Hugh Dancy, Kathleen Turner (Hulu)

Only three episodes in, a significant issue is arising on The Path: The Meyerist Movement is already a hypocritical and corrupt institution based on manipulation and control, with little redeeming it. For a show billed not as a straightforward attempt to bring down a dangerous cult—à la The Following—but something more nuanced, The Path has spent far too little time establishing just what the Meyerist Movement is, and why it attracts followers. Why do people sign up for a life in a closed-off compound, where mind-altering juice can be forced on them and any information can be withheld, classified above their R-level? Is every initiate a victim of greater abuse so desperate that they’ll accept this life despite the giant, flashing warning signs all around them, or are they so willfully ignorant they don’t see them?

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Aside from the interminable pre-meal prayer intoned each episode, specifics of the Meyerist Movement remain few and far between and so much of the characters’ lives is performative that it’s difficult to get a read on what they actually believe. Eddie speaks the most candidly on the topic, but is introduced in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and he and Cal spend most of their time actively lying to everyone around them. Meanwhile, Sarah is so focused on Eddie’s affair she’s already hand-waving away the few rules of the movement specifically mentioned and exploiting her power in the community to satisfy her rage toward Miranda. None of these characters are reliable indicators of the actual philosophy at the core of the Meyerist Movement and without any sense of who believes what, it’s hard to invest in Meyerism or the characters who define themselves in relation to it.

If Rockmond Dunbar’s Abe Gaines were more compelling, his determination to infiltrate the movement would be a natural entry point for viewers, but little energy has been spent thus far developing him. Instead he feels like an afterthought, there to complicate life for Cal and crank up the suspense. Without any connection to the movement itself, however, it’s difficult to care whether Gaines will bring it down. His promise to return Mary to her abusive father is the closest the episode comes to embracing the complications that should drive the show: Mary can’t be sent back to him. But she’s not safe where she is either, so rather than torn loyalties, “A Homecoming” inspires detachment, from the movement, from Gaines, and from the show itself.

Fortunately, while the lead trio of Cal, Sarah, and Eddie are frustratingly insincere in most of their interactions, the supporting characters feel much more natural. Peter Friedman and Dierdre O’Connell work well as Sarah’s parents, long-term members of the movement who counsel Sarah and Eddie on their marital woes. Sarah’s unguarded conversation with her mother gives Michelle Monaghan a baseline to build from, a trustworthy comparison point for the ugly confrontation between Sarah and Miranda later in the episode. Monaghan is great here, relaxed and tentative with O’Connell, closed off to Aaron Paul’s Eddie, and downright vicious to Minka Kelly’s Miranda. She’s every bit the privileged Little Ms. Perfect Miranda sees her as while also being an understanding sponsor to Cal when he calls and later, his enthusiastic dupe, so excited to be trusted with 10-R information she laps it up without a second thought. With a stronger sense of what Sarah actually believes, and whether she’s more concerned with helping characters like Mary or shoring up her position, Sarah could be the heart of the series.

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Placed more clearly in that role is Eddie, whose loss of faith has driven much of the early action. Unfortunately, Paul works much better as the skittish outsider, in the first two episodes, than the renewed believer, here. Eddie’s commitment to Sarah and his family feels genuine, but his connection to the Meyerist Movement is thin. There’s little sense of history in Eddie’s reflections on the movement, of what his vision in Cusco and subsequent questioning could cost him outside of his family and how the dismantling of his faith would re-contextualize his adult life. Saddled with contradictory cross-cutting and scoring, Eddie’s speech on forgiveness within the movement reads as inauthentic, Eddie saying what he must to reestablish himself within the community and win back his wife. With different scoring—and without evidence directly contradicting what Eddie’s saying—Paul’s performance here might resonate as truthful, a man recommitting to his beliefs and putting his doubts behind him. Instead, it’s hollow. Everything he says about the movement heightens the sense of hypocrisy throughout the episode, undercutting those who accept it and Eddie’s statement at face value.

