The Path is typically so restrained, full to the brim with ambiguity and doubt. “Refugees” marks the moment it gets real: By the end of the episode, Sarah takes control of the movement, Eddie is about to launch a gigantic pilgrimage, Abe’s investigation is in full swing, and Hawk gets in a big fight with Ashley. Oh, right — and Cal killed a man.
Deranged as Cal’s actions are, it’s surprising to see how effectively The Path has pulled us into his darkness. Ever since Alison started talking about her brother, we’ve known that death is on the table. When Silas — a shaman from Peru, who’s decided that Cal is too aggressive about taking over for Dr. Meyer — starts to push Cal’s buttons, calling him an alcoholic, accusing him of being like his terrible family, it’s clear that he’ll act out violently. I’m half-convinced that the murder took place in a dream. But that’s the horror of the show: The Path almost always works in dream logic. The more frightening truth is that Cal has always been capable of extreme violence. His repressed anger has been realized. He cracks a pot against Silas’s neck. Cal immediately seems to regret this, but it’s too late — Silas is dead.
“Refugees” also pushes other conflicts to the boiling point, thanks primarily to all the attention the movement gets from Cal’s adoption of the Honduran refugees. The FBI is now more interested in the fringe movement, and Abe can spend more time as “Sam” on the inside. Cal, meanwhile, thinks this is a chance to show off the Meyerists’ charity to the world, while Sarah and the rest are more worried that the good publicity will turn sour. Cal tends to privilege his individual sense of righteousness; Sarah focuses on the community. This crisis throws those priorities in high relief.
The plot sidelines the refugees and Evelyn, their leader, who mostly gives speeches to convince Sarah and Cal to exercise their empathy. But in doing so, the crisis forces the lead characters to articulate what their faith means in action. The higher-ups insist that the refugees can’t stay. Cal initially refuses, but after meeting with them face-to-face, doesn’t have the heart to refuse. Always the zealot, Cal insists that the light is telling him that “your fate is my fate.” He rounds up the rest of the movement, brings them into a meeting with the upper-rung-led steering committee, then announces that they should put the decision to a vote. Populism is the order of the day.
As Cal tries to protect the community, Eddie disappears to protect Alison Kemp, who’s hiding in a cabin on the edge of the camp. Alison doesn’t have much to do except get high and listen to music, so when she (inevitably) wanders outside, she’s (inevitably) seen by someone in the movement. After Eddie overhears Sarah’s brother and father talking about the cabin, Cal sees Eddie freak out about the news, and they race to find Alison.
Eddie barely makes it to the cabin before Cal, who pleads with Alison to return to the movement. She pretends to buy his nonsense, then just decides to attack. She calls Cal a murderer and hits him before racing off in her car. Cal and Eddie are left together, which leads to my new favorite line in the series: “Can we have a real conversation, Eddie?” Yes, please. Do that. Thank you.
During their real conversation, Cal admits that he knows Eddie didn’t have an affair. And more important, he reveals that, after talking to Miranda Frank, he knows Eddie has been doubting his faith. He wants Eddie to take “The Walk,” a 250-mile pilgrimage, made even worse than usual because it’s currently the dead of winter. If that walkabout restores his faith, Eddie can stay. “You can’t live among us and not believe,” Cal says. “You can’t have it both ways.”
Cal and Eddie’s argument cuts through a lot of the ambiguity that The Path had previously left between its characters. These are confused people, sure, but they do have a definite sense of each other. Eddie, for instance, is not shy about calling out Cal’s attempts to divide him from his wife. “I don’t have to destroy your marriage,” Cal says. “You’re doing just fine with that on your own.” Cal adds that if Eddie doesn’t do the walk, he’ll tell Sarah about all his transgressions. Okay, maybe Cal is also trying to destroy their marriage.
In the face of external pressure, we protect our own. Ashley’s mother tries to acclimate to the movement, but when she interviews for, and then immediately gets, a job as a dental assistant from a member of the Meyerist movement, she suspects something is up. Also, the hidden room in the office with a giant Meyerist insignia doesn’t help. Ashley’s mom pulls the family out of the movement, and tells Ashley she can’t see Hawk anymore. Even though they’ve just had sex, our young couple has to break up. This time, for the first time, Ashley pleads allegiance to her family. Their conversation takes place in front of an old, Gothic-style church, and you can sense the way these kids are surrounded by dogma they don’t understand.
The Path often insists that standing with one group means refusing another. When Hawk seems to lose Ashley, he ping-pongs back into the embrace of the movement. (I’m sure she’ll be back, though.) Eddie says he’s going to do the Walk for the sake of his family. Hawk insists on coming, too.
The whole family reunion would be an inspiring note to close on, if it weren’t for Cal’s bloody murder of Silas. Mary is indirectly responsible, of course. After losing Sean, she decides to seduce the redheaded woman who works in the Meyerist infirmary to get her hands on some drugs. Mary’s plot is as melodramatic as usual — after getting high, she confronts Cal. “Find someone else to fuck with,” she says. “I’m sure you’ve got plenty of options.” (Typically, I’d find Mary’s breakdown exhausting, but in a lovely moment later in the episode, she walks out of the movement, sees her father in the crowd of reporters that surrounds the camp, decides it’s not worth it, and heads back in. It illustrates how the fear of the outside has forced everyone in the movement together, and makes clear how people like Cal can get away with horrible manipulation.)
Mary primes Cal’s anger and despair by telling him the truth about his inner self. Cal is selfish, desperate, and cruel, all of which feeds into his violence toward Silas, who straight up calls him a “fraud.” In the end, the episode works because it acknowledges that Silas isn’t entirely right. Cal inspires Sarah to take the stage at the Meyerist group meeting. Nobody else will speak for the refugees.
Inspiration aside, Michelle Monaghan’s commanding performance makes clear that Sarah has been longing for this kind of platform. Her Cheshire Cat smile opens, briefly, to bask confidently in the spotlight. Sarah tells the story of how Steve brought a lost soul into the movement. We cut to Cal, who’s cleaning Hannibal-level amounts of blood off his body, but then we realize that she’s talking about Eddie. She doesn’t care about appearances for the sake of strategy or publicity. She cares about what’s right. As Eddie later says to her, “I finally see what you could be here.”
When we see Sarah at the end of the episode, she has privately shrunk back to human size. She calls Cal, begging to know why he’s sending Eddie away. Maybe she suspects that Cal knows more about her husband than she does. Maybe she already knows about Eddie’s transgressions. She needs to know the truth, but Cal isn’t there to answer. He’s huddled on the other side of his room, moments away from taking a few swigs of liquor. Facing the truth has made the worst part of himself real. And he hates it.