“Where there is transgression, there is also transformation.”
So says Richard at the beginning of Hawk’s tree-planting ceremony. What he doesn’t say is that transformation isn’t necessarily a good thing from the Meyerists’ perspective. Sure, you could be like Hawk, and your teenage rebellions with an I.S. girl could make you a better person, one who plants trees and only listens to Bob Dylan’s best protest songs and supports his father by walking 250 miles through the freezing cold with him. Then again, you could be like Alison, and your decision to steal thousands of dollars from the Meyerists could change you in a different way — one that involves eating a whole lot of salami.
In “Refugees,” we learn a lot about the Meyerists from the way they handle their own transgressions, especially when it comes to Cal. For the first time, we see Cal doing something relatively good-hearted and selfless — giving the Hondurans refuge from the government — but it requires him to defy the movement’s leaders, which is the biggest sin imaginable in this group. Already, there are press helicopters circling the compound, and Sarah, Bill, and Felicia are all more worried about bad press than they are about actually helping these refugees and their children. It’s ironic that the one person who doesn’t have kids is the only one who advocates for the children from the very beginning. (Sarah only comes around later.) There’s a vote among the elders, and Cal is forced to tell the Hondurans they need a different place to stay. But he can’t bring himself to do it. “The light directs us,” he explains to them. “And the light tells me that I have to fight for you.”
Turns out the light is telling him other things, too. Like, that he should go back to the cabin and investigate that strange blond woman who’s been spotted outside. Seriously, Alison? How careless can you be? First, you’re wandering around naked in your apartment when Eddie could walk in at any moment; then you’re going outside for fresh air? Also: WHY ARE YOU STILL LIVING LIKE TWO MILES AWAY FROM THE MEYERISTS?!? You made it out of the cult, sister. Get a job. Rent your own apartment. Shack up with a nice Scientologist in another town. I don’t care. Just get out of Dodge.
Eddie runs back to warn Alison that Cal is onto their scheme, but it’s too late. Cal commands Alison to unburden and sentences Eddie to “the walk” for helping an evil deserter, lying about his supposed affair with Miranda, and losing his faith. “You can’t live among us, call yourself a follower, and not believe,” Cal tells Eddie. So Eddie has two choices: walk 250 miles and return to the circle, or keep on walking and never come back. When Eddie tells Sarah about the walk, she demands to know what it’s punishment for, but his explanation that this is top-secret 7R stuff seems to shut her up for the time being. Come to think of it, that could be a pretty good excuse for a lot of things. Why aren’t you taking out the trash, Eddie? Oh, I can’t — because of top-secret 7R stuff.
All of this raises the question: If you’re doing the right thing, does it matter if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons? Eddie wants to make up for his transgressions, but somehow he doesn’t mind lying to his wife in order to do it. And Hawk has a sudden urge to re-devote himself to Meyerism only after Ashley leaves the compound and all temptation is removed from his life. Who can blame Ashley’s mother for dragging the kids out the door once she realizes that the dentist’s assistant job the Meyerists hooked her up with has a scary Meyerist worship room? Can’t you just imagine the whole office huffing Novocain on their way up the “ladder”?
NEXT: Cal snaps
Right now, Meyerism itself is the right thing that people seek out for the wrong reasons. Its followers might be helping people who need assistance, connecting them with jobs and food and medicine, but what the leadership is really seeking is power. Felicia and Bill keep insisting that they’ve been sent in to oversee the New York sector, but who exactly is sending them with Dr. Stephen Meyer lying mute in his hospital bed? Turns out, a lot of people are justifying their actions by claiming they’re having conversations with a half-dead guy. Silas also insists that he’s been communicating with “Steve,” who tells Silas that the movement is over — or, at least, over for Cal. What follows is the most surreal moment of the series so far: Silas calls Cal a fraud, and worse — “an alcoholic salesman, just like your father” — and Cal gores him with a broken vase, killing him.
Does anyone else suspect that Silas’ murder is something that Cal imagined? Everything about it was so weird. Why did Silas suddenly decide that the movement was over? Hadn’t the Meyerists been through worse circumstances before? Hadn’t Silas known that “Steve” was dying for a long time? Also, Mary was right there, yelling at Cal for sending Sean away, before Silas came in. Why didn’t Mary see Silas on her way out? Meyerists are always having visions. Is it possible that Cal just drank a bad ayahuasca smoothie for breakfast?
Then again, true believers aren’t often blessed with visions in The Path‘s world. In fact, the one person who doubts Meyerism — Eddie — is the only guy who’s able to see things that other people can’t. Maybe I’m just hoping the whole thing was imagined because the plot twist was a little too convenient, especially given the way it was edited for maximum symbolism. Just as Cal is literally mopping up the blood with bath towels, Sarah is giving a speech that suggests Silas’ death will lead to end times. The Meyerists can’t risk looking like extremists, she says. They can’t give the government any reason to destroy them. (Like, for example, murdering someone?) Trying to convince the other Meyerists to help the Hondurans, Sarah reminds them that Dr. Stephen Meyer took a chance on them,and they need to take a chance on the refugees. “In times of struggle, we are one,” she announces to them. “In times of strife, we are strong. In a time of change, we remain. If darkness falls, we are light.”
We’ll see next week if that’s a good enough pep talk to keep the movement alive. Right now, it has a lot working against it. There’s no leadership here. The final scene shows Cal getting very drunk, letting Sarah’s calls go to voicemail. And Eddie and Hawk will soon be 250 miles too far away to help. But maybe that’s a good thing? Silas says the next generation is waiting for a new leader, and it’s not Cal. Could it be Sarah, who’s obviously gifted in leading sermons? Or maybe Hawk will come away from his walkabout feeling renewed and ready to lead the masses. Or what about Eddie? That would be an interesting twist and a good way to end this season: The doubter becomes the new leader. Where there is transgression, there might be the type of transformation you’d never expect.
- You have to plant a tree every time you sin? Screw those international climate change conferences. All we need is to convert the world to Meyerism, and our environmental problems are solved.
- Writers, will you please let Mary actually leave the compound,instead of having her turn around and go back inside? This poor character is only here to advance the worst parts of a pretty good show: first the saintly prostitute subplot (hence, her Magdalene-like name); and now the lesbian-pharmacist-seducer subplot. Coming soon: the she’s-a-junkie-again subplot. It’s only a matter of time before Mary’s stolen drugs are blamed on Ashley’s mom, and then we won’t need Mary anymore.
- When Sarah complains that Meyerism is stuck in the 1950s, with women standing in the shadows supporting their men, Cal scoffs. “If you’re in the shadows, it’s because you put yourself there,” he says. “You want to be a leader? Be one.” Honestly, that’s a great Lean In speech. Sit at the table, Sarah. Or climb the ladder. Or do whatever you Meyerists do.
- Pet peeve: Why do TV detectives still use dry erase boards? I actually laughed when I saw Abe literally writing “dead” on photos of ex-Meyerists and “Is he dead?” on Dr. Stephen Meyer. C’mon, Abe. Either just think it inside your brain, or make an Excel spreadsheet like everyone else.
- That final shot of Cal getting drunk was brutal. Maybe he’s been playing my favorite drinking game: Take a shot every time someone says, “It’s not a cult, it’s a movement.”