Cal fares better this episode, as his abusive, alcoholic mother Brenda is introduced and viewers get a look at one of the character’s formative relationships. Hugh Dancy and Kathleen Turner are fantastic as Cal and Brenda, pushing each other’s buttons until Cal inevitably loses his composure. Cal’s self-help tapes return, emphasizing how small he feels and how quickly his confident façade at the movement slides away. The reveal of Brenda isn’t groundbreaking, Cal’s reliance on deceit to control others being tied to an out-of-control upbringing and desire for order, but it’s executed well and contextualizes Cal nicely. The highlight of this arc is Cal’s phone call to Sarah, which gives both characters a much-needed human, relatable moment free of the artifice surrounding the movement. In that moment, they are equals, friends connecting without manipulation or pretense. The simplicity and openness of this exchange highlights how weighed down the rest of the show is by its layers of deceit, which have quickly become oppressive.

Standing in stark contrast to this is Hawk, whose developing relationship with Ashley is the highlight of the episode. Hawk’s interactions with Ashley are sweet and their discussion of Hawk’s beliefs offers the best glimpse yet of what the Meyerist Movement actually teaches. The open, respectful conversations between these two are refreshing and hopefully will continue as the season develops. Amy Forsyth is engaging and playful as Ashley and Kyle Allen is believably awkward and sheltered as Hawk, who feels as if he wouldn’t quite know how to get into trouble or lash out. It’s easy to see why Ashley’s drawn to him; he’s a trustworthy and reliable shoulder to lean and as an outsider, completely unthreatening to her status at school. Seeing how Hawk grows from his first non-Meyerist relationship should be interesting and after this strong introduction, here’s hoping these crazy kids can make it work.

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While elements of each storyline on The Path work like gangbusters, “A Homecoming” struggles to come together to be more than the sum of its parts. The cliffhanger ending, Eddie’s discovery of the collapsed Miranda, will push the narrative forward nicely, but without more honest moments between the leads, this has the potential to complicate, rather than clarify, their already hazy positions. The concepts at the core of the series should be compelling, but without a stronger grasp of where Sarah, Eddie, and Cal are coming from and what they legitimately believe, there’s little to hold on to.

Stray observations

  • Unlike the previous sex scene, here when Sarah tells Eddie to back off, he hears her no and acquiesces. Thank you, show—consent (and respecting its refusal) is sexy!
  • I haven’t mentioned Clark Middleton yet, but he’s been great so far. I really enjoyed him on Fringe and it’s nice to see him pop up in such a different and more subtly sinister role.
  • The line of the episode is without a doubt, “You were supposed to give me answers, not drink their fucking juice,” though its entertainment value does diminish slightly once the juice becomes literal.
  • So wait, based on the song sung in this episode, Dr. Steven Meyer climbed Huayna Picchu, a trek hundreds of people make each day, had a presumably ayahuasca-fueled vision, wrote down what he saw, and that’s the entire basis for the Meyerist Movement? No extra mystical truths or secret aliens? That’s kind of refreshing, if a bit mundane.
  • The visual creativity and expressionist elements of the previous episodes are sorely lacking here, but I do appreciate the episode’s consistent use of long shots to make the characters feel more connected with, or isolated within, their surroundings, whether it’s Hawk and Ashley walking to the library, Cal in his car, or Eddie speaking to his fellow Meyerists.
  • The score by Will Bates is once again a highlight. The opening’s thrumming, hypnotic heartbeat feeling is effective and the ticking or dripping sound for Meyer’s IV and machines is contrasted nicely with the pizzicato, struck, or plucked strings that pair with Ashley’s shower. Not all water is alike: Ashley’s shower is cleansing, peaceful, and safe while the IV is incessant and cold. Eddie’s speech on forgiveness, cross-cut with Miranda being escorted off, is paired with weighty, ominous hits, giving the naivetĂ© of Eddie’s statement—or pretense of it, if he’s playacting for the group—a sense of inevitability and doom. There’s less resolution to the score as Gaines drives onto the compound however, which ends on a sustained parallel perfect fifth up and down, slow, methodical, and open. Finally, using a repeating cello motif for Hawk as he prays, with the low wind previously tied to the movement, gives a nice, much warmer counterpoint to the not-particularly-inviting sound of much of the previous scoring for the movement. Perhaps good can come out of this place.

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