As a family drama, “The Path” is very good. As an appraisal of belief, it’s extraordinary.
Jessica Goldberg’s Hulu drama — the streaming company’s inaugural hourlong series — has already been delivering nuanced relationship narratives for two seasons, primarily focusing on the central love triangle between Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul), Sarah Lane (Michelle Monaghan), and Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). In this realm alone, “The Path” has been consistently compelling. Dancy may not be getting the buzz he did for “Hannibal,” but he’s doing work of equal magnitude. Paul is so strong as an exasperated father, husband, and leader, while Monaghan confidently pushes Sarah from moments of the utmost fragility to places of fierce conviction.
How far Goldberg and her writing staff has taken each character is impressive (not to mention the rest of the cast), but the scope of “The Path” keeps widening beyond family, and in the first six episodes of Season 3, it’s tackling head-on the very thing it claimed not to be: a cult.
If that word piques your interest, then Season 3 is what you’ve been waiting for; it’s not that Meyerism — the faith created by Dr. Stephen Meyer and followed by Eddie, Sarah, Cal — has changed so much as it’s grown. Season 3 goes big and gets there fast: A tragedy and a miracle make up the first two scenes, the latter of which leads to more worldwide exposure for the movement and thus more scrutiny from the public.
And “scrutiny” is the key word, there, because everyone sees Meyerism as a cult: The season delves into the challenges facing a new religion trying to establish itself in a world that’s so tied to old beliefs, it’s instinctively cynical toward new ones. “The Path” doesn’t argue that such skepticism is unearned — cults are very real and very dangerous — but the association of a cult has always haunted Meyerism, and they’ve never seen the ramifications they do this season.
The choice to engage with the perception of cults in 2018 brings back fond memories of yesteryear. “It’s not a fucking cult!” Eddie Lane’s defiant roar from Season 1 is hard to forget — and who would want to? An agitated Aaron Paul is an excellent Aaron Paul, but the series also stood by his claim. Meyerism is a movement, it’s not a cult. And in the first two seasons, “The Path” dealt with Meyerism on its own terms.
Eddie wrestled with his faith and nearly lost his family because of his doubts. He did lose Sarah — or Sarah lost him, depending on when you think their bond was broken — and she subsequently broke her moral rules in order to protect the movement. Cal, meanwhile, has always been the wild card: He’s killed for the cause, and he’s often motivated by pure and passionate self-aggrandizement. He wants to believe so fiercely, but his faith is often clouded by selfish desires.
In other words, “The Path” used a made-up movement to illustrate the challenges and complications of a life dedicated to faith. Its parallels weren’t relegated to fringe religions you hear about on the news or read about in the tabloids. Meyerism was rooted in benevolence. Its intentions were pure. Its practice had all the right ideas in mind.
Corruption comes from within — from the flawed human beings striving to be better — but it’s deeper than that in Season 3. A major revelation in the early episodes rocks the movement and the series’ foundation; it’s a bold development and one that opens up the series to relevant real-world parallels. It’s tough to say more without giving away the twist, but it’s worth noting how it could’ve sent the show spiraling into soap, and instead, only gave it more power.
The Meyerism movement has always been intriguing because it’s not an evil organization. “The Path” has always been intriguing because it’s not about evil cults — like, say, an unnamed “religion” with a few very famous Hollywood faces. For as much lurid fascination as that kind of show would provide, Goldberg’s drama isn’t a masked attack on specific cults or cults in general; it’s an honest assessment of faith in the 21st century. Right now, one of the challenges facing Meyerism is that outsiders automatically assume any “movement” with money, members, and “strange” practices is probably a cult, so these characters have to deal with the association in frightening ways.
It’s an excellent way to engage with a topic always lurking around “The Path,” but the series isn’t merely relenting to an association it’s been facing since Day 1. Season 3 asks us to separate fact from fiction; to look beyond easy labels and examine what’s really going on; it asks for trust from a world where that’s justifiably suspicious. Now is not a time in which a new faith could easily survive, if at all, and cult-related questions evoke problems within the movement. They affect each character’s faith. Sarah and Cal, especially, have to look at their past in relation to Meyerism and what’s driving their conviction to it, while Eddie struggles to get his message out because everyone thinks he’s a cult leader.
Eddie’s response still rings true: Meyerism is not a fucking cult. But abductive reasoning demands he finish the sentence: If it looks like a cult and acts like a cult, then… what? Is the world wrong, or is Eddie ignoring a problem? His struggle is our gain, as “The Path” Season 3 remains one helluva walk. Get to steppin’.
“The Path” Season 3 premieres Wednesday, January 17 on Hulu. The first three episodes are streaming now, with new episodes every Wednesday.