The finale of the first season of The Path, one of the most remarkable pop culture explorations of religion in recent memory, is coming to a television screen (or, laptop screen, since it’s a direct-to-Hulu series) near you on Wednesday. If you’re new to the show, I don’t recommend gorging on it. With The Path, Hulu wisely broke with the popular direct-to-stream practice of dumping an entire season online at once, perhaps realizing that a show this cerebral, and this thematically daring, would be slightly baffling if absorbed in bulk. With its complex layers of interpersonal and theological drama, The Path is just about binge-proof (which is probably one of the highest compliments a TV show can be paid these days).

The Path is about a fictional, modern-day spiritual movement, or possibly a cult (the show’s brilliance lies in its unwillingness to draw distinctions on this point), that navigates a series of inflection points. The Myerists barely get a moment’s peace: Although few followers know it, the supposedly semi-divine Dr. Steve Myer is secretly dying in Peru, setting up an impending power vacuum that one of the movement’s most charismatic and potentially dangerous men (Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy) is vying to fill. At the same time, Myerism is growing, forcing the movement to come to grips with a non-believing world that followers had grown accustomed to viewing as irremediably corrupted and hostile.

Encapsulating the turmoil is the fraying home life of Eddie (“Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul), a man in his mid-30s beginning to have doubts about Myerism, and his wife Sarah (True Detective‘s Michelle Monaghan), the daughter of two of the movement’s founders whose theological certainty is actually less secure than it might seem. In the season’s opening episodes, Eddie invents an affair in order to hide a crisis of faith, knowing that non-belief would represent the greater danger to his marriage.

There are subplots suggesting Myerism has a whiff of fraudulence and even murderousness about it—but because the majority of Myerists live what appear to be stable lives of spiritual and communal fulfillment, The Path raises the unsettling question of whether that should even matter.

Myerist doctrine could be described as a mashup of Scientology, Christianity, hippy spirituality, vegetarianism, and Lurianic Kabbalah. Myerism’s constant reference to “the light” and its emphasis on fixing a broken world through acts of charity has a Jewish mystical echo to it—although I can’t quite think of any classical rabbinical sources that cite ayahuasca as the key to higher spiritual awareness. But why not drink the juice anyway? The Path asks. As Moghnahan’s character explains, Myerism doesn’t build ostentatious houses of worship because the family and the community are its cathedrals. That sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, until you consider whether it’s healthy for every familial slight to be thought of as a potential act of religious desecration.

Religion receives superficial attention in prestige television, on the odd occasion the medium even chooses to approach the topic. Lapsed Catholicism looms in the background of The Sopranos, and even reached the foreground at times. The first season of True Detective, with its neon crosses and disquisitions on cultural anthropology, was typically unsubtle in directing its audience towards religious themes. At its best, True Detective could be a heady expedition into the mix of Christianity and Paganism that comprises the hidden spiritual worlds of the Mississippi Delta—although the end of the first season’s eight-episode run offered little more than the usual warnings about the potential for religion to become a force for violence and depravity.

What was missing in The Sopranos and True Detective, and from nearly every other inquiry into religion on television, was a sensitivity towards actual religious belief, and the ability to treat belief as something other than an object of winking anthropological curiosity. The Path doesn’t flatter its audience’s godlessness. Quite the opposite: despite its high production value, it’s hard to imagine viewers getting much out of the show if they’re convinced that religious belief is an automatic waste of time or emotion. The Path proceeds from the simple and quietly subversive premise that belief still matters—even in a hyper-rationalized world, even in a time when the separation of religion from metaphysics is such a basic assumption in liberal and pluralistic societies that it no longer tracks as a cognitive dissonance.

The Path is a direct confrontation with the question of what it actually means to believe—in this or any other time. It approaches the topic from nearly every conceivable angle, and with a remarkable degree of empathy. There are fundamentalist Myerists who are fleshed out, complex characters, acting off of motives that are comprehensible and at times even noble. There are quietist Myerists and activist Myerists. There may even be schismatic Myerists, depending on how one intriguing subplot plays out.  And the main character—Eddie, played with the sort of everyman’s befuddlement that has become Aaron Paul’s hallmark—is a Myerist harboring the secret burden of non-belief. His doubt isn’t automatically treated as heroic or particularly laudable. The show even raises the possibility that Eddie’s doubt is selfish, self-destructive, and deeply irrational. The Path depicts a moral universe—one that’s alien to most of its viewers, I would guess—in which faithlessness is a worse sin than spousal infidelity.

In its first nine episodes, the show hasn’t quite taken sides on the question of whether there’s any meaningful distinction between lies of the body and lies of the spirit, or whether non-belief can ever be denuded of self-betrayal, or whether the individual should ever abrogate his own conscience in the name of family and community. If there’s a middle ground, the show, and its characters, haven’t found it yet. And that’s fitting: human civilization has been trying to find that middle ground for literally thousands of years. If The Path had answers to perennial questions of faith, self, and community, it would be a far lesser creation, a work hampered by the apologetics or condescension that’s all too typical in pop culture treatments of religious themes. Instead, The Path offers defiant uncertainty: the big questions won’t be answered in Wednesday’s finale because they won’t be answered at all, by anyone, ever.

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