Hulu recently debuted a trailer for the second season of The Path, a drama about the inner workings on a Scientology-esque religious group that walks the fine line between drug-fueled hippie commune and full-on cult. However, the next season has a pretty huge question to answer, based on the events of the first one: Is The Path science fiction?
For most of the season, the answer would be “Hell no.” It’s simply a modern-day drama about Eddie, played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, struggling with his faith as a key member of Meyerism, a new-age spiritual movement that bears a striking similarity to Scientology. The idea the show postulates (at first) is that the Wizard of Oz has always been a man behind a certain—in this case, a slowly dying leader called Stephen Meyer—and that belief invents divinity.
However, the final episode of the first season threw all that out the window, in a way that challenges the way we perceive their world in the coming months. Be prepared to drink the Kool-Aid, folks.
In season 1's last episode, “Miracle,” Eddie, nearing his wits end, heads to the Meyerist compound in Peru to confirm, once and for all, that Stephen Meyer had died. After all, there was absolutely nothing that could cure him of his disease. But then, Eddie sees Stephen standing by a window, looking fit, healthy, and very much alive. This isn’t the only “miracle” that happens in this episode. A detective’s baby is completely healed after Meyerist leader Cal prays over the child, ensuring she wouldn’t need to have open-heart surgery.
Miracles might not seem like science fiction, more something you’d find in Chicken Soup for the Cat Angel’s Soul, but religious themes are a huge part of sci-fi. A lot of times, it involves alien races honoring faiths that complement or contradict our own, but other times it’s a little closer to planet Earth. For example, NBC’s superhero show Heroes had that Usutu guy who sent our favorite New York cop on a totally-not-stupid vision quest.
The Path examines a modern religion that may have a connection to supernatural forces, but it’s unclear whether it’s actual divinity, a crazy high, or a mix of both. Throughout the show, the Meyerists are heavy users of psychoactive drugs, mainly concoctions of their own making, which they ingest to aid in vision quests and help them see the future. There are examples of people receiving spiritual visions after taking psychoactive drugs over the centuries, but The Path is presenting a religion where those visions might actually be true. After all, the main reason Eddie goes to visit Stephen Meyer in the final episode is because he had a vision of a snake, which is Meyer’s spirit animal.
These are scientific devices that are being used to inspire real spiritual insight. This is similar to Connie Willis’ sci-fi novel Passage, where a doctor uses psychoactive drugs to simulate the near-death experience. In a way, it’s the ultimate Miracle of Science.
That final episode really made me wonder whether this is simply a religious drama or something examining what can happen when faith and science intertwine. Is the Meyerists’ spirituality a real and tangible thing, the delusional byproduct of drugs, or both? Can miracles be created, or are they a self-fulfilling prophecy? Finally, is this a world in which there’s a religion that’s being scientifically proven, and what kind of power would that faith hold? It’ll be interesting to see whether this is further explored in season 2, or Eddie just turns out to be insane. The Path returns January 25 with two episodes.