The very real struggles of belief and faith, no matter which denomination, or even intended lack of denomination, are not alien to television. If you want to whittle it all down, The Walking Dead is about faith in humanity and society against all likelihood. The Young Pope, for all its faults, considers the balance between motions towards the sublimity of the afterlife and the petty, enormously satisfying human acts and gripes that drive a radical spiritual leader. Meanwhile, on the big screen, Martin Scorsese‘s Silence may be the most important religious film of the decade for its simultaneous ecstatic celebration of the uniting force of faith and its sober, direct criticism of the self-serving nature of all religions.
Cults are also not completely unrepresented on television either, whether you point toward Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or a variety of episodes of The X-Files and random crime procedurals, from the Law & Orders to the CSIs. Part of the drama of Hulu’s The Path is the difference between a religion, a cult, and a scheme, and how sometimes all three are accurate describers for movements like Meyerism, the central belief system of The Path. What drives someone to give their will over completely to a belief system? Do you struggle? Does that struggle signify something greater, or the lack thereof? The questions are innumerable but if any of these queries were in the minds of The Path‘s creative team, it doesn’t translate on screen.
Instead, The Path comes off as a vaguely menacing, largely repetitive soap opera centered around a made-up spiritual movement that is in the midst of expanding. In the first season, Hugh Dancy‘s Cal clashed with the higher-ups of Meyerism over the direction, eventually tipping over to violence in more than one instance. Now that he seems to be the ipso-facto leader of the movement, his aggressive plan for expansion, including an expensive building in a prime lot of Manhattan real estate, has become the center of the show’s focus. Even in the tense scene when Cal bids for the lot, there’s little love or attention given towards the ceremony, the surroundings, or even the other people. The sequence is written and filmed with a starched plainness, driven by the obvious goal of imparting a major plot point and reconfirming Cal’s disturbing competitive streak.
With Eddie (Aaron Paul, also a producer here) now out of the movement and back in the world with a construction gig, the series attempts to express the joys of being out on one’s own, with no schedule and no wife. In the first episode, Eddie makes a point of inviting himself to an after-work trip to the local bar, only a day or two after meeting back up with an attractive, single woman who he used to go to high school with years ago. Rather than attempting to show the buds of kinship, the bonding of colleagues, the show quickly turns attention back to the possible rekindled flame. The dialogue is constantly leading the audience by the nose and never lingers for too long in an exchange or in a moment of quiet reflection or revelation.
The gears of the storytelling are readily apparent at every turn, and the show does not do much visually to distract from that or offer a counter-argument to the rigid words. Meyerism is defined by the glory of “the Light,” and even in this, the show feels brazenly unimaginative. Even if you were to disagree or ignore that sentiment, however, the series rarely makes visual allusions to the grace, beauty, or strangeness of the proposed belief system. The show is too comfortable in its competence to fully convey the fury of inner feelings that Eddie or, more importantly, Sarah (a never-better Michelle Monaghan), his separated wife and Meyerism honcho, nor do the directors or writers allude much to the burgeoning feelings and emotions they have for their faith, its tenants, and its presumed rewards. In this, the series misses a major part of what makes faith fascinating: why do people stay, even in times of crisis, embarrassment, or shame?
Ultimately, the series is more interested in rote psychological matters, matters of matrimonial discord, and arguably the most boring teenagers in the history of written television. Kyle Allen‘s Hawk was a compelling figure in Season 1, both the encapsulation of bottled-up teen angst and a believable, do-good man trying to figure himself out. In Season 2, he’s relegated to a droning romantic relationship that offers little insight into young desire and even less intimacy in exploring the character in vulnerable moments. Every vaguely political matter that is brought up is used as window dressing, including when the Meyerists must consider entering the political arena by backing the victims of a local water-polluting scandal. Add all of this with the already convoluted infighting melodrama in the Meyerism movement, as well as an increasingly perfunctory undercover-agent storyline involving Rockmond Dunbar‘s Abe, and each episode feels at once annoyingly placid in style and congested with over-plotting.
The cast deserves little to no blame in the disappointing innocuousness of The Path; the little intrigue the series offers comes almost exclusively from their presence and natural sense of innovation. The directors deserves some credit for giving Dancy, Paul, Monaghan, and the rest of the cast the support to perform so confidently, and the show never feels anything less than…professional. For a show that’s considering some of the biggest philosophical, psychological, and societal questions of our day, and of any day really, The Path lacks a feeling of risk, a palpable sense of walking the plank of faith along with the long-blind Meyerists in some way. There’s no such potency coming off of the second season of The Path, which trades in a flimsy feeling of being grounded for the wild complexities of the universe and the mind.
The Path Season 2 is available for streaming in full starting January 25th on Hulu.
Rating: ★★ – Same As It Ever Was