The Path: What the Fire Throws

This was unironically a scene in the episode.
"Well, your intuition is off."

Heh. You know who's banking on your intuition being off? A cult! It's possible that this show is also counting on our intuition being off which in turn makes it sort of unforgivable but possibly brilliant. Or both.

If you have ever fantasized about running away to upstate New York for the rest of your life, this show might be for you. If you love Aaron Paul and/or Hugh Dancy with the fire of 10,000 suns, this show might be for you. If you miss Big Love, The Returned or would prefer The Walking Dead if it were more theoretical and motivated by a quasi-religion/philosophical belief system, this show might be for you. As far as I can tell, that is the cross-section of people who will be drawn to watch The Path. But hell, that might be a pretty big group of TV watchers, for all I know.

You know the emoji with hearts in its eyes?
The Path, created by Jessica Goldberg, is (potentially?) a thriller/drama about a cult in transition. The leader, an ex-Army psychiatrist (Steve Meyer -- the movement is called Meyerism) founded it after the Vietnam War and, well, its tenets are still in progress. But as every religion does, it offers a solution to the problem of life. And this solution has rungs on a ladder on which to ascend to an enlightened state. As an aside, I've read a few reviews about the show and I can say with as much certainty as is possible that the belief system of Meyerism is supposed to be a big ole mess. It's not meant to make sense to us in the outside world. In fact, to me, the writers have done an effective job if they have outlined several ways the religious beliefs address distinctly human issues (so you can sort of see how people can get sucked in) but don't drawn clear-cut lines between the roots of the religion and its principles, nor present the religion as dogma. The show succeeds in doing all of this.

Upstate NY is for real so pretty though.
All that said, every cult cliche you can think of and even some that you thought, 'there is no f-ing way we haven't retired this yet' are present in this pilot. As a former yoga teacher, I mostly delighted in this because it gave this overly gloomy episode of TV some levity, even if it was self-amusement. But remarkably, if I temporarily checked out during any number of those insufferable tropes, Hugh Dancy and/or Aaron Paul would snap me back to the story at hand. I guess you can see where my interests lie.

I'm pretty sure that's a linen shirt.
In truth and as much as I adore Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan (and both are fine here), Dancy's Cal is the only character who has the right tone of the show. Cal is a devastatingly troubled individual who also has more charisma in a single long dark eyelash than anyone in the compound has in their whole being. He also manages to have sexual tension with everyone and everything in his orbit (not least of all the walls of his house) (I'm serious). There is a scene midway through the pilot (with a new devotee in a wispy nightgown) (yes, I just typed that phrase) that had even one moment of it been played differently than Dancy played it, I might have thrown my TV off my fire escape. The sheer amount of time he allowed his character to steep in the lascivious nature of the situation blew my mind. It was kind of the best thing ever.

Paul and Monaghan play marrieds, Eddie and Sarah Lane. Their family is crucial to the Meyerist movement because among them and their kids are three generations of this religion represented. Sarah was born into it, whereas Eddie came to it later, like many of the devotees -- through despair and heartache. (He had lost his only perceived ally in life, his brother, to suicide.) Sarah and Cal have history, he tosses off a line about her breaking his heart but you know she probably did. Eddie recently ascended a rung by tripping his face off in Peru on requisite ayahuasca but as plant medicines are wont to do, he's seeing the world differently now and is having serious doubts about his choices to be a part of the movement. Sarah assumes his distance means he's having an affair. There is a mystery girl, who we see through some expositional scenes has separated from the cult, that Eddie is talking with now to try and get some answers from since she is no longer enmeshed in Meyerism. (It's as tedious as the structure of that sentence, I assure you.) Most of the Lane's story teeters between mildly interesting and forgettable. I'd like to add that there's more chemistry between Eddie and Cal than Eddie and Sarah. I'm just saying.

