How does a fringe movement get passed down from one generation to the next? This is something that showrunner Jessica Goldberg often thought about while creating The Path. “Most cults are first generation,” she recently told Vanity Fair. “They revolve around a very charismatic leader and when that leader dies, the cult’s over.” This is why children are so crucial to a movement’s endurance: Long after the leader has died, the youngest followers to keep it alive. Then again, when parents rely upon ambivalent children to keep the faith, it’s also the quickest way to tear a movement apart.
We see the consequences of faith and doubt in two different father-son relationships this week: the literal one between Eddie and Hawk, and the spiritual one between Cal and his own “father.” During a visit to see Dr. Stephen Meyer, who’s dying in Peru, Cal confesses that he has always tried to be a good “son” to the doctor, to channel and fulfill his wishes. Now, he wants absolution. “If you’re unhappy with me, please tell me, because I won’t get another chance,” Cal says. “I’m sorry for everything that I have done that is wrong — and everything wrong that I do next.”
It’s not until much later that we understand what he really means: Cal wants Freddie Ridge’s wealthy father to handle the Meyerists’ investments. Offshore accounts are involved.
Cal’s confession to Dr. Meyer reveals so much about what makes his character so rich and his motivations so double-edged. On one hand, he’s a true believer. No one is watching him talk to the doctor, so he’s not just there for show. He’s truly seeking guidance. On the other hand, Cal’s ultimately going to do what he wants, even if he’s not working toward any kind of greater good. Can he really be a true believer if his actions don’t reflect the values he’s been taught?
Like Cal, Sarah thinks that pure belief can justify pretty much any act. While Eddie is away, trekking through the cold with Hawk, she arranges to meet with Alison, whose phone number popped up on Eddie’s cell one too many times. At first, Alison protects Eddie, claiming it’s not her place to say why they’ve been communicating. But when Sarah offers to trade Alison’s late husband’s diary for intel, Alison caves. She reveals that Eddie isn’t buying the ladder-in-the-sky stuff anymore, but so what? He loves Sarah. Does it really matter? It’s clear from Sarah’s livid expression that the answer is yes.
Obviously, these two women prioritize their husbands in very different ways. Alison heads into the meeting certain that she’ll stay loyal to Eddie, but once the diary comes into play, her husband’s welfare trumps her friend’s. Sarah goes into the conversation ready to trade top-secret Meyerist intel, but the second she learns the Eddie has lost his faith, she stands with the Meyerists. Both women are putting their families first. It’s just that Sarah thinks her real family is Meyerism.
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That’s ironic, considering that for Eddie, having a family is the closest thing to finding religion. Last week, he told Hawk that Sarah helped erase all doubt for him. This week, he tells Abe that Meyerism won’t save him, but his faith in his sick daughter might. When Eddie returns home from his 250-mile journey, he tells the whole congregation that he didn’t have any profound spiritual thoughts along the way. “The whole time I was thinking, How fast can I get home?” he says. “So I guess that’s what I found. No matter where I am, I just want to be home with my wife and my kids. They are my truth.”
NEXT: Mom and dad are fighting
Privately, though, Eddie tells Sarah what that really means: He thinks Meyerism is “all f—ing fairy tales.” Their massive fight is one of the best scenes of the whole season, finally making explicit the judgment and betrayal that’s been silently building between them since the pilot. She screams at him for lying to her and allowing her to berate Miranda for something that never even happened. He admits that he was afraid she’d put him in a room to be “brainwashed.” People go through the motions in religions they don’t believe all the time, he says. Good deeds and family are all that matters. She flinches as if it’s an insult. “We are part of something that matters,” she growls. “And we matter because we are a part of it.” Her voice is so cold, it could freeze those green smoothies that Eddie used to smear across the walls.
