“The Path,” Hulu’s new show — which is absolutely, positively not about Scientology — burns slowly but hypnotically

Does anyone remember the last time anyone saw Aaron Paul on a screen of some sort NOT looking tortured?

Aaron Paul in "The Path"

Aaron Paul in “The Path”

Paul wrote himself into the TV history books as Jesse Pinkman, Walter White’s emotionally wrung-out co-conspirator on “Breaking Bad.” In Austin filmmaker Kat Candler’s “Hellion,” Paul played a working-class Texas widower struggling to parent two boys after his wife’s death. He was even put upon as the prophet Joshua in the largely terrible “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” (Yes, that C was very, very generous.)

Now that I think about it, he was not all that tortured in “Big Love” as the ex-Mormon Scott Quittman, this square dude a) whose name was a tad on the nose and b) who ends up married to Sarah Henrickson. It’s a part miles away from Pinkman and, these days, nobody remembers he was on that show.

He remains tortured in “The Path,” Hulu’s new original series created by former “Friday Night Lights” writer Jessica Goldberg and executive produced by Jason Katims, also known for “Lights.” The first two episodes appeared March 30; a new one will follow every Wednesday for the next eight weeks.

A free-floating sense of doom hangs over “The Path” as Paul plays Eddie, a convert to a cultish religion called Meyerism, a mix of we’re-not-going-to-call-it-Scientology, some Native American mythos, a pinch of Mormonism and a whole lot of New Age.

Eddie is married to Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), a second-generation Meyerist. Her ex-boyfriend Cal (Hugh Dancy of “Hannibal” fame) runs the cult’s East Coast branch. We meet him first, jumping out of a Meyerist van lending a hand at the site of a natural disaster. It seems like the Meyerists were on-hand before FEMA, which alerts federal cult-watchers.

This is a bit of a protocol-break. Devout Meyerists live in a modern-day compound and try to stay under the radar. Cal, all trim hair and iron will, is ready to be more public. Cal claims to have direct communication to Steven Meyer, the Meyerism founder who is reportedly in Peru translating the final chapter of “The Latter,” the book by which Meyerists live their lives.

Meanwhile, Eddie has returned from a Peruvian retreat,  which came complete with ayahuasca, a very tempting Minka Kelly and a vision that Meyerism may not be exactly all Eddie, a true believer, thinks it is. (Word to the show for putting Keir Dullea in a canny bit of stunt-casting.) Eddie starts acting weird, Sarah is getting nervous, Cal is a little jealous and all the kids at school think Eddie and Sarah’s teenage son is a virginal freak. (Maybe “Big Love” was a pretty good training ground for this show.)

Honestly, there isn’t much to “The Path” so far. Two episodes in, things are moving slowly but deliberately.

We see both Eddie and Sarah engage in practices that are certainly reminiscent of it-isn’t-Scientology. A crucial plot point, teased in the first episode, was revealed at the end of the second, a welcome development as I dreaded the idea that it would take all season for us to get there.

But I want to give “The Path” the benefit of the doubt, at least for a few more episodes. It was wise to open the series with Paul already doubting his faith —  he has built his brand on characters who reluctantly go with the program (Pinkman) or have broken with it all together (Quittman).

Dancy, on the other hand, seems ready to tear into a part that is more Hannibal Lecter than Will Graham. Not that Dancy is going around eating people, not yet, but, much like Lecter, Dancy’s Cal is a man who believes utterly in his way of viewing the world. Whether Cal is doing it ironically or with perfect faith remains to be seen.

 


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