The two most intriguing aspects to the story, for me, lie in the worst of the tropes which is hilarious but also maybe genius of the writers. In the first, the show opens with the aftermath of a tornado in a New Hampshire town where Cal and his people sweep in and 'rescue' those most in need and included in this round-up is a girl, Mary, who's also detoxing from opiates. We come to find out her dad is a real dirtbag -- the kind Cal can't wait to get his hands on. And in a moment, juxtaposed with his giving a lecture to the Meyerists on trading self-created illusions for a new reality, he beats the shite out of him in their trailer. (I know.) The second is Eddie and Sarah's teenage son who we see in a moment without mom and dad, at school. He's teased for being a Meyerist in the cafeteria (of course!) but not all is lost because a pretty girl across the room is watching him. He notices and shrugs it off, but there's something delicious there. That might just be true of this show, in general.

Just some light reading before bed.
Other Thoughts

* The opening credits are gorgeous.

* Mike Cahill (Another Earth) directed the pilot. It's not perfect but it looks pretty damn good.

* There's a conversation early on in the kitchen between Sarah's mom and Sarah that is so sharp and symbolic of the setting they're in. Her mom, 'helpfully', mentions a possible reason Sarah's husband isn't the same since the trip to Peru and it involves another woman. It's so cruel and mean but disguised as 'honest and real' (transparent!) and if there is even one more line in the rest of the season that rivals its brilliance, it might make the show worth watching -- it's that good.

* The glass of water imagery will, god willing, be explored more. Both Mary is extended water in the teaser as a sign of trust and Eddie refers to a glass of water Sarah extended to him first time they met that defined their relationship henceforth.

* I haven't seen The Leftovers, but from what I've gathered this has a bit of that vibe, too.

* Goldberg's fascination with how a cult/religious movement can last more than one generation is pretty damn interesting. It's chilling to watch Eddie reading a children's book version of the origins of Meyerism to his young daughter.

* I think this show has the potential for the right kind of tawdry the subject matter requires to be entertaining, since it's already moderately provocative. It's early yet but I'm hopeful.

* Did I forget to mention Aaron Paul?

* What about Hugh Dancy?


Billie Doux said...

What a terrific read, Heather. I'm relatively sure I'm not going to try this series, and now I feel like I know what I need to know about it. :)

mazephoenix said...

I've had a crush on Hugh Dancy since Hannibal season one. This is for me. Likewise Aaron Paul since Breaking bad..

Heather said...

Billie, that's well put! The pilot reviews here on the site do the same thing for me.

mazephoenix, run, don't walk, to Hulu. This show is for you.

mazephoenix said...

Thanks Heather..I also saw Dancy in a movie about a cult with Elizabeth Olsen..It was called Marcy Martha Marlene..and is about a girl escaping a cult. Dancy is her brother in law, who's not a cult leader. Stiil it's an interesting movie and Olsen is great.

Heather said...

mazephoenix, I forgot he was in that film! I really liked that movie. And I love John Hawkes.

Logan Cox said...

Sounds fascinating, but maybe not something I want to delve into; I have not tried Big Love for this reason.

Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy and Michelle Monaghan are all solid in my book as well. Dancy's character sounds a lot like Will Graham: troubled, slightly-off but cute, unexpectedly dangerous, seemingly fluid sexuality; hope he's not being type-cast or something. Also, where's mah Hannibal gone?

mazephoenix said...

Logan..wherever Will is Hannibal is sure to have followed.
Mikkelsen is off shooting Doctor Strange with Cumberbatch and co.
Opens in November.

Heather said...

Logan and mazephoenix,
I miss Hannibal so much, you guys. Logan, Dancy's Cal is a lot more damaged than Will, if you can believe it! But he brings the same 'wheels always turning' quality he had as Will. Honestly, the show's much better than the pilot would make one believe... Truly, if you like Hugh, you'll probably enjoy the show.

mazephoenix said...

I've seen the first two eps now..damn is Cal a messed up guy..and I like that. In it for a long while. Paul's great too.