And yet, later, after Sarah accidentally breaks a bottle while cleaning, Eddie goes to comfort her, and they start having sex. Turns out, it’s much hotter than their usual you-wear-that-pink-slip, I’ll-pretend-it’s-sexy routine. Are these conflicts making the two of them more attracted to each other somehow, or is this the kind of sex couples have when they know they’re bound to break up? Either way, if Eddie’s going to be a non-believer, he needs an “I.S. do it better!” T-shirt.
It’s interesting that the same thing that makes Eddie stay within the movement — love — is what makes Hawk want to leave it. When Hawk returns from the walk to see Ashley, who’s been living in a car with her mom, he tells her he’s leaving the movement to help her. “You’re my life now,” he says. It’s a very sweet, romantic moment — and also a sad one, when you consider how well that type of devotion worked out for his dad.
When Hawk tells his parents he’s leaving the movement, Sarah kicks him out. She blames Eddie for poisoning his view of Meyerism. Eddie tries to stop Hawk, but Sarah forces him to let their son go. Worried that they’ll lose Hawk forever, Eddie appeals to Sarah’s parents and comes clean about everything that happened, but Sarah’s dad says he needs to get into a program. “There’s gotta be some f—in’ room for doubt!” Eddie insists, desperate. “Doubt’s what’s caused the world to be in such s–t shape,” says Sarah’s dad.
“You’ll lose everyone,” Eddie warns them. Sarah’s mother shrugs. “Only people who lack conviction,” she says. “Cowards.” Apparently, that includes Eddie. She claims he’s not their son-in-law anymore.
You choose your family, just like you choose your faith. And right now, no one’s closer to Sarah than “Uncle Cal.” He has already told Sarah that Dr. Stephen Meyer wants them to be “guardians of light” together. So when Sarah needs Hawk to return to the movement, she turns not to Eddie, but to her Meyerist family, leaving Cal to take Ashley for a little walk. Cal has found a place for Ashley to stay with her family. “You just need a room of your own,” he tells her. “Everyone does.” But there’s a catch: She has to convince Hawk to return to Meyerism. He puts it in terms she can relate to: She remembers the boundless grief of losing her father, right? What would it be like to lose her whole family? That’s what would happen to Hawk. If Ashley really loves Hawk, Cal suggests, she’ll let him go. Flash-forward to Hawk crying in the front seat of his car, where he’s just been dumped.
All of this infuriates Eddie, who confronts Cal and Sarah before the whole congregation once he figures out what happened. “You broke your son’s heart,” he tells Sarah. “It was for the best,” she says, calmly. “What, so he could end up like you? A prisoner?” Eddie rages.
When the episode ends, Eddie is totally alone. And so is Alison. After reading her husband’s journal, she ends up walking out on a frozen lake, weeping, as if she’s hoping to fall through the ice. Whatever truths were revealed in that book, they must be close to unbearable. But instead of turning toward suicide, as some believe her husband did, she ends up back in the Meyerist compound — a pretty amazing twist. Whether she has more subversive plans for the compound remains to be seen. Tonight, it seems that she just needs a warm place to stay. Everyone needs a room of one’s own, even if that room looks a whole lot like prison.
- How long will it take before everyone turns against Cal? Sarah’s been leaving urgent voicemails for Silas that he can never return. And now that Abe has gotten the corner report from Peru about Alison’s husband, it’s only a matter of time before all sins are revealed. Sorry, Cal. See you back down there at the bottom of the ladder.
- This week, in the never-ending saga of Mary and Sean, we learned a very important lesson. Committing to another person’s wounds is both the biggest challenge and the most rewarding experience one can have in this life. That’s why marriage is a cornerstone of the movement. That’s also why a certain redheaded nurse is having a very bad week.
- I laughed when Cal and Freddie’s dad decided to meet at some kind of weird sex club where strippers grind with animals on stage. What an inconspicuous place for a spiritual leader to conduct illicit business! And I laughed even harder when Mr. Ridge took Cal’s plans and said, “Let’s see what we’re looking at here.” Well, if you’re talking literally, Mr. Ridge, it appears to be two topless women dry-humping a horse.
- Why am I suddenly craving veggie chili and cornbread with butter for dinner?