Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
My main issue with season 1 of Hulu’s cult drama The Path was that for all of its luscious creepiness and compelling performances, the show sometimes lacked enough of a hook to make me truly and deeply care about the dysfunctional family at its center. It had all the adornments needed of every top-tier TV drama in this golden age – solid writing, great direction, and a just-high-concept-enough premise – but it never spurned obsession in me through its first ten hours.
I watched placidly, and enjoyably, but not lovingly. Season 2 of the show doesn’t reinvent the wheel (or the ladder, as it were), so if you’ve seen The Path before, you’ll get more of that in season 2’s thirteen episode stretch. That’s a good thing for the most part – the cast is still at the top of its game, the drama still stirs with intelligence, and its creepiness is as subtly layered as ever. But, even just a few episodes in, the new season still lacks that stay-up-until-3AM pull, and it doesn’t stick much in the brain once it’s over. For a show about devotion and obsession disguised as religious freedom, the end product feels noticeably slight.
Picking up where season 1’s finale ended, after becoming a “denier,” Eddie (Aaron Paul) finds himself in Peru searching for the leader of the Meyerist Movement to prove to everyone – and himself – that Dr. Stephen Meyer’s (Keir Dullea) beliefs are false and their entire way of life is a lie. Things don’t go as planned, and eventually Eddie makes it back to New York, gets a job in construction, and convinces estranged wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) to let him see his two kids, Hawk (Kyle Allen) and Summer (Aimee Laurence), without anyone on the Meyerism compound knowing.
Meanwhile, Sarah is struggling with her new role as a co-Guardian of the Light with Cal (Hugh Dancy), following the shattering news last year that he made up the final three “rungs” of the movement while Stephen was M.I.A. Within the first few hours of season 2, the juiciest turns come from Sarah’s attempt to stay upright in the crumbling reality of a world she has viewed as infallible since birth. Cal’s aggressive determination is a great counterpoint to Sarah’s more peaceful resilience – they both want the same thing, for Meyerism to evolve and be embraced on a larger scale, but their own paths couldn’t be more different.
But it’s Monaghan who takes her role as a beleaguered leader and wife and damn near sprints away with it. Sarah still feels like the center of the show, but she’s also evolved along with it in a way that I wish the narrative would have. She’s trying to do the right thing for her kids so they have a relationship with their father, even though at the same time her Meyerist family pretty much denounces Eddie’s existence. Monaghan is so good at being conflicted that she easily becomes the most engaging part of The Path, particularly in a scene early on in the season that takes place at a swanky fundraiser in Manhattan and becomes the jumping off point for both her and Cal’s unraveling.
Like season 1, that’s where The Path still shines. Its characters are wonderfully complicated and hard to pin down in a way that makes some lesser-than story threads fascinating to watch. Case in point: Cal’s attempt to make Meyerism a legitimate religion in the eyes of the government in order to gain tax exempt status with the IRS. It’s a workaday problem that fuels The Path‘s these-are-normal-people through-line, but it’s not engaging until Dancy begins going to ridiculous lengths to see that the movement doesn’t go bankrupt. Given the six-feet-under status of the last guy he crossed paths with in season 1, Cal is known to not take things lying down and the subplot eventually gains a much-needed edge.
Like most things on The Path, it can take a while to get there. The show is well-crafted and smart enough to offer some form of entertainment along the way – Allen as the once-wayward Hawk is doubly compelling now as a Meyerist devotee – but where it fails this year is in a slight drop of consistency. In season 1, I noted that while the show could have some slow parts to get through in its ten hour story, the neat trick was that I never realized I was in one until everything was said and done. The characters, the world, and the writing all drew me in enough and only when I looked back did I think some things could have been tightened up.
Season 1 feels more lackadaisical in the moment. Eddie shifts from his day job to seeing his kids to randomly meeting up with an old flame who comes back into his life (Leven Rambin), but nothing feels urgent besides a mysterious mark leftover from his visit to Peru. Likewise, continued stories from last year surrounding a cop, Abe (Rockmond Dunbar), infiltrating the Meyerists and a love triangle between Cal, Sean (Paul James), and season 1 Meyerist newbie Mary (Emma Greenwell) never even approach intrigue. The show still packs in a few memorable pieces of imagery and bizarre scenes, but it never successfully flirts with the idea that Meyerism could be real in a way that adds to the drama of the show without feeling silly.
The Path didn’t need to be a rollicking thriller, but it feels like it’s doubling down on its more sedentary nature in season 2 without growing or expanding the scope of a world that was successfully built in season 1. Creator Jessica Goldberg still nimbly positions the show in a way that avoids judging a group of people who viewers could easily have looked down their noses at, and that’s where anyone who keeps following The Path will find the richest salvation: in a collection of characters struggling to find purpose and satisfaction in everyday life amid the backdrop of a slightly heightened world. It’s a notable and noble premise for a show, to make viewers understand and appreciate the lives of someone far removed from our own, but season 2 is already suggesting that its story might be running out of gas.
The rewards of The Path - including some stellar performances - are far more tangible than those promised by the Meyerists, but the climb has only gotten more burdensome in a season that fails to expand the show in a narratively compelling way.