Lightbox's new show The Path has got me thinking about life inside a cult. The main problem with being in a cult, I would assume, is that you're in a cult. That's gotta be tough going.
No one takes cultists seriously. Yet we're all suspicious that they're up to something. And why?
Just because they bathe in secrecy and towel themselves off behind highly secure, walled compounds? Or is it because they believe in nuttier theories than the more established belief systems? Maybe it's because behind the benign smiles lurk violent and absolutely terrifying tales of physical, mental and sexual abuse as told by those who dared escape a cult's mad clutches, both here and overseas?
Well, yeah, it's pretty much all those things. But on a more mundane level, being in a cult would be hard work. For example, you could never get a thirst-quenching glass of juice without some hack cracking a "don't drink the Kool-Aid" gag. You can't tell me that wouldn't get old quick.
Not only are you doomed to a lifetime of being thirsty, you're also doomed to a lifetime of only hanging out with your fellow cultists. The sole interaction you'd have with new people is pestering them to join your cult.
Can you imagine that living hell? Having no choice but to interact with the same tired old faces, day in, day out, all the while pretending to be super stoked about doing so. It'd be like never being able to leave your open-plan office. Ever.
While being in a cult wouldn't be a good time, cults themselves are endlessly fascinating. With their dark privacy and shifty unknowable practices, they're ripe for fictional exploration.
Back in 2009 we had a fine local series about a cult called The Cult. This was about people attempting to rescue their loved ones from a cult. More recently, people have preached the good word about The Leftovers. I can't testify to this as I got out early, but from what I watched it was mainly about a cult slightly annoying people by standing around smoking. Apparently it picked up considerably after I tuned out.
All of which leads us back to The Path. A show about a cult that believes in a ladder.
Well, strictly speaking they believe in something called Meyerism, a hierarchal tier system that's represented by the rungs of a ladder.
From what I can gather it's kind of like scientology, though Tom Cruise is yet to guest star, and seem to involve being nice to people in natural disasters, recruiting vulnerable types, being all hippy-dippy by singing songs and holding hands, hunting down those who dare leave and taking a lot of drugs.
Forget the Kool-Aid. When these guys aren't knocking back ayahuasca, the trendy mind-alterer of the moment, at either spiritual retreats or as atonement for one's sins, they're openly huffing the green like it ain't no thang. Which, admittedly, could be an appealing recruitment pitch for some ...
With such an enlightened view on narcotics it's hardly surprising to see Aaron Paul, most recognisable as Breaking Bad's potty-mouthed meth cook Jesse Pinkman, as series lead Eddie Lane.
Along with its depiction of day-to-day cult life, The Path also hints at the more sinister undertones bubbling beneath the surface. Eddie is having a crisis of faith after a hallucinatory revelation that the cult is phoney baloney. His search for the truth leads him to Alison, an apostate who claims her husband was murdered for leaving the cult. Eddie's sneaking dealings with her lead his high-ranking wife Sarah (True Detective's Michelle Monaghan) to a crisis of marriage as she suspects Eddie of cheating on her with another cultist. A belief with dire ramifications for all involved.
In these early episodes we quickly learn that Eddie is