The Meyerists don’t build cathedrals. Instead, as Sarah tells Miranda, they build families. Couples tell the truth to each other. Children respect and support their parents. Or at least they’re supposed to do, based on the strictures of the movement. But Meyerism fails to recognize a simple truth: People aren’t stone. They change, they doubt. If you build a family the way Sarah has, everyone is vulnerable. When one person crumbles, the whole edifice falls apart.
It’s so surprise that The Path has quickly focused on family life. Creator Jessica Goldberg worked on Parenthood, and executive producer Jason Katims ran both that show and Friday Night Lights. Imagine either one, but with every ounce of warmth snuffed out, and you get something that resembles The Path — which makes the Meyerists seem rather sinister. In Meyerism, family and community aren’t mutable things, constantly negotiated and redefined. They’re set ends that often justify some pretty terrible means. Like, say, holding people hostage when they commit adultery.
On a human level, you have to feel a bit sorry for Sarah. Miranda, the woman with whom Sarah thinks her husband cheated, refuses to confess her transgression. And when Cal has Miranda brought to the New England compound — in violation of typical procedures — Sarah is the one who lashes out. On a dramatic level, the rising tension of this story line works. The first two episodes of The Path were serenely eerie. Now, finally, there’s something to watch.
All the more so because Eddie, who has doomed Miranda to a jail cell and juice cleanse, starts off the episode thrilled to be back to that hallucinogenic 14-day lockdown. He is giving better speeches to the community, and even tells the perpetually doubtful Alison that he’s done questioning the faith. “This is just who I am,” he says.
That’s not true. As Alison points out, Eddie can’t just forget his doubts. By transferring his guilt onto Miranda, he’s only making someone else’s life worse. He doesn’t know this, of course, until Sarah breaks protocol and tells Eddie that Miranda is in the camp. He’s horrified, though he tries to hide it from his wife. When he goes to find Miranda, she’s passed out on the floor of her cell, blood smeared across her mouth. Eddies lies have truly hurt her.
While the Lane family crumbles inward, we also learn that Meyerism is having a crisis of leadership. In a hospital bed in Peru, Dr. Stephen Meyer’s condition worsens. The movement’s leaders, with the exception of Cal, refuse to do anything but pray for his well-being.
Spurred by this anxiety, Cal takes a few personal days to leave the encampment and see his mother, Brenda (Kathleen Turner), an alcoholic with a mean streak. Cal hasn’t visited for three years, since his father died. Cal’s father brought him into the movement at age five; his mom mentions that she was declared an “unfit parent” in a divorce. When his father left to the movement to be with her again, Cal gave up believing in both his parents and latched onto Dr. Meyer instead.
Hugh Dancy and Turner are well matched as mother and son, as they sprinkle their line readings with vicious little turns of resentment. Cal cleans his mother’s room, then tries to set her up in a nursing home. She insults his vegetarian food, and insists that he’ll have to share a drink with her if he wants her to move. In a touching moment, Cal takes off his necklace before picking up the cup, nervously separating his obligations to faith and family.
After the drinks, the trip to the nursing home doesn’t go so well. Brenda tells a worker that Cal’s a cult leader, which sets him off. (Say it with me: “It’s a movement.”) She refuses to let it go. He lashes out further. “I should’ve let you die like a fucking dog on the street,” he yells. I could’ve done without the slow-motion shot of Cal’s face before the explosion, though. No need to double underline every big moment. Let the performances speak on their own.
Cal calls Sarah for comfort. It’s been two years and 37 days since he last “slipped” — presumably with alcoholism, though it’s not clear. His mother is always a trigger. Sarah doesn’t judge, but Eddie, overhearing part of the call, worries about how close Cal seems to be with his wife. We see Cal again as he sets up his mother in her new room. “Wanting to be someone else never works,” she tells him. “It just brings you back here.”
That’s stern advice, and it’s certainly true for the characters on The Path, whose flaws are becoming all the more apparent. Back at the Meyerist camp, Cal tells Sarah that Dr. Meyer is translating the last three rungs of the Ladder, and that they have decided a line of succession for the movement. Before Cal tells Sarah the lie, she already believes it — Dr. Meyer has chosen him as the next leader. Cal becomes more sinister with each episode, but with the added depth of knowing his past, this power grab makes sense. He chose the movement at the expense of everything else. If it’s in danger, so is his whole life.
For a more comforting plot, we turn to Hawk and Ashley, who continue their guy-from-a-cult-meets-girl-with-a-dead-dad romance. Hawk guards the locker room as Ashley showers at school (the power’s been shut off because mom isn’t paying the bills), and later, as they wander along a running track, they chat about God and death in a way that seems both superficially immature and deadly serious.
According to Hawk, kids are “hypersensitized” — or “HS,” to use the Meyerist parlance — but the scenes between him and Ashley seem less extreme than they did in previous episodes. Their plot is beginning to feel character-based, with fewer contrivances. As a second-generation member of the movement, Hawk doesn’t know how to relate to Ashley without disobeying Meyerism, although his faith and his feelings both push him to help her. Ashley jokes that prayers won’t turn on her electricity. Later, after his prayers fail as she predicted, Hawk breaks into a garage on the encampment and steals a generator for her. The next day, she kisses him. Is that what he wants? Or would he rather want Ashley to convert? Does he even know? Teenagers, man. The feelings sprawl everywhere.
Notes and Observations:
- “Sam,” the FBI agent formally known as Abe, is going undercover in the Meyerist compound. For now, he provides a few more peaks at the goings-on around the camp: Everything is as eco-friendly as possible, there’s an organic farm, and novices’ entrance interviews are recorded for posterity. (They could probably be used for blackmail, too.) Later, Abe/Sam checks back with Mary Cox’s father, who is in the hospital recovering from Cal’s attack, and promises that he’ll put Cal away for as long as possible.
- If Abe wants some hard evidence, he could do worse than entrapping Sarah’s father, who must have a pot farm somewhere to supply the joints he smokes in nearly every scene. Mr. Lane also tells Eddie that he transgressed once, but afterward, he became closer than ever to his wife. Maybe the ganja helped.
- In passing, Eddie mentions that Meyerism predicts some sort of environmental catastrophe along the lines of climate change. Can’t be much worse than the real thing.
- Did Hulu hire a chef to cook for each of the Lanes’ dinner parties? Those spreads are mouthwatering.
- And on that note, which Meyerists spend their time making juice for everyone?