Created by: Jessica Goldberg
Featuring: Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Emma Greenwell, Rockmond Dunbar, Kyle Allen, Amy Forsyth, Sarah Jones, Hugh Dancy, Paul James
The Path:“Those who ascend The Ladder of Enlightenment will live forever in The Garden.”
This month sees the release of the first season of the television series “The Path” (2016-2018) which is based around the journey of a family that are based within religious cult of sorts based mostly in New York State. Based upon the first season the show attempts to explain the motivations as well as machinations of a smallish chapter within the cult, why someone would join, then after a period of time would remain. It also attempts to illustrate how the people within the cult view as well as treat those who are in normal life, who remain outside the cult.
“The Path” revolves mainly around Eddie Lane who lives in Upstate New York with his wife Sarah and their two children, Hawk and Summer. They are all members of the Meyerist Movement, which combines aspects of New Age philosophy, shamanism, Scientology, Christian mysticism and Utopianism with a few elements from the Shakers, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism and Freemasonry ritual. Eddie returns from Peru, where he had undergone a spiritual retreat designed to advance him further up Meyerism’s spiritual ladder. Unbeknownst to his family, while in Peru, Eddie experienced a revelation, which causes him to question his faith in Meyerism. Meanwhile, Cal Roberts, a friend of Sarah’s and one of Meyerism’s top leaders, is looking to expand their influence and deal with the imminent death of their founder, Doctor Stephen Meyer.
Of course there are been a myriad of television shows as well as movies about cults, some are dramas, thrillers, horrors and a variety of other genres that take a framework then placing it within the story that is chosen to be told. Many follow a fairly standard narrative that is fairly typical, in fact by now they could be considered cult tropes that after many real life cults have come to light there are elements even the casual observer should expect and recognise.
The cult that is under study here is of course a fictional one, it is called the Meyerist Movement, while that name is new the actions as well as the element’s that are done in its name are all too familiar. Creator Jessica Goldberg has wisely stayed away from modelling her created cult on any one in particular; it is set within a compound like many well-known cults namely the Branch Davidians, it incorporates machinery like the Scientologists and there is no one deity that is worshipped, instead it is a ‘ladder’ that one must climb with a cave in Peru bring their holy ground, like any other cult around it is decentralised but with a recognisable hierarchy like any Church based religion. That is one of the keys to this cult, it is recognisable as it is structured like any other religion with a head as well as smaller chiefs looking after their own fiefdoms, it relies on the herd policing each other with organised religious punishments that are advertised to enlighten and not to harm, of course we see these come into play throughout the first season.
The reason that this show works at all is that it is episodic with storylines that one could find in any other show, it deals with black sheep, adolescence, betrayal, sex, lost love, power hungry politician types and almost everything else under the sun including political intrigue as well as a side story about the FBI getting involved in the investigation of the cult in New York. The problem with the show, like any that contain a framework that has to be acknowledged each show is that you cannot stray too far away from that conceit which can be a strength but because we know instinctively how these types of cults work there is little to be surprised about, even having the leader remain off-screen does not build that much tension, in fact it just made me quite impatient.
The series is effectively a three hander between the stars of the series, those being Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy, who all have the experience to carry this show which has now been in production for three seasons, the last of which has just aired, bringing the entire series to an end. The three leads all play off each other in very convincing ways even though the plot that they are playing out is a little tired and dated. The problems come down to the dynamics and not the performances, there are three main characters so guess what there is a love triangle of sorts, not just that but they are all hiding parts of the story from ach other which is such a tired trope in 2018 that if this is what is keeping the tension going then you as a show runner really need to rethink the narrative.
The first season is well directed with some talented people, the standouts are Mike Cahill who has directed low budget movies that centre on outcasts as well as Roxann Dawson who was an actor then moved into directing and is now widely considered to be on the best working today. What they are both able to do is to cut through what each episode is amount and visually tell a story that not only makes sense but also pops onscreen with some great visuals. The other important element is the way the camera moves through each episode, keep an eye on that, it is especially noticeable in interior shots as well as the use of darkness, these are all elements that lend to the idea of secrets or the withholding of information, which I have stated I am not a big fan of in and of itself.
One of the better aspects of this show is that has gone for three seasons so if you are wanting to start a new show with the knowledge you will have time to spend with the story and characters then you could do a lot worse. The main issue is that in the era of peak television the competition that “The Path” faces is steep in that there are more original and inspiring shows out there, ten years ago that would not have been an issue but now it is something all show runners must face there is a glut of content that means the audience has the say over what is successful as well as what is not – this one could be better but it is worth a go for those interested.
