Hulu’s The Path
Season 1, Episode 1: “What The Fire Throws”
Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Jessica Goldberg
* For a review of the next episode, “The Era of the Ladder” – click here
The new Hulu series begins in New Hampshire. A desolate landfill-type location, some sort of disaster area, with various types o people everywhere. Up pulls a van, beeping loudly. Out of it emerges Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy), as well as a team of others, and they proceed to start saving people. Later, we come to discover there was a tornado.
Immediately one of the things I loved about this pilot episode is the cinematography. Really beautiful stuff. With Hulu in the game now, also putting out the Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63, the tv arena is getting wider.
Cut to Eddie and Sarah Lane (Aaron Paul/Michelle Monaghan). They’re at the dinner table surrounded by others, everyone hand in hand reciting some type of ritualistic grace. We’re directly in the midst of the cult, smack dab in the middle of conversations about their practices, and so on. Sarah’s worried about her husband, whose recent return from Peru seemingly prompted a change in attitude. There is definitely something off, whatever that may be.
A short time later, Eddie gets a text that sends him off. Not before he and his wife connect intimately a little.
Everything about the opening ten minutes is eerie. There’s an unsettling air about these first few scenes. When Sarah creeps about the house listening in on husband Eddie, there’s some great suspense. And that sets the tone for what’s likely to be a bit of an unnerving drama. At least that’s the initial feeling that this episode lays out.
Now we’re at the compound. A gated little community, guard at the front. Everything is quaint, almost too perfect. Everything is built and structured to look very country.
And at the center of it all, or at least lead puppet: the enigmatic Cal. He is charming, he reads people well, and his history with Sarah clearly runs deep. We get a little snippet on someone named Doc, who Cal claims is in “lockdown” working on a book. Hmm. Is this some L. Ron Hubbard-esque character, a Jim Jones kind of man, or someone altogether different?
One of the people saved by Cal and his crew is Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell). She’s had drugs problems, it’s clear, and now this cult is going to nurse her back to health. To her, it’s as if the sky has opened up and Heaven shined down. But perhaps it’s more than it seems, perhaps not all it appears on the surface. She’ll have to wait and see.
An interesting aspect of this series already is Hawk Lane (Kyle Allen). He and other children of the cult members have to deal with life at school, following their beliefs in a modern world with bullying. That to me is something worth including, and hopefully will get more time to play out.
We get a quick scene with a woman named Alison (Sarah Jones). She tries to go talk to an elderly couple, but two men stop her on the street. Is she trying to reconnect with her old life? Are they preventing this from happening? This could be our first view into the darker side of life in this little community.
Mary Cox is being introduced to it herself. Sarah says she was “born into” this way of life, and that Cal came to the group as a young boy. There’s talk of “rungs” on a ladder, obviously parts of their belief system – the titular path, most likely.
Then there’s Eddie. He gives a sort of inspirational lecture to the newest recruits. He talks about his brother, Johnny. Sadly, Johnny hung himself, and Eddie found him. What’s most interesting is how he and Cal are incredibly close, so much so the latter already knows the story. Front to back. The community is clearly one built around close relationships, intimacy. But quickly we move into talks of “Meyerism“, books – because there’s always more than one – and more spurts of the ladder everyone climbs. Most importantly, the foreboding presence of Cal is so evident already. As is the doubt in Eddie. His faith is slipping; an amazing edit takes us over to Eddie reading to his daughter, poignantly giving us an exclamation point on his situation.
In a quiet room, Mary goes to see Cal. She undresses for him. His reaction certainly isn’t one of professionalism. He admires her a little before putting the clothes back on her body. For the time being, Cal’s playing it safe, which then prompts her to spill all the awful secrets in her past. “All my life I had this fantasy, one day an angel would float down from the sky and save me,” Mary tells him. Cal, for his part, spews some quasi-Scientologist madness, or pseudo-psychiatric nonsense. Either way, Mary doesn’t particularly buy it.
Another point to mention. The score in this episode is impressive. Both tense and subtle, it swells, pulsing underneath many of the scenes adding something properly ominous to the atmosphere. Props to Will Bates.
More on Eddie, as he takes off in the middle of the night. Not without Sarah on his tail. She follows him right to a motel. An affair? Could her husband be that sort of man?
Jump back three weeks. Peru.
Eddie’s sweating out a pretty intense hallucination. He sees his brother, the one we’ve just heard of, and it brings him to tears. The shaman there encourages him to talk with his brother, which he does. To interesting results. He ends up staring through a doorway into some light. What does he see?
Forward, again in the present.
Things are obviously no longer the same for him. He Googles “Is Meyerism real?” and other such phrases, seeking out the elusive truth. His text messaging is to someone claiming to have such a truth. They cryptically communicate awhile, put off a little by the impromptu lovemaking in which Eddie and Sarah engage. Nonetheless, he’s been altered. Beyond that door, we only manage a glimpse of some sort of hospital equipment. Keeping someone alive? What could it be? The mystery is amazing, so palpable and full. Especially with the writing, which weaves us back through events we’ve seen already in the episode, giving us new insights, et cetera. Great work all around. The character development is slow, yet very full thus far while holding back just enough.
Eddie: “I think that I am having doubts”
Maybe letting on too much, Eddie questions things about Doc to Cal. In front of everyone. A little out of line, from the looks of Sarah, and the slight apprehension, or faked apprehension, on the part of Cal. Appearances are a big deal here, they’re everywhere; people are keeping up a mask. At least Cal is, anyways.
Has Eddie discovered something about Doc? While Cal is fronting the whole thing, talking about what Doc is up to, writing, so on, is Doc really lying somewhere, barely alive, kept breathing by machinery? Is that what Eddie saw when let into the inner sanctum? Maybe he’ll discover the madness of the cult, just as people like Paul Haggis did in real life after figuring out Scientology was all about Xenu and a ton of fucking insanity.
Now, the whole mystery is wrapped up in a family drama. This edgy thriller is built inside a compact emotional framework. And Eddie, off in that motel, is talking to Alison. A highly interesting development.
Meanwhile, Sarah goes to see Cal. She talks about their early days together. “Your hands were like fire,” says Sarah. Things are deteriorating in the world of the Lanes, she keeps saying Eddie “transgressed“, but they’ve got no clue as to what he’s actually been up to.
We finally get a look at one of their little services. Interesting enough, Cal gives a bit of a speech on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. He goes over the “shadows of reality” and other talking points. He uses this to shape people and their minds. The way Cal uses his charisma, his natural charm, is almost dangerous. We can already see him peddle his heavy influence. An excellent performance from Dancy, love this turn from his other great role as Will Graham on NBC’s Hannibal.
Funny enough, Cal talks about not being able to live knowing what one knows, without breaking free of the chains which bind us. Same thing Eddie struggles with.
The part of this episode that’s most interesting is when Mary brings Cal back to her trailer park home, to meet dear old dad. To make everything “right“, as Cal had put it earlier. Such a terrifyingly quiet nature about Cal that explodes wildly, unexpected. His is a deep flowing rage. Juxtaposed with him lecturing people on Plato, it is a powerful scene.
Cal confronts Eddie later about what Sarah told him re: motel meeting.
Then we discover what Eddie saw, cut alongside his meeting with Alison. It is in fact Doc, Stephen Meyer (Keir Dullea), in an almost 2001: A Space Odyssey-like homage, laying in bed, hooked up to hospital equipment, as Eddie explains: “There is no light.”
I love, love, loved this first episode. What an odd, beautiful, well-filmed and written, expertly acted pilot. Look forward to taking in the second episode ASAP.