Hit or Sh**: Hulu’s THE PATH

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

the path logo

We’re always looking for the next big thing. Genre storytelling is the new norm, and genres live and die by their ability to provide variation and surprise. Of late we cycled through several genre styles, and I think we might have landed on the best version of our newest one with Hulu’s THE PATH.

It started with witches, transitioned to vampires and shapeshifters, stopped off at zombies and the post-apocalypse, and has finally landed on cults. Cults are the new boogeymen. Cults are the new zombies. Whether it be Fox’s THE FOLLOWING (the show poor Kevin Bacon signed a six year contract for), CW’s CULT (a show about a cult obsessed with a tv show about a cult), Netflix’s silly and absurd UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, or my personal darling, HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS, cults have finally pierced into the zeitgeist. It makes some amount of sense  in 2016, when the structures of the world seem largely unsupportive of the people living in them; waking up and making a change seems like the exact kind of thing that audiences would identify with. Enter THE PATH.

the path kevin bacon

We have to save Kevin Bacon from himself

The show focuses most of its attention on three members at the heart of the East Coast Meyerist Movement (they prefer “movement” rather than cult, but we know) and the complications that arise when one of them begins to suspect foul play in the burgeoning religion. These three are Eddie Lane played by Aaron Paul (BREAKING BAD), Sarah Lane played by Michelle Monaghan (TRUE DETECTIVE), and Cal Roberts played by Hugh Dancy (HANNIBAL). The relationship between the three of them has romantic elements (the Lanes are husband and wife, Cal dated Sarah), which will most likely fill the sex quota for the show, but the pilot is not so much concerned with how they relate to each other as how they relate to their religion.

the path one mo hannibal

Another fun part of the pilot is wishing this was another season of HANNIBAL rather than a show where Hugh Dancy doesn’t fall in love with a serial killer

Part of the fun of the pilot is sussing out the structure and purpose of the Meyerist Movement at the heart of the show. How does it work? What do its members get out of it? These questions are mainly answered through the instruction of a group of new converts saved after a tornado destroys a mobile home park. As much as its creator denies it, THE PATH clearly seems to draw from Scientology in regards to religious interactions, though Meyerism is less sci-fi and more new-agey in its pursuits.

That last nugget of plot is the most important to the pilot and to the arc of Paul’s character Eddie. It’s this notion of an “absent god” that makes him begin to doubt Meyerism and his place in it. This moment of realization is also the pilot’s clunkiest scene, delivered in a strangely placed and structured flashback. In order for Eddie to advance to his “6R” level in Meyerism, he has to take Ayahuasca in Peru (sigh). It’s new-agey and culturally fetishistic as all hell, with tribal drums, campfires, and trippy people dancing. Eddie sees a vision of his dead brother (a person whose death convinced him to join Meyerism) and follows him inside a building to see the leader of Meyerism, Dr. Steven Meyer, in a coma, slowly being wrapped up by a large python. It’s a startling image, if not a tad heavy-handed, but it shows that the creators aren’t afraid to delve into the surreal, something that Hulu needs if it wants to differentiate its satisfactory (if not safe) new cable-level drama.

the path michelle monaghan

Innovative through its use of footage from crowds at Bernie Sanders rallies

What won me over with this show and what will probably carry it for a while before it gets its plot in order was its performances, in particular Michelle Monaghan’s turn as Sarah. She is a true believer, to the point that the idea that her husband cheated on her is a much simpler problem than him having wavering faith. She carries the strength and charm that made her so compelling in TRUE DETECTIVE but with a new layer of unhinged blind faith that is very scary. Hugh Dancy and Aaron Paul do what they can with what they’re given, but Michelle Monaghan is clearly crafting a character worthy of a better show.

All in all, THE PATH is an interesting first taste of what could develop into a big success for Hulu if its plot and structure are brought into order and its male stars are given the material needed to shine as bright as its already brilliant female one.  At the very least, a cult show is better than a zombie show. Because zombies are boring. And this is a pretty interesting cult show.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

THE PATH is available to stream on Hulu; new episodes post every Wednesday.

Ian Campbell is a guest contributor here at Crossfader. He wants you to like him just as much as he wants you to like the things he likes. He recommends you give Damon Lindelof a break.

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