As Sarah welcomes Ashley's family into her house, everyone redefines the concept of 'home'
“The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out,” the novelist Jenny Offill once wrote. Some might say that’s also the reason to have a family, or to have a religion. Family is the bedrock of Meyerism. Couples build their faith through loyalty to each other, and children obey their parents. This system is supposed to make everyone’s beliefs stronger, so that when someone like Eddie starts to stray from the faith, his family brings him back in. He remains a Meyerist in part because he doesn’t want to lose the people he loves. But here’s the problem with that system: All an outsider needs is to make one family member doubt his faith. Suddenly, doubt will infect the whole family.
At first, Sarah seems open to allowing outsiders into her home. When she and Eddie hear on the radio that a gift box factory was raided, leading to the arrest of 40 illegal workers, many of whom had children in the U.S., she’s heartbroken. “Such a disgrace to separate families,” she says. A local church is providing refuge for three workers and their families, but the church leaders are expected to comply with the authorities. “That’s organized religion for you,” says Eddie. “Good intentions, no follow-through.”
He might be right, but that’s not exactly Meyerism’s problem. Take Cal: He’s all follow-through, without the good intentions. “The higher you climb, the more the movement asks of you,” Cal tells Eddie. And apparently, the movement is asking him to break into Alison’s hotel room and punish her for stealing $40,000 from a center in San Diego. Eddie, who didn’t know about the stolen money, finds Alison hiding on the balcony and decides not to rat her out to Cal. He’s so troubled by the incident that he spills everything to his wife, only omitting the fact that he’s been meeting with Alison on his own. Eddie tells Sarah that he’s worried Cal would’ve hurt Alison if he’d found her. “We don’t hurt people,” Sarah says. But Eddie isn’t so sure. “Maybe that’s what we do. Hurt people. Now that Cal’s in charge.”
Cal makes a strange leader for Meyerism, since he doesn’t really have a family. You can see the hurt in his eyes when he asks Russel to hang out and Russel shrugs, “Nah, I gotta get home. Wife and kids.” And Cal is taken aback when Sarah scolds him for breaking into the hotel room. He’s clearly surprised that Eddie broke his trust. Unlike Sarah and Eddie, Cal is ultimately alone, which is probably why he decides to send Sean away to Delaware. Mary is getting too close to Sean. And Cal can’t afford to lose her. She’s the only person who will put Cal above everyone else. She’s the only family he’s got.
Even Abe seems to understand why family is the core of Meyerism. He has just discovered that his premature baby has PDA, and he’s been grilling Eddie about how to use Meyerism to get through this tough time. Abe’s wife scolds him for using the baby to work his way into the movement, but I wonder if it’s the other way around. Abe might’ve started out as a spy, but I suspect that he’ll end up actually seeing the light.
NEXT: One big happy family
It’s such a disgrace to separate families — unless your own family is at stake. When Hawk suggests that Sarah take in Ashley’s family, who’ve been evicted from their house, Sarah is suddenly much less open with her home than she was when she heard about the illegal workers. “We’re supposed to help people,” Hawk tells her. “You raised me to believe that.” But you can see what Sarah is thinking: You have to help your own people first.
Sarah suspects that Hawk is being pulled further away from Meyerism as he’s getting closer to Ashley. And she should be worried. Ashley’s a smart girl, and her answers to Hawk’s existential questions are perfectly crafted. “What if this isn’t real and I’m ruining my whole life?” he wonders aloud. Well, she says, it’s not going to be real if he has to plant 10 trees every time they make out.
Amy Forsyth and Kyle Allen are both so good as Hawk and Ashley. You can imagine why he, the loyal but not-too-bright little puppy, is attracted to her, the smart-girl skeptic who’s just a bit cold. And the dialogue between them feels natural, as if it wasn’t actually written by some writer’s room filled with people twice their age. This is where showrunner Jessica Goldberg’s experience writing for Parenthood proves to be a major advantage. I like these kids, even if they do talk way too much about what is “real.” Can’t someone just enroll them in an epistemological philosophy course?
Anyway. Ashley’s family moves in with Hawk’s family for a little while, which freaks out Ashley’s mother at first, especially when her kids start begging to use the electro-stimulation machine. But later, over dinner, when she starts opening up about her late husband’s death — or “unburdening,” as the Meyerists call it — you can see her softening. Sarah invites her to a meeting, and eventually, she agrees. After all, Sarah is giving her a place to stay. How can she say no?
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It’s during this dinner that Sarah’s ruthless side comes out. She judges Ashley’s mom harshly, insisting that as an IS (“Ignorant Systemite”), Ashley’s mom lacks compassion — which, ironically, is a totally compassionless thing to say about someone who’s just been remembering her dead husband. Sarah blames Ashley’s mom for the fact that she’s alone. But Sarah isn’t just ranting at Ashley’s mom. She’s venting her anger at Tessa, too.
NEXT: Sarah takes a deep look at Tessa’s life
Tessa, as we know, escaped Meyerism when she was young. While searching for some background about Alison, Sarah stumbles upon Tessa’s file, and drives to Tessa’s home, which looks like it might be somewhere in Brooklyn. She sees a woman and her children leave the house, and then tries the door — which is open. (Unlocked in Brooklyn? Come on, writers.) What follows might be my favorite scene in The Path so far. There isn’t one word of dialogue, but Sarah communicates so much. Sarah’s exploration of Tessa’s home is almost unbearably intimate. She smells the food in Tessa’s fridge, reads the “sensitive” label on Tessa’s box of condoms, uses her toilet. It’s as if the house belongs to an ex-lover, not a sister, maybe because the life inside it is so seductive. As Sarah puts on Tessa’s lipstick, you can almost see her wondering, What would my own life have been like if I’d taken a different path? It’s only when she opens the medicine cabinet and sees the psychological impact of Tessa’s flight from Meyerism — Ambien, Klonopin, other not-so-happy drugs – that she snaps out of it.
Maybe Sarah’s faith was renewed by her experience at Tessa’s. Maybe she’s just more worried than ever about losing Hawk to Ashley, and believes that she won’t lose Hawk if she converts his girlfriend’s family. Whatever the case, Sarah brings Ashley’s family to listen to Cal’s sermon. He announces that the Meyerists will be taking care of the illegal workers. And he reminds everyone that the Meyerists will “remain in light and warmth” while the IS meets a terrible fate. This upsets Ashley, who leaves during the sermon and tells Hawk she’s sick of the judginess in all organized religions. “It’s always the same,” she says. “If you’re in, you’re saved. If you’re out, you’re damned.”
Well, if Ashley’s damned, then Hawk decides he will be, too. The two of them hook up in the car, looking just as rapturous as the people listening to the sermon. And gathered outside among the true believers, singing hymns and eating wholesome vegetarian meals is Abe, who looks quite at home alongside Eddie. Outsiders are starting to look a lot like insiders. And insiders are searching for a way out.