The Path premiere recap: What the Fire Throws
The very first episode of Hulu’s The Path introduces us to Meyerism, a religious sect dedicated to finding the truth and spreading “the light.”
First things first: Meyerism is a philanthropic religion. To illustrate this, the series opens with the survivors of a brutal New Hampshire tornado. It’s a dismal tableau: Babies are screaming, people are wandering around dazed, and one woman in particular is just looking for water to drink, with little success (detergent doesn’t do the trick). Luckily for them, a cadre of Meyerist trucks roll in. Volunteers in identical blue T-shirts pass out water, reunite families, and load some of the people onto their trucks for further help at their religious compound.
The story then moves to Parksdale, NY, where a gathering of Meyerist family and friends say a prayer before dinner: “Thank you for this gift of bread to sustain these vessels, our bodies, so that we may have the energy to create a more beautiful world and break through our blocks and barriers in this life and ascend the ladder of enlightenment so that someday we may be free of these earthly forms and live as light together in the garden. We express deepest gratitude for this day, and every day, for the gift of this passage, and that we found the ladder. There is one spirit whose name is Truth.” A couple of the men have just returned from a religious retreat; most speak of it in glowing tones, but Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul) seems a little weirded out by it. His wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), suspects he may have had an affair with one of the women who accompanied him on the retreat, so that night she puts on a sexy slip and seduces him. This doesn’t stop him from sneaking out of bed to make a secret phone call; Sarah tries spying on him, but doesn’t catch much.
The next day, Sarah meets up with her old friend Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). Cal, Sarah, and Eddie go way back, apparently. They used to passionately discuss how to fix the world, but while Eddie and Sarah have settled into family life, Cal maintains that religious fervor. He’s now the de facto leader of Meyerism in the absence of its founder. Meanwhile, Eddie drops off their son Hawk at high school. Like any teenager, Hawk wants out of high school and he thinks taking the vows of a Meyerist priesthood would be the way to do it. Eddie cautions restraint. High school sucks for everybody.
Back at the compound, some followers partake in spiritual and physical exercises, while the New Hampshire tornado woman, Mary, watches. A self-described novice approaches her and notices she seems sick. He fetches a doctor, who gives Mary some morphine to help with her drug withdrawal. “We’re going to bring you back to the self you once were,” the doctor tells Mary.
At school, Hawk and his Meyerist friends suffer some bullying during their pre-lunch prayers. It’s not all bad, though: A girl named Ashley Fields won’t stop staring at Hawk. His friends think she’s plotting some more bullying, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. Who needs a sexless priest’s life when girls look at you like that?
Flash to another quick scene, where a woman named Alison observes an older couple. Before she can say anything to them, three men approach her, wanting to talk. She quickly (and mysteriously) drives away.
Sarah tries teaching Mary some of the basic ideas about Meyerism. Like real-life Scientology, it provides an outlet for followers to process their past traumas. “Everyone has pain, but we try not to carry it with us,” as Sarah says. She explains that founder Dr. Stephen Meyer, currently in Peru finishing up the last of his religious writings, is so holy, so full of truth, that he’s literally surrounded by light. Sarah was born into the sect, but that wasn’t the case for everyone. Cal, for example, came to the organization as a young boy and climbed up the ranks. Further episodes will probably complicate this analogy, but so far Cal sounds a bit like David Miscavige, L. Ron Hubbard’s protégé who took over the Church of Scientology after the founder’s death.
Meanwhile, Eddie is telling a group of people how he came into the church. He had a rough early upbringing, with only his older brother for company and protection. One day, however, he came home to find his brother had committed suicide. This still makes Eddie break up, so Cal chimes in with details about how the tragedy drove Eddie into the arms of Meyerism.
Later that night, Mary hits up Cal. She takes off her clothes and tries to seduce him, but he can tell something’s wrong, that her relationship with sex is a fraught one. He’s right; she admits her dad used to sell her to his friends. Cal says they can help her make it better.
They’re not the only ones up to something that night. Eddie sneaks out, and Sarah follows up. When she watches him drive to a motel and enter a room, it appears to confirm her worst suspicions about his affair.
