The Path Season 2 – Hulu
“It only works when you believe. Because once you pull that thread it just turns to nothing, right in your hands.”
If the first season of The Path was about finding faith and whether that faith actually has anything real behind it, then this season is about how to properly use the power of that faith.
And man oh man, does this show ever evolve. It embraces both that idea as well as its unhealthy inverse of what happens when the power of faith is used to be aggressively harmful. Now more than ever, it’s about a tug of war between belief systems.
Season one of The Path ended on a fairly gigantic cliffhanger and right from episode one, things are in freefall mode. Most characters are frantically trying to catch up from the events of last year’s finale. Cal is in an especially large pickle. In season two, a more confident, relaxed narrative allows details like more adultery, temptation, and sin to crop up amongst many members of the Movement. It’s almost as if the show’s second season is trying to tell you that all of these indiscretions are natural and inevitable; they’re normal, even. After last year’s primer, we’re also less in shock and awe of Meyerism’s rules and restrictions. As a result, it makes sense that the people involved in Meyerism are experiencing wavering faith. There’s less of a focus on enforcing rules and the schism between “deniers” and “normalcy.” Now Meyerism’s focus—and largely The Path’s too, by proxy—is about reveling in the decisions that you’ve made and accepting the consequences, whether you’re right or wrong.
New to this season is the development of Eddie now living out in the secular world due to his “denier” status. Simple everyday moments are capable of turning into overwhelming sensory experiences for Eddie and warps his Meyerism-adled mind. The real world feels as foreign to him at times as the world of the Movement felt when we were first thrown into it last season. It’s a great juxtaposition between last year’s premiere. This is his new world to make sense of, even if it is his original, old world.
A good chunk of this season is preoccupied with digging its claws into the increasingly complicated relationship between Eddie and Sarah. The two of them attempt to be civil to each other for the sake of their children, but matters get more poisonous and harmful to those within this family. Additionally, Sarah and Cal are now both co-leaders of the Movement together, which pushes forward yet another complicated, broken relationship. It’s continually incredible to see how much Cal shares with Sarah as their bond continues to strengthen in an unhealthy way.
This year shows Meyerism continuing to expand and grow, which shouldn’t be surprising. However, I couldn’t help but feel aghast as Cal casually tries to amend the rules of the Movement to better cater to his needs and strengthen his hold. Through all of this manipulation, it’s nice to see Michelle Monaghan’s Sarah not balking at any of Cal’s behavior. In fact, she acts as the perfect foil to dampen Cal’s bullshit and keep him in check. It’s just a matter of time until she’s unable to put up with him anymore.
Sarah continually gets pushed into murky territory in order to protect Cal and the greater good of Meyerism, yet these actions have her resenting Cal. Furthermore, watching Eddie and Sarah slowly get pit against each other, intrinsically drawn to opposite ends of the spectrum even if they don’t like these roles that they’ve fallen into, is super compelling and an implosion that’s hard to watch.
The season’s characterization goes to some dark places as Cal continues to be an ominous black hole of emotion as he doubles down on feeble self-help tapes and tries to help strangers as a means of clearing his conscience and convincing himself that he’s a good person. In reality though, Cal just keeps making matters worse.
Visions are played with in a meticulous way. Characters beyond Cal act in big ways, underlining the idea that devotion can be a really dangerous thing. Especially when the characters involved really don’t know what’s going on. The more I think about Eddie and Cal’s relationship, the more I see shades of Carnivale and it’d be great if the series embraced more of that prophetic binary. It’s certainly a thread throughout the year, but one that is much stronger in the season’s first half.
Hugh Dancy’s work this season is unparalleled and he channels the beyond strong performance that he brought to the table for three years of Hannibal. As Cal, Dancy employs such glorious micro gestures as his gears tick away. He does this great gesticulation where his eyes roll back a little bit, almost like he’s having some sort of stroke. It happens when he’s making serious decisions and it’s obviously a tick that his character has developed, but it’s these subtle gestures that are why I love this show. It illustrates just how layered and volatile all of these characters are.
So much of this season comes down to people just reacting to what Cal’s done with the look of “What the fuck was that?” on their faces. It’s great though. You want to see this guy crash and burn so badly as he gets all of this rubbed in his face. This season certainly isn’t afraid to have fun with the audience’s growing hatred of Cal. That being said, the season isn’t without its moments where it attempts to create pathos for the monster. In one pained reveal, Cal describes his mental state as the following. “It’s hell. It’s a living, waking hell. I am never without regret…It’s never not within me.” So some sympathy for the devil is certainly being played with here, too.
