This week, Hulu presents THE PATH. The producers insist it does not depict scientology, but what it does show is a new-ish belief system that brings people in through a cult-like manner and encourages them to climb the rungs of a ladder for salvation. So yeah, at least, superficially, it does present another take on scientology.
It has become popular to dis on scientology lately, but really, what THE PATH shows could apply to basically all religions, at least when they first start, before they are changed by millions of people getting little bits of power and influence over time. It’s fresh and exciting, and the early adopters buy in whole-heartedly. There are skeptics, of course, and even for those within the faith, there are varying levels of faith.
The protagonist to root for in THE PATH is Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad). After a retreat, Eddie’s eyes are opened, or so he thinks, and he starts to doubt the legitimacy of THE PATH. He doesn’t know what to do about it, though. His wife, Sarah Lane (Michelle Monaghan, True Detective), was born into the group and embraces their doxology fully, so he can’t talk to her about it. And because of Sarah’s closeness to Cal Robertson (Hugh Dancy, Hannibal), the face of the leadership, Eddie’s place becomes tenuous. Eddie wants to question things, but can he without losing his family, whom he cares about, and the life that they have?
The question is, how dangerous is THE PATH? Were it a harmless group whose members could join or leave at will, then Eddie’s lack of faith wouldn’t matter. This applies mainly to old religions, though, that have been around for centuries or millennia (with some exception). Instead, Eddie even wavering presents a threat to the group that must be stopped, lest the fragile, fledging structure fall apart, hence where the drama picks up. Eddie senses this, and while he does deny infidelity when the notion is raised, he doesn’t exactly come clean, either, which tells us something.
It’s hard to tell what kind of leader Cal is. He doesn’t set forth the rules, but he enforces them. There is a moment in the pilot where Cal’s morality is tested, and he must choose between the high ground and betraying his stance, which he sort of does correctly. Even within the hour, though, there is some question as to whether he is as pious as he claims to be. And his actions in this situation, while different than Eddie’s, are probably the best indicator of how he will treat the wandering member of the flock.
Plus, Cal has a thing for Eddie’s wife, who chose Eddie over Cal, so that will surely play into how Cal handles the situation.
THE PATH is inherently creepy, but again, I’d say that most looks at newer religions are. It takes a certain type of personality to believe that someone in our lifetime has figured out the secrets of life, and to follow them. Religion needs followers to grow, and so it must protect itself fiercely when it hasn’t yet achieved the reach and viability to survive past the first couple of generations. The older religions have really bizarre beliefs, too, but over time, we’re grown immune to the oddities. Not so with the new.
Despite the themes being old, it makes for compelling television to look at it from a modern perspective, which most people don’t do unless it’s pointed out to them explicitly, as has been done in a handful or shows and movies recently. This series accomplishes that, and with some really terrific lead actors, I look forward to seeing if this is just an action show that tells a story, which would be fine, or if it asks the audience to hold a mirror up to their own beliefs, which would be better.
THE PATH premieres tomorrow on Hulu.