The Path: The Era Of The Ladder & What The Fire Throws Review
We open in New Hampshire. Chaos, destruction, rubble, everything is grey, a baby is crying – this is clearly not a healthy environment for a baby. The camera tethers to the body of a young woman as she fumbles around the destruction in search for water. We don’t see her face for a little while as she walks in this wasteland, but you wanna know what we do see?
We later learn that Mary (Emma Greenwell) was caught in a tornado, and has been saved by Hugh Dancy’s Cal, the de facto leader of the Myerist movement which is definitely not a cult. The show makes some allusions to Scientology, Jim Jones, Jonesetown and even Jesus Christ, however it reminded me the most of the not-cult depicted in the outstanding “Martha, Marcy May, Marlene.” The members are living harmoniously in a commune, doing harmonious things like gardening, attending sermons and having dinner together: the 2016 Whole Foods organic hipster dream. In the first two episodes little is known about the deep philosophy of the cult; the audience’s main exposure comes in a striking scene of Cal giving a sermon about stepping towards the light. Visually it is a bit on the nose with it’s us of shadows and light but it’s so stunning I can’t really fault it.
The show primarily centres on Eddie (played beautifully by Aaron Paul) a long time member whose faith is wavering following a trip to Peru. Torn between his lack of faith and love of his family and wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). The audience is naturally on Eddie’s side; he’s Aaron Paul, he cries like no other and he’s Aaron Paul. This however makes it a little hard to understand his struggle – the audience knows it’s a cult, the warning signs are obvious, and save for an expository scene about his drug addled past (to every “Breaking Bad” fans’ delight), we don’t really know why he’s stayed in the cult for so long. At the moment his character is a little thin, but in his defence, so is everyone’s.
Back to Mary; soon enough we find out she’s a drug addict (of course), she’s in love with Cal (of course) and, here’s the kicker, she’s a victim of sexual abuse Not that it’s too surprising, her character description seemed to be “damaged but beautiful.” While it is true that victims of abuse can sometimes be put in vulnerable positions making them easy to prey on, and it was equal parts satisfying and scary to see her abuser get the crap beat out of him, it just seemed like an obvious trope. If the show was going to make a statement about the cycle of abuse then I might re-evaluate my feelings, but at the moment it doesn’t look like it’s going there.
Speaking of abuse, there’s a worrying scene in episode two that reads as more than a little rapey. Eddie and Sarah are having a rough patch after Sarah thinks Eddie’s having an affair (when in reality he’s meeting up with an ex cult member), and they relieve the tension with some good old fashioned sex. The issue is that it begins with Eddie pushing her against the wall while she repeatedly says “no,” as he kisses her. The sex is rough and throughout the scene it’s hard to convince yourself that Sarah is enjoying it. Again, later if this comes up to be typical cult behaviour highlighting an innate patriarchy within the “idyllic” community (as was the case in Martha Marcy May Marlene) then maybe I’ll re-evaluate. Maybe.
The Path was created by playwright Jessica Goldberg, and while it’s always a pleasure to see content by female creators on TV, the gender politics of this show leave much to be desired. Reviewers have seen the entire 8 episode run of the first season, and most of them claim that it gets better as it goes along. In this world of Peak TVTM, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for skipping this show, or binge watching it when all the episodes have dropped. It’s a very gorgeous show with top quality cinematography and beautifully acting, but at the moment I’m waiting to see if it’s anything more.
Odds & Ends
- Am I the only one who thought that a Myerist Movement would be a bunch of hardcore Twilight fans? No? Not in 2016? Okay then.
- I know I’ve ragged on the character development but there was a little scene of Cal listening to a CD about facial expression, adding a perfect hint of insight. More of that please
- I didn’t have time to go into Eddie & Sarah’s kids, Summer and 15 year old Hawk (yes really, Hawk) who looks like a low rent version of Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Hawk is going through typical high school issues like peer pressure, bullying, girls, and wanting to quit so that he can become a full time cult member. Historically teenagers are the worst, so I can’t say I’m too excited for his plot.
- Major props to Will Bates for creating a beautifully atmospheric soundtrack.
- They seem to be laying down the clunky seeds of a love triangle between Sarah, Eddie and Cal. Hard pass.
- Something about the stars of three cult shows (Hugh Dancy & Hannibal, Michelle Monaghan & True Detective, Aaron Paul & Breaking Bad) staring in a show about a cult tickles me more than it should. Actor allusions are fun.
In lieu of weekly recaps, I’ll write another review after the season finale airs. New episodes of The Path are released on Hulu every Wednesday.