While watching this season of the show, I couldn’t help but think of how a similar series like Bloodline could so thoroughly bungle the character dynamics, duplicity, and triple agent work that was taking over its characters. The Path is definitely a show that could have fallen into these same pitfalls, but manages to find fresh, rejuvenating angles for all of its characters and becomes the strong, dualistic, emotional series that I wished for Bloodline’s second season. It’s not easy to drastically push everyone over the edge while still managing to stick the landing and make it all seem credible, but this season of The Path pulls off this balancing act.
It’s also worth mentioning that The Path’s second season sees an expansion to thirteen episodes from last year’s ten. This sort of padding can sometimes be a death knell for the series with the extra episodes railroading momentum rather than actually aiding the storytelling. For the most part this extension seems to be a promotion that The Path makes the most of, finding plenty to fill the extra episodes with and figuring out a reasonable rhythm to move through everything. There’s admittedly a bit of a slog during the midway point when episode seven hits, but this could be a much messier affair. The show is actually capable of organizing and sharing its stories in a helpful way rather than an explosive first few episodes that then lead to a lot of wheel-spinning. This is a story that has a clear trajectory in sight that is prepared to deal with the consequences that it introduces. None of this feels like gratuitous, manipulative storytelling that’s done just to stir a reaction.
The ongoing saga of Cal becoming more and more of a mentor for Hawk is expanded upon, and is all sorts of scary, especially since Cal might be doing it purely to spite Eddie and Sarah. Aaron Paul brings his true A-game when it comes to the material regarding Hawk. Him and Cal squaring off with Hawk in the middle is an effective way of adding all the more fuel to their fire. These scenes are all so icky and off-putting as Hawk strives for approval and Cal continues to manipulate. The eventual renaissance of self that Hawk experiences happens to be a little ingratiating, especially since it’s hardly new territory for a character to explore. In spite of it being productive strides for his character, it still is kind of eye-roll inducing.
A handful of new personalities also get to shine this year. I love that the show takes the time to further flesh out Richard this season, exploring not only how close he was with Silas and Steve, but Meyerism itself. Cal’s lies and perversion of the Movement become all the more offensive when you realize how entitled Richard is to what Cal is stealing. Richard becomes a personification of Meyerism in a lot of ways, which is a smart decision for the season all around. He’s a strong, necessary dissenting voice against Cal that can do what Sarah is otherwise incapable of. Even the duality of undercover FBI agent, Sam, who’s investigation of the Movement and its corresponding murders only continues to get more thrilling. Everyone is stuck in these tricky binaries with the point of all of this really coming home and feeling cohesive. Everyone is playing huge games of chicken with one another this year.
The Path’s second season also isn’t afraid to bury itself in some genuinely tense, unnerving sequences, like where these characters’ paranoia gets the better of them. All of these moments of anxiety connect and act as strong reminders of how frightening this show is capable of being when it wants to be. There were a few moments of that unpredictable fear in the first season but they’re a whole lot more intense this time around. Plus, there’s a compelling Chinatown-level mystery involving the town’s water supply that’s also a nice extra element to have coursing through everything. When aren’t season-long Chinatown allusions worth doing?
The editing of the show has also particularly upped its game this season as it attempts to tell a much more conflicted, chaotic story, which frankly makes sense considering where everyone is currently at. Michael Weaver returns as director this year and gets to dip back into his Trippy Bag of Tricks which he’s been keeping mostly dormant since the show’s first few episodes, yet it still being a touch that I think largely helped define the show’s style. Weaver’s visual tricks come back strong and are a welcome return after how much heady material has been allowed to go on since. A handful of new directors (including the formidable Michael Slovis of Breaking Bad fame) also join the team this year, all of which take no time shifting into the series’ anxious, off kilter voice.
The Path season 2 manages to take an already strong series and imbue it with a more confident swagger as it takes larger swings and risks, the bulk of which all pay off. With so many shows on television currently floundering or not living up to the potential that their promising debut seasons hinted at, you deserve to make time for this show that absolutely does stick its landing.
Besides you know what they do to deniers, don’t you?
The Path’s second season begins streaming January 25th, exclusively on Hulu.
This review is based on all thirteen hour-long episodes from The Path’s second season