Note: This review contains spoilers for the first four episodes of The Path
Online streaming service (and notable cable replacement) Hulu has been trying to get into the original content game during the last few months—but rather unlike Amazon and Netflix, it has lacked a show that should be its flagship. However, its new drama The Path weaves a complex tale of faith, doubt, and relationships together with excellent performances and the always-engrossing topic of what constitutes a new religious movement versus an exploitative cult.
The Path follows members of the upstate New York compound/commune/hub of the Meyerist movement; while the Meyerist faith itself is something of a cross between Scientology and a New Age hippie belief system, the questions that the series raises about navigating belief in the modern world.
Those familiar with premium cable shows will find a lot to appreciate about The Path—and not just in the nudity and swearing that the episodes are free to include—the show’s stellar cast includes beloved dramatic actors Aaron Paul as Eddie, the show’s protagonist, Michelle Monaghan as Sarah, a Meyerist raised in the faith and Eddie’s wife, and Hugh Dancy as Cal, the ambitious heir apparent to the Meyerist leadership while its leader is unavailable.
The Meyerist big kahuna’s “unavailability” is what kick-starts the entire series and its central conflict; while on a retreat in Peru (and under the influence of Ayahausca, naturally) Eddie sees something that he’s not supposed to, and this causes him to begin questioning whether Meyerism is really the big-t Truth after all.
While Paul and Monaghan are excellent in their lead roles, Dancy is exceptional—and given that this is his first major TV role after his critically acclaimed turn as troubled FBI profiler Will Graham on Hannibal, this is a feat. As Cal, the heir apparent to the Meyerist movement, Dancy lends an intense physicality to the role that is nothing short of incredible; as viewers we can see that Cal is a man struggling with control issues of the bodily and spiritual sort, which come up often in his interactions with other Meyerist followers and compound-dwellers.
To his credit, Dancy does not overact the part, and imbues Cal with enough likeability and charisma to keep viewers interested; his scenes with Cal’s alcoholic, narcissistic mother (Kathleen Turner, in a fantastic guest spot) in episode three are a highlight as he tries to balance compassion with very real anger over a lifetime of emotional neglect. In a role that could very easily become a muddle of tropes—especially in light of the whole is Meyerism a cult or not question at which the show hints—Dancy deserves praise for not simply making Cal a power-hungry, charismatic religion-bot who lacks anything below the surface.
Regarding the “cult” question, The Path very smartly refuses to answer such a query. However, in exchanging this question for something more challenging, part of where The Path unfortunately falters is due to its acute case of Too Many Subplots. Eddie’s crisis of faith! Sarah suspects that Eddie is having an affair! What happens when the woman who Eddie said he had an affair with in Peru (to cover up his doubts about Meyerism) says that they did not have an affair in Peru?!
Cal struggles with his attraction to a new Meyerist convert! Eddie and Sarah’s teenage son is trying to help a classmate whose family is facing financial problems, even though the Meyerists don’t want their adherents to associate with people outside of the faith! There’s an FBI agent investigating the upstate commune! Cal and Sarah might have a thing going on! Cal will do anything to ensure that he is the next in line to head up Meyerism! For the record, those are just the subplots that get the most screen time.
The issue with too much going on is not a reason to give up on the show yet, though; if The Path can continue with its immensely watchable performances, smart writing, and breathless pacing through the remainder of its six episodes this season, Hulu just might have a certifiable hit within its ranks.
The Path airs new episodes each Wednesday on Hulu through May 25.