The Path Recap: Happy Ascension Day

The Path

The Future
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Hugh Dancy as Cal. Photo: Hulu

This week, we finally get a visit from Meyerist higher-ups — not God, but Bill and Felicia, founding members of the movement.

As Felicia tells it, she was there on Ascension Day. She burned her hands as she watched Dr. Meyer climb a gleaming ladder to the sky. The pair has watched the movement grow from six members to 6,000, and now they’ve come back to the Meyerist encampment in New York, where they plan to celebrate Ascension Day, prepare for the end of days, and also check in on Cal, who, in Felicia’s words, “has gotten a little too big for his britches.” Felicia opposes Cal’s attempt to take control of the movement, though if she also knew that he was keeping a woman captive and gaslighting her — well, Felicia would probably have a problem with that, too.

What do Bill and Felicia actually observe? Not much. A nice Ascension Day ceremony. A cool few days in beautiful upstate New York. This is, in part, because The Path is remarkably short on visible conflict. Major plot points — Miranda Frank’s collapse, Freddie Ridge’s overdose, even Dr. Meyer’s sickness — happen on the periphery. The substance of the show lies in small adjustments of tone, moments when characters reframe their relationships ever so slightly. Often, the big moment is just a ruse.

That’s why the best scene in “The Future” happens between Sarah and Eddie, as they sit by a lake and talk about their future. With its profusion of autumn yellows and reds, the scene captures a still moment in a relationship that’s changing in ways neither Eddie nor Sarah fully realize. Sarah forgives Eddie for his transgression, while Eddie decides to climb another rung of the Ladder with Cal. Though both decisions are meant to do so, neither one will bring Eddie and Sarah back to a time when their relationship worked. This cult, after all, lives in fear of the future. It isn’t coming in an apocalypse, though. It’s already here.

Let’s address the big issue at stake: Miranda Frank, who passed out in her cell during last week’s episode, is now recovering at the hospital, just in time to face Cal. With his all-too-soothing ways, Cal convinces Miranda that, even though she didn’t have an affair with Eddie, her desire to may have been enough to destroy his marriage with Sarah. This is some of the cruelest work we’ve seen Cal do, though Dancy maintains a mask of empathy while retaining cool anger in his eyes. “Sometimes a thought can be so powerful it transcends thought,” he insists. Obey me, I imagined in subtitles. You are getting very sleepy.

Eddie and Sarah, meanwhile, are torn up by Miranda’s hospitalization. Sarah, because she put Miranda through the program. Eddie, because he knows Miranda did nothing wrong. Eddie goes to the hospital to try to make things right, but Miranda has already disappeared. Eddie confronts Cal, who instead of offering a solution suggests that Eddie should try climbing the next rung of the Ladder, 7R. That step appears to involve some sort of spiritual walkabout, during which Cal would be Eddie’s guide. In the process, Cal could try to figure out Eddie’s secrets, even as Eddie tries to probe Cal’s. It seemed like an exciting prospect, until I realized that The Path was just swerving into another mystery, rather than resolving the Miranda story line. Maybe I’m getting very sleepy, too.

Sarah has another issue on her hands: The Ridges have come to retrieve their addict son, Freddie. The father, still a skeptic, insists that Freddie is fully cured. “I know my son,” he says. “Well, I know truth, and he’s lying,” Sarah responds. She prescribes a treatment of dimethyltryptamine, or in common parlance, ayahuasca. This scares the Ridges, who pull Freddie from the camp, and also Cal, who insists that the movement could get in serious legal trouble for passing around hard drugs. Sarah relents, but the real victim is Freddie, who falls back into his old heroin habits. His mom finds Sarah, who leaves camp to save Freddie from a very over-the-top drug den. (An extra with a do-rag and gold rings? Come on, The Path.) Sarah decides that Freddie needs some truly serious treatment, so she and his mother drive him to JFK. A trip to Peru seems to be in order. Ayahuasca, here we come.

Cal’s not wrong about the Meyerists’ extralegal activities, as Abe (posing undercover as “Sam”) continues to snoop around the compound. Back home, Abe’s baby has started to cry through the night, and his wife doesn’t know what to do. As Abe watches Mary tell the story of her tragic past to the rest of the camp, he seems to get a little more open to the idea of the faith.

