Two episodes into The Path, I'm starting to get a handle on the Meyerist lingo. "IS" are outsiders, like the people Hawk meets at school. A "transgression" is a sin, and to "unburden" means to confess to any doubts or bad thoughts you may have, almost like a form of Catholic confession. The "IRP" is the Infidelity Rehab Program, which a couple undergoes when one partner has transgressed. And the "14 Days," as we see with Eddie, are sort of like a juice cleanse for the soul, in which a member of the movement is locked in solitary confinement, forced to recite their life story to a counselor and burrow down to the truth. If the Meyerists seemed like chill hippies in the pilot, they're a lot more sinister now.
Instead, "The Era of the Ladder" adds on subplots like extra servings of Meyerist quinoa. The episode introduces more of Hawk's high school, an FBI agent investigating the Meyerists, and a few big donors to the cause. Is all that necessary? Not yet, at least. I want to know more about Eddie and Sarah. Her faith, his lack of it, their obligation to each other — Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul have a wealth of material. Even when faced with misshapen dialogue, they manage to elevate it. Here, the show would do well to dig deeper.
We first see Eddie and Sarah in Meyerist couples' therapy. Sarah's convinced that Eddie's had an affair. Eddie lets her believe in that lie — he doesn't want to reveal his larger doubts about the movement — but refuses to name the woman with whom he had this imaginary affair. Clunky Meyerist-speak follows. Eddie: "People make mistakes." Sarah: "I don't."
To be fair, Eddie is having an affair of sorts with Alison Kemp, the woman he met in a motel room in the pilot. This time, they meet in an abandoned construction site. Alison's convinced the Meyerists are following her after she defected from the San Diego compound. She's also convinced they're responsible for the death of her husband Jason, who disappeared in Peru — where, seemingly, all the interesting things on this show happen. Eddie tries to brush off Alison, but ever conflicted, he later travels to the Meyerist records office. According to official accounts, Jason Kemp committed suicide. Alison and her oversize knit sweater may be on to something.
Sarah and Eddie's home, in the meantime, has become a marital war zone. Eddie accuses Sarah of making a mistake by choosing him, a broken, faithless person. She says she chose him because of his flaws. They have passionate make-up sex. A proxy conflict springs up over their son Hawk, who gets caught in a conundrum when Ashley, the girl from his high school, asks for his help. Should he lend a hand and risk getting corrupted by the normals? Or does he stay pure? Eddie, acting out against Sarah, pushes Hawk to help.
So Hawk makes a trip to Ashley's house, where, predictably, she tests his faith by offering him a big, juicy bite of steak. As the two teens, actors Kyle Allen and Amy Forsyth have remarkable chemistry, but the details of this plot — the steak, the later revelations that Ashley's father died in a DUI and that her mother hasn't been paying the mortgage — stink of contrivance. Of course, a pretty girl tempts Hawk away from his faith. Of course, Hawk gets in a fight with her boyfriend at school the next day. Teen TV kids will be teen TV kids — that is, they're mostly there to advance the plot.
Meanwhile, Cal goes off on a quest to recruit new followers. After listening to a few self-help tapes in his Prius (my favorite bit of humor in this otherwise serious show), Cal arrives at the Ridge family's palatial mansion. Mrs. Ridge has been a Meyerist for 10 years, but Mr. Ridge, a hedge-fund manager, is more skeptical of the faith. Still, they have a teenage son who's failed out of five (!) rehab programs, and they need the Meyerists' help. Cal agrees, and secures a big donation. Hugh Dancy, who is having the most fun of anyone in the cast, lets Cal's disgust at these rich pricks seep into each overenunciated word.
Cal's not done with the proselytizing. After visiting the donors, he leads the novices, including Mary and adorable nice guy Sean, on a missionary trip outside the compound. Mary and Sean pull off a neat double act to recruit a few converts. Cal spends most of the time complaining to Sarah's father — a laid-back first-generation Meyerist — that the movement hasn't expanded enough. To that end, and over Sarah's objections, he signs on to do a local news interview about their rescue efforts in the wake of the New Hampshire tornado. Like his sermon in the pilot, Cal's interview is a painfully earnest defense of the faith — like a yoga teacher's groan-worthy lecture that somehow sticks in your mind. "It's not a cult," he corrects the flustered newswoman. "It's a movement."
Cal's passion for the faith, however, covers up his own burdens. Before the interview, he takes a late-night break in the Meyerist's lecture hall, where Mary finds him, thanks him for his help, gets down on her knees … and actually gives him a blow job this time. Still, Cal can't be bothered with Mary's advances. He needs her out on the frontlines, recruiting new members with Sean. "You're beautiful together," Cal says, and Mary seems desperately thankful for even this small sense of purpose. Again, I wanted to know more about Mary. We see her as a victim, both in relation to her father and to Cal's Spartan abuse of power, but who is she outside that role? What does she talk about with the other novices?
Emboldened by his interview, Cal travels back to the Ridge's mansion, where he announces that the Meyerists are taking their son to rehab — by force it turns out, as two T-shirted goons drag the boy away. Also, he wants them to put a few more giant Meyerist insignias around their house and to tell all their investors. Anything for some good outreach.
Then, as we see in Cal's end-of-episode trip to Cusco, Eddie's ayahuasca premonition about Dr. Meyer was spot on. The founder of Meyerism is catatonic in a hospital bed, and Cal seems to be making up all of his orders on the spot. Is the movement entering a new era, or just crumbling around him?
Eddie, meanwhile, commits to the 14 Days, and in The Path's trippiest sequence yet, travels into a hallucinatory state in solitary confinement. Kale-smoothie-colored paint splatters across the cell wall as visions of Minka Kelly (sorry, Miranda Frank) and Dr. Meyer dance in Eddie's head. The sequence is a visual leap for the show, and another test for viewers — will we believe this cuckoo treatment actually works, or laugh at it? I did both, though I suspect we're supposed to. As Cal might say, anything radical looks silly from the outside.
Anyway, Eddie doesn't give up his secret doubts, but he does give up Miranda. Out in Minnesota, we see Miranda look out her doorway. The Meyerist vans have arrived and they're taking her away, hopefully not to a 14 Days of her own.
Notes and Observations:
- Abe Gaines, an FBI investigator, has caught wind of the Meyerist activities in New Hampshire. He doesn't make any moves in this episode, but I worry this show could turn into Law & Order: Cult Victims Unit — unless we get a caper episode where Sarah, Eddie, and Cal race around the compound trying to hid the Meyerists' prodigious supply of ayahuasca from the feds.
- When he overhears his parents' make-up sex, Hawk goes to the bathroom and vomits up the piece of steak he ate with Lindsay. Vegetarianism or no, I'm guessing he would have vomited anyway.
- Mrs. Ridge's Facebook post on Cal's local-news interview gets 500 likes on Facebook. Is she a social-media mogul? Because, geez, I barely have that many Facebook friends.
- The Path's soundtrack seems to be using all of the eerie percussion and woodwind cues leftover from Hannibal. While I watched this episode, I felt like I was stuck in a homeopathic medicine shop while being stalked by a serial killer.
- In describing Meyerism, Alison sums up some likely reactions to The Path: "When you're in it, it makes so much sense, but when you're out, it's like … [mimics sound of an explosion]." I'm in, and I think the concept works, but it's understandable if you're allergic to the whole idea.