- What the Fire Throws: The faith around which Eddie Lane has centered his life is shaken when, during a sacred ceremony in Peru involving ayahuasca, he sees his dead brother, who guides him to a hidden room where Meyerism’s founder Steve Meyer lies comatose in a hospital bed, the instructions for their salvation incomplete. As Meyerists are taught to believe that Steve “lives so deeply in Truth that Light literally surrounds him” and will eventually become one with the Light, the revelation that he is but mortal is intensely disturbing.
- The Era of the Ladder: Sarah and Eddie begin the Infidelity Rehab Program but he won’t confess to an affair. He meets Alison, considering to pay lip service to Meyerism despite his lack of faith, but she angrily claims that the Meyerists killed her husband Jason, the community’s doctor, in Peru for trying to leave. Meyerist enforcers are following her and she believes they’re trying to kill her.
- A Homecoming: Meyer has liver cancer; his tumour hasn’t responded to treatment. He’s got no will and no next of kin. Cal visits Meyer frequently with founding members Bill, Felicia and Peruvian shaman Silas. But he pretends to the membership that Steve is well and working, telling Sarah only that Meyer is “moving on” and the final rungs are about the succession of leadership. Miranda Franks, torn from her home and brought by force to the community — against protocol — is placed in “Realignment Lockdown”, but won’t confess to an affair with Eddie, receiving no pity from her only visitor, Sarah, and collapses in her cell.
- The Future: Miranda confides in Cal what really happened on Eddie’s retreat; he saw his brother, he went somewhere, returned weeping and saying “There is no Light”, and she embraced him out of concern; the shaman Silas then counseled him privately. Convincing her that she’s to blame for the misunderstanding, Cal removes her from the hospital. Still concerned of what Eddie may have learned in Peru, Cal offers to be his guide for the next level, 7R, which permits no secrets between them.
- The Hole: Hawk’s relationship with Ashley comes out and Sarah is terrified that he might choose to leave Meyerism, “choosing to be ignorant” and unable to reunite with the family in The Garden. Hawk pretends to break up with Ashley but sneaks out to her at night. An angry John Ridge demands Cal return his wife and son from Peru; Cal is initially irate with Sarah for ignoring his orders but later defends her actions to Ridge.
- Breaking and Entering: Eddie joins Cal searching the motel room of Alison Kemp whose presence Eddie conceals; Alison later admits to taking $40k intended for Jason’s secret missions. Sarah confronts Cal about intimidating the widow, and Cal admits to Eddie that it was a mistake. Ashley’s family are evicted and Hawk convinces Sarah to shelter them. Ashley’s mother Meg explains what happened and the family interpret it through Meyerism, take them to an inspirational lecture from Cal, and get her a job.
- Refugees: Police, media and protestors descend on the Meyerist community concerning the Honduran immigrants. Bill and Felicia work with the Upper Rung council for the surrender of the Hondurans, but Cal unilaterally calls for the entire membership to vote. Caught sheltering Alison, Eddie admits to Cal what he saw in Peru and Cal demands he undergo “The Walk”, a 250-mile pilgrimage that tests faith and endurance, warning that if he refuses, Cal will tell Sarah everything.
- The Shore: Cal buries Silas’s body in the woods, in a hole previously dug by Eddie as a devotional exercise. He then brings Sean back to the New York community to reunite with Mary. The standoff ends as the community is successfully declared a protected space, and they receive a sizeable spike in donations. Felicia shares her concerns of Cal’s recklessness and asks Sarah to be ready to take a bigger leadership role. Sarah finds a Pachamama idol Silas had left for her, of which she’d earlier dreamed. She begins to call Silas and leave messages for him.
- A Room of One’s Own: Cal asks still-comatose Meyer to communicate any displeasure before Cal commits to the next phase of the Movement. He promises to try to channel Meyer’s ideas for the writing of the final rungs. Sarah meets Alison and trades Jason’s journal for the truth about Eddie, that they were not transgressing but that Eddie was questioning his faith. Mary’s promiscuity and drug use are exposed; Cal prompts Sean and Mary to recommit through marriage. Eddie and Hawk return and Sarah confronts her husband over 3 months of lying, feeling that he’s rejecting everything in her soul. She continues to leave messages for Silas. Gaines is given two weeks’ leave to clear his head; a co-worker shows him a pathology report showing Jason Kemp’s hands were badly burned.
- The Miracle: Eddie refuses to sign forms labelling himself a denier, moving out to a motel. Sarah supports this decision. Alison seeks help, Jason’s journal describing strange visions and stating that he was going to climb the ladder “even if it killed” him. Cal claims the final Rungs change the existing policy, permitting forgiveness for repentant deniers. Sarah’s calls to Silas go unanswered; Felicia says Cal was at the community the night Silas went there. At the hospital Eddie prays for Gaines’s daughter Lucy, whose condition suddenly resolves before her scheduled surgery.