Snakes, owls, dead falcons, and miraculous cures: What is real and what is fake? Welcome to the season finale of The Path. Did you expect closure? You shouldn’t have. This show vacillated between reality and fantasy for a whole season, and it ended with, well, not much of a conclusion at all. Eddie’s back in that room in Peru, the same one where he found himself at the end of the pilot. Dr. Steven Meyer’s bed is empty, but no, he’s not dead. Cue Aaron Paul’s classic shocked face: The doctor is alive! Maybe. Or it might just be a dream.
As I see it, there are two ways of thinking about The Path:
- It’s the first TV show to create a whole season that could be a dream sequence. Every episode exists in a liminal space, where experiences are both true and not true, where characters arrive at realizations and then back away from them, where a couple can break up and get back together over and over. (Looking at you, Sarah and Eddie. You too, Cal and Mary.)
- It’s fallen into that classic streaming TV problem, in which the first season feels like one long pilot. Now that Cal has taken over the cult, Doctor Meyer has apparently returned from his deathbed, and Sarah and Eddie’s separation is nearly in full effect, perhaps the games can really begin. If only they had started sooner.
The Path is full of beguiling detours, of course. Your relationship to the show depends on whether you enjoy those winding routes. Case in point: “The Miracle” begins with Sarah wandering through a forest. It’s mid-December, nearly Christmastime, as we learn later. She sees a snowy owl. Is it a message from Silas beyond the grave? A portent of the movement’s collapse? Just a nice moment in nature? As with so many signs on this show, we see this scene through Sarah’s eyes, but not in a way that allows us to know what she thinks.
Eddie’s visions, which are scattered throughout the finale like the symptoms of spiritual withdrawal, come with the same significance, but lack any assurance. He negotiates a sort of Meyerist divorce contract with Sarah — according to tradition, deniers never get to see their kids, but Sarah pulls rank on the record keeper and allows Eddie to have the kids once a week. Then, he returns to the outside world, which is in the midst of celebrating Christmas. Eddie’s overwhelmed; he left a cult, but he’s no Kimmy Schmidt. He spots a dead falcon in a bodega. Snakes seem to crawl under his bed. He visits his friend “Sam” at the hospital, and Abe nearly blows his cover. (Luckily, his wife catches on before it’s too late.)
“The Miracle” works best when it pushes Eddie’s disorientation against real, human circumstances: He buys an invisible ink pen for his daughter, for instance, and Sarah won’t let him into the house to give it to her. In this small, concrete conflict, Paul and Monaghan provide a season’s worth of emotion, playing two characters who are still very much in love, but can’t bear to be together. And another moment: After Summer asks, “What is he if he has no light?” Hawk interrupts, “He’s still our dad.” A third: When Sarah’s parents try to tell her Eddie’s departure is for the best, she responds, “I loved him. I love him. Fuck you, ‘It’s gonna feel good.’ Fuck all of you.”
Eddie ends the season with a trip to Peru — I have no idea how he afforded it, which is further proof this could be a dream sequence — where he travels back to the site of his ayahuasca trip. That’s where he finds Dr. Meyer, very much alive. Is Eddie back in the movement? Given that Cal has started writing the rungs himself, maybe Eddie will create his own splinter movement. A schism would make for a solid season-long arc.
Speaking of returns to the movement, Alison Kemp has read her husband’s journals, and she is convinced that he killed himself. To be clear, he did so while trying to climb a burning ladder, which explains those burns the FBI found on his body. His last words: “Next time, I will climb the ladder even if it kills me.” Again, we’re in the space between truth and fiction. Alison’s husband may have been delusional, but that doesn’t really matter because her despair feels real. Kudos to Sarah Jones, who brings Alison to life after being stuck in a motel playing a madwoman all season. She shines when given a wider range of emotions to play — the fact that Alison is still a little defiant when Cal introduces her back to the movement, for instance, reveals a lot about her resilience.
In that moment, Cal is just proud of himself. He’s penned the next three rungs of the ladder, and even quotes Jesus Christ in the process — specifically, the verse about how those who are without sin should cast the first stone. The Christian element blends with the fact that the finale takes place on Christmas, but it doesn’t add much to the ideas it presents. Sure, Cal wants to be big on forgiveness, but aside from the perfunctory return of Alison, he hasn’t changed much. Although Mary’s going to marry Sean, her thing with Cal hasn’t quite gone away. When they confront each other once again, they have the same conservation they’ve been having all season. Maybe we are broken people, maybe we need good people around us. Hugh Dancy clenches and relaxes his jawline. Emma Greenwell deploys a shy whisper that swerves into a seductive lisp. Rinse, repeat. They play the beat well, but it’s a beat we’ve seen again and again. By the time the scene ends, they’re kissing. They sleep together. When Sarah knocks the next morning, Cal has to hide his tryst.
Sarah knows something is up. Even though she’s dealing with the death rattle of her marriage, she remains active and purposeful. She joins Cal onstage for the unveiling of the new rungs, along with a Meyerist triple ceremony: Sean and Mary’s wedding, Hawk’s initiation, and Alison’s reintroduction to the movement.
Nevertheless, Sarah also senses that something about Silas’s disappearance is fishy. She eventually gets an answer from Mary’s dad. (Remember how he saw Cal on the night of Silas’s murder?) She doesn’t get the complete answer, but she learns enough to decide to break into Cal’s office. Once inside, she hacks into his computer — his password is her name — and discovers that he really did write the rungs himself.
Cal decides to air it all out: Steve’s dying of cancer, he admits. Sarah pulls out his secret stash of liquor. She pours them drinks. As always, Sarah’s hard to read in this scene; you can never really see her doubts. I can imagine a season where she and Cal decide to run the movement together, just as easily as I can imagine one where she decides to burn it all down. Both would be exciting. Both would have tension. She offers a toast: “To the truth.” Cal, off the wagon once again, swallows his drink.
Notes and Final Observations:
- Hawk and Ashley run into each other at school before he leaves for good. The conversation is fidgety and awkward in the way that most teenage post-breakup conversations are, but it feels rushed. Their relationship was the highlight of the season’s middle, and it’s a pity for the show to shuffle it off so quickly.
- Abe’s baby miraculously heals before she needs to go into intense surgery. This’ll give “Sam” another reason to get involved in the movement, but as with many instances of the FBI plot, the turn feels redundant — especially since Alison’s re-conversion serves the same narrative purpose.
- I appreciate that the show keeps track of the seasons. Nice job making a New York winter look accurately frigid and terrible.
- The Path will return for another season, but that’s all for now! If you find yourselves experiencing withdrawal symptoms, take comfort in your nearest yoga studio/natural-foods store/wilderness encampment/ayahuasca-supply center.