At its heart, “The Path” is about faith and pain, and what happens to people when they collide. As the follow-up to Hulu’s first scripted drama, “11.22.63,” it continues a gutsy journey.
The 10-episode series premieres Wednesday, and follows the followers of Meyerism, an ambiguously defined belief system that lures people played by the excellent Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy and Michelle Monaghan.
There have been comparisons to Scientology, but playwright-turned-TV writer Jessica Goldberg (“Parenthood”) says it also features elements of Catholicism and other major religions. This is the first show she has created, and “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights” veteran Jason Katims executive produces.
Viewers are introduced to Meyerism through several entry points, including aspiring leader Cal Robertson (Dancy), life-long believer Sarah Lane (Monaghan), and her husband Eddie (Paul), an influential member who came to the group later in life. When viewers meet him, he’s experiencing doubts following a hallucinogen-laced retreat in Peru that’s meant to further his status to the next rung of the “ladder” on which the faith is based. Instead, it has left him broken and questioning.
Unfortunately, while the main characters presented in the pilot come to us fully formed and tiered, Meyerism itself remains something of a mystery throughout the first hour. There is much talk of finding the light and participating in life-affirming mantras, but very little to understand other than that the founder himself is locked away in Peru writing the next three rungs. It’s all a little “Celestine Prophecy” at the outset, and there’s a slow burn through further installments.
Adding to the intrigue is FBI agent Abe Gaines (Rockmond Dunbar), who takes a while to arrive to investigate the cult-like tendencies of the group. Then there’s Alison (Sarah Jones), whose husband may have died at the mercy of the believers. While both characters are interesting, they unfortunately aren’t as fully fleshed out as the leads.
Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell) also falls into that category. As a woman who has been defined by the men in her life -first by her abusive father and now by Cal, who uses her to his advantage — she fails to break free here, remaining a mostly silent observer of the faith. All she gets to offer are occasional gap-mouthed stares to show us how deep Cal’s plotting goes.
Overall, it’s not a bad beginning to a series intent on exploring human suffering and the lengths people will go to in order to stop hurting. The dialogue is grounded in in the dark realism of everyday life. When stacked up against a series like “The Leftovers,” which also examines a cult, it feels flat at first. But once the story does finally get rolling, the intersecting elements begin to build towards a compelling story with more complexity than first meets the eye.
There is one drawback: After Wednesday’s two-hour premiere, the episodes will be released one at a time each week. It’s too bad, because the show’s patient pace better lends itself to being streamed all at once. The different approach differentiates Hulu from Netflix, but risks losing followers as they continue down “The Path.”