We last saw Aaron Paul on television screaming into the night and fleeing that devil Walter White. You could easily imagine his new Hulu series, The Path, as a spiritual sequel to Breaking Bad, tracking a possible future for lost soul Jesse Pinkman. Paul plays Eddie, a man with a traumatic, self-destructive past who has found healing and purpose within a community most would dub a cult. Founded by a recluse who’s somewhere in Peru communing with “the Truth” that’s giving him “the Message,” which describes a path to enlightenment called “the Ladder,” Meyerism is many strains of dubious transcendentalism (Scientology, apocalyptic Christianity, hippie mysticism, self-help psych) rolled into one fat metaphorical joint. Eddie’s new life is barely established when the premiere sends him on a retreat and gives him a chemically assisted revelation that rocks his faith—a Pauline conversion to sobering doubt. How legit was his visionary drug trip? Does he seek clarity or stay comfortably agnostic?
The Path struggles to keep Eddie’s predicament believable, and it makes a questionable choice in episode 2 to clarify some of his mysterious experience for viewers. But creator Jessica Goldberg and exec producer Jason Katims (both late of Parenthood) generate enough twists and resonances to keep you engaged. Not wanting to destabilize his community, and terrified of losing his family—his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is a high-ranking believer born into the movement; his sensitive teenage son, Hawk (Kyle Allen), is waffling on whether to be a Meyerist for life—Eddie hides behind a deception to explain his angst: He claims he had a fling with an old flame (Minka Kelly) while on the retreat. Goldberg and Katims manage this gambit well so it never becomes tedious, and they let it create evolving, tragic complications for everyone involved.
Sly, intricate ironies abound on The Path. Eddie is a phony philanderer who is committing honest-to-God spiritual adultery: He’s cheating on both the truth and the Truth. A misunderstanding or outright lie that takes on a life of its own? That’s religion for many skeptics. Paul and Monaghan are always intense and credible, but I wanted more. Their characters have damage and history but not much internal complexity. The show’s best character is Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy), the commune’s ambitious leader. His many unresolved flaws betray the limits of Meyerism. He knows a secret that could topple everything. But he doesn’t want to. He believes that with progressive reforms—more activism, empathy, and power sharing; less secrecy, crazy, and cult of personality—Meyerism can do redemptive good, and he chases that idealism with reckless zeal.
The Path is best when it offers more than just skepticism and cynicism. It’s most interesting as an allegory about our relationship to truth and the value of religions in a seemingly godless world, at a place in history far removed from their point of origin. Perseverance is required. The premiere clunks as a premise setter and paranoid thriller. Some story lines start poorly—Hawk’s romance with a nonbeliever (Amy Forsyth); a bitter ex-believer’s (Sarah Jones) bid to recruit Eddie to her anti-Meyerism crusade—though they slowly improve as they take surprising turns. Run the race, keep the faith: The Path is a provocative journey. B