Hulu’s original series “The Path” contains all of the classic elements of the television genre that started with “Weeds” and carried on with “Breaking Bad.” There’s a pitiable yet charismatic leader repressing some extremely dark personality traits, marital problems, illegal activity catching the attention of a police officer with a rigid moral code.
Very little about the show itself is new, but one of its gems is its representation of cult mentality through its gradual exploration of the fictional Meyerist Movement, an isolated society whose member’s interactions with the outside world are almost exclusively limited to a single one-liner: “We’re not a cult, we’re a movement!”
But the most interesting portrayal of the Meyerists is not their perception of themselves but of the framework of their organization. The Guardian lists three primary elements of cult worship:
1] The existence of a charismatic leader who progressively becomes central to the group as an object of worship.
2] An extensive process of indoctrination (read: brainwashing) which is meant to remove all doubt as to the goals and righteousness of the cult.
3] Exploitation of members by the group’s leader or ruling elite.
While the fictional Meyerist Movement does possess each of these qualifications, somehow its intentions still seem noble in some aspects. Shipping a heroine addicted teenager to Peru under the cover of the night to kick the drug habit with an ayahuasca trip of a lifetime never seemed so laudable.
The positive effects Meyerism has on its members is mentioned compulsively throughout the series as we watch the characters self comfort. As a collection of people desperate to make sense of the world, their fears are not focused on the leadership of the cult, but the concept of leaving. An already valid fear that is dramatized by the doctrinarian of the group which indicates that ex-members are to be excommunicated by everyone still in the Meyerist Movement.
It is not fears of what the leadership of the movement could potentially do in retaliation, it is the fear of being alone, of losing the feeling of being a part of a shared vision that keeps members prisoner. And it’s this exploration of a human need for community that’s what keeps this show full of caricatures interesting, because it’s uncomfortable in its truth.
The insidiousness of cult movements does not always lie in the fact that they pose a significant threat to its membership, in some cases its that they could give meaning to someone’s life through the facilitation of shared community and then suddenly take it away.