But like many aspects of The Path, we see Mary’s story from two perspectives. While she’s smiling for the audience and in a growing relationship with her novice boyfriend, Sean, Mary is also getting deeper into her tryst with Cal. Fed up with the news that Felicia will deliver the Ascension Day sermon, Cal goes to Mary’s room late at night. They don’t have sex, but Cal masturbates as she whispers into his ear. This relationship has become much more real than either member wants to admit; it’s like Sarah and Eddie’s growing split, played in reverse. The future for Mary, however, seems inevitably grim. Cal has all the power, and he’ll do pretty much anything to protect himself and the movement.

Back in teen-drama land, Hawk and Ashley have a nice little chat about love, God, and the apocalypse over cheese fries. I kid; I’ve actually started to look forward to Hawk’s scenes. His naïve optimism plays in marked contrast to the doomed relationships that haunt the the rest of the show — plus, Hawk’s scenes typically take place in the day, so we can actually see what’s happening. Ashley asks if Hawk listens to music. Does he like … Arcade Fire? He says the Meyerists only listen to positive music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. She gives him an iPod Shuffle, à la Natalie Portman in Garden State. Listen to the music, Hawk, it’ll change your life.

Ashley also invites Hawk to a party, but he turns her down. Joy (Stephanie Hsu), Hawk’s cousin, sees the exchange in the distance, and back at the Meyerist camp, she confronts him. “She’s probably trying to see if she can corrupt you,” Joy says. You get the sense that, like Sarah, Joy is a true rule follower, and even though she’s being cruel to Hawk — you have to imagine a Meyerist kid would be jealous of someone with an outside connection — she’s also trying to protect him. Love seems to corrupt every time it crops up on The Path, but in this case, is corruption that bad? After a late-night iPod session, which prompts a montage set to the tune of Bella Figura’s “Better Man,” Hawk goes to the party after all, where he finds Ashley and they kiss. I hope these crazy kids make it, if only because no one else on this show will.

Meanwhile, Bill and Felicia complete their audit of the East Coast Meyerist encampment. They decide it’s a fitting spot for “The Garden” — the paradise that’s supposed to crop up after the apocalypse — but they are rightfully suspicious of Cal. When they confront him about Miranda’s disappearance, however, he leads them to a cabin in the woods, where he has been “treating” her. Miranda apologizes for her transgression, and says that Cal has truly helped her heal. Cal uses this as evidence that he’s the chosen son of the movement, and while Bill and Felicia want to wait for a miracle to save Dr. Meyer, Cal decides he has the mandate to write the last three rungs of the Ladder himself. Bill and Felicia leave with Miranda, who’s been made head of outreach in the San Diego office, but not before Felicia tells Eddie to keep an eye on Cal.

We cut to Eddie, stumbling through a forest late at night. He finds Cal, standing next to a shovel. “Dig until you find something,” he tells Eddie. Prep for miracles, gang. Next week, we begin 7R.

Other Notes:

  • Good-bye to Minka Kelly, who seems like she’s ending her stint as a guest star. Miranda Frank was essentially a blank slate on whom Eddie and Sarah projected their insecurities, but Kelly played doe-eyed terror well. I’ll always love Lyla Garrity, and it’s a shame to see her go.
  • The Meyerists really do believe that Doctor Meyer climbed a burning ladder into the sky, which challenges my assumption that they’re making it all up. As the series moves forward, how will it tackle these possibly supernatural elements?
  • Did any of you watch Dollhouse? That show had a subplot about an FBI investigator who looks into a mysterious group and is eventually won over by them, which sounds a lot like Abe’s plot on The Path. Also, Dollhouse’s first season was similarly big on tone, but short on plot. Similarities abound!
  • In the hospital, one nurse whispers to another, “He’s from the cult, right?” Eddie: “It’s not a fucking cult!”
  • Is Alison Kemp okay? Has she moved out of that terrible motel yet?

The Path Recap: Happy Ascension Day