This prompts a flashback to three weeks earlier, when Eddie was on the Peru retreat. Drugs appear to have been involved, judging by Eddie’s red eyes. One of the women does try getting friendly with him around the bonfire, but then Eddie sees a vision of his dead brother. Ghosts of dearly departed siblings are always a buzzkill. Eddie follows the apparition, which appears to lead him down a mysterious hallway to a door emblazoned with Meyerism’s eye sigil.
NEXT: The other side of the door
Whatever Eddie saw behind the door, it changed his perspective on things. When he returned home, he immediately went to the public library and googled “is Meyerism real?” Apparently Meyerism either forbids the internet, or Sarah keeps a strict eye on everyone’s search history. Scenes from earlier in the episode are then replayed from Eddie’s perspective. Apparently, he was plagued by disturbing visions of his Peru trip all through sex with Sarah. Later, in his secret phone call, he told the person on the other hand that he was having doubts.
At a Meyerist meeting the next day, Cal proclaims that global warming and political instability are proof that their founder was correct: Civilization will collapse soon. Cal says that Meyer is finishing up his work transcribing the last three rungs on the ladder. From what Cal knows, these revelations will not only make life in the heavenly garden “spectacular,” it’ll also improve the followers’ life in the earthly present. Eddie asks when the writing will be finished. The directness of the question affronts Sarah, but Cal seems unperturbed. He says it’s not a matter of will, but when “the message” is done transmitting to Meyer.
That night, Sarah and Eddie talk in the kitchen. Eddie admits that the Peru trip did not go as well as he initially pretended. Sarah asks him if he “transgressed,” a Meyerist byword for cheating. Eddie maintains he was talking to a “possible,” a young person interested in joining the organization. Mad about this supposed cheating, Sarah says “I chose you.” You mean over Cal, Eddie asks? That appears to be an escalation too far, and they each back down. Sarah still thinks something’s wrong; she “intuits” it. “Well, your intuition is off!” Eddie shouts, in a not-entirely-convincing way.
Something is wrong with Eddie, but it’s not what Sarah thinks. In flashback, we finally see who was behind the motel door: Alison. Eddie’s vision in Peru apparently showed him something quite disturbing, and he’s trying to reckon with it. Alison, apparently a Meyerist escapee, is trying to help him. Eddie wonders whether one vision is enough to shake his faith of his entire life; Alison notes that he did come to her, so it must’ve been something powerful.
The scene switches back to the present, where Sarah is calling on Cal. Unlike Mary, she doesn’t want sex, though she does hint at their shared history: “I was so scared of you when we were young. You’d sneak into my bed, your hands were like fire. I thought this guy could never love a person. He needs too much.” She thought Eddie could love a person, but now thinks she was wrong. She tells Cal that Eddie transgressed, and she leaves. This encounter riles Cal up enough to go wake Mary. “Let’s go make it better,” he says.
The next morning, Eddie and Sarah’s young daughter tumbles into the room, all sunshine and energy. Eddie apologizes to Sarah for the tone of their previous encounter.
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The episode climaxes with a passionate sermon from Cal, a lesson about Plato’s cave. The classic philosophical parable tells of a group of people imprisoned in a cave. All they know about is the images they see projected on the wall in front of them. Eventually, one of the prisoners breaks loose and “turns around,” realizing that there’s a fire behind them. People walking in front of the fire is what creates the images everyone sees — the shadow of reality. The free man then tries to teach the other prisoners about the truth of reality, the light behind things, even if they turn against him. In Plato’s Republic, this figure is the philosopher; in Cal’s telling, it’s him. To prove it, he ends with a dramatic finish, tearing down the projection behind him to let in light from the windows.
As audience members steal furtive glances at each other, the sermon is interspersed with flashbacks. Mary remembers what happened after Cal woke her up: He had her take him to her dad’s trailer. Cal demanded that Mary’s father get on his knees and beg her forgiveness; when the old man spat in response, Cal promptly beat the tar out of him, going so far as to shove his face in a microwave as Mary watched.
As everyone claps for Cal, Eddie flashes back to his vision in Peru. The door opened… to reveal Dr. Stephen Meyer. Rather than furtively writing or studying, the good doctor appears to be in a coma, hooked up to IVs in bed. And there is no light around him; only a gigantic, hissing snake.