April 3, 2016 — 2015 was the Year of the Doc. The Jinx, Making a Murderer and What Happened, Miss Simone permeated popular culture, inspiring memes, making internet heartthrobs of supporting characters and leading the Associated Press to declare “documentaries are back.” The Class of ‘15 member owing the greatest debt to traditional journalism, HBO’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, now has a fictional descendant: The Path, a scripted series from Hulu, where the show’s first two installments dropped Wednesday.
In a way, The Path is a sort of distant cousin prequel to Going Clear. Where Clear featured Scientology’s victims, older and wiser, reflecting in the rearview mirror, The Path introduces us to vulnerable young adults right when they’ve found that thing to heal their broken selves and make sense of life. And that thing is a cult. The show begins with white trucks arriving at the scene of a natural disaster. Strong, friendly people pop out. They offer water, comfort, healing. They’re here to help! And help they do, taking the wounded to a bucolic country retreat with daily affirmations that sound like motivational yoga. Later, we meet the Lanes: Eddie and Sarah, at family dinner, talking happily about Energy, Light and Truth. What do the Lanes have in common with the truck men?
Everyone is an adherent to Meyerism, a tightly knit community of believers that offers psuedoscience and ‘complete transparency’ as paths to enlightenment. Sound familiar?
It must be said, I suppose, that Path creator Jessica Goldberg insists Meyerism isn’t based on Scientology. “Religion from scratch,” the former Parenthood scribe told Rolling Stone, making similar assertions in The Hollywood Reporter. Good business, as long as Scientology makes massive ad buys condemning ‘apostates’ who throw shade at the taxdodging
pyramid scheme religion. But artistically, it’s malarkey.
To wit: characters conduct business under a looming portrait of the movement’s figurehead, Dr. Steven Meyer, that strongly resembles the massive L. Ron Hubbard painting that Tom Cruise and assorted minions collectively salute in Clear. In Scientology, ascension to enlightenment is called “the bridge.” Here: “the ladder.” Both Meyerists and Hubbardites use weirdo techie devices to interrogate members and inflict pain on those who leave the fold.
This is praise, not critique. Goldberg’s drama lurks in Scientology’s shadow and is better for it. In Clear, the word “cult” is first uttered in the second minute of screen time. Here, it’s never said. The Path gives us broken, damaged characters who haven’t yet realized the true nature of their organization, making a commitment to Meyerism seem understandable, almost reasonable. Unfortunately, because we’ve seen Going Clear, we have a pretty good idea what’s coming.