way to illustrate this kind of sequestered community’s faults and benefits, showing them to us through the logic and interactions of children.
It’s a weird show. I think it comes right to the edge of being a lot of different things and then doesn’t quite make it to any of them. It’s not really a family drama, although there’s a lot of relationship stuff and parenting stuff going on. It’s not really a mystery, because the audience knows everything that the characters don’t. It’s not really a thriller, but there are some thriller-y moments later in the season when shit gets weird. It’s not really action, despite feeling pretty cat-and-mouse at times. Whatever it’s trying to be, it’s getting there very slowly. This is definitely a slow burn. But it’s completely engrossing and the acting is great. I will say that it strikes me as unusual to see a show so focused on religion right now. I couldn’t tell you why, but it feels out of place somehow. I suppose it would be much more out of place were it on television and not the internet.
As you know if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, I’m fascinated by religion. In particular, I’m intrigued by these kinds of insular communities and their beliefs, probably because of their voluntary “otherness,” their removing themselves from the systems of the world. From cloistered nuns to the Amish to Jonestown, I find that choice, and the resulting dynamics of the group both with outsiders and each other, extremely interesting. Why, for example, do we have a scale for crazy when we talk about this stuff? Cloistered nuns or monks – totally fine, absolutely accepted without question. Mormons or Moonies – a little weird, but basically harmless. Scientologists – absolutely batshit and most likely just a scam to make billions of dollars, but also probably not dangerous to anyone but themselves and their accountants. Heaven’s Gate or The People’s Temple – crazy and dead and they make us sad, often used as a cautionary tale. Branch Davidians – send in the fucking tanks! That’s weird, right? It’s not just me?
Anyway. Check out The Path. It’s only ten episodes so you can watch the first season pretty quickly. (Also, Hulu? Stop trying to be television. If you’re going to make original programming, drop a whole season on us at once. It’s what we’re used to. It’s what we want. Live in the now.) It’s definitely worth your time, especially if you like shows that make you feel weird in your tummy because you don’t quite know what’s going on. Which I do. Bit wordy for a genre label, though. I’ll have to come up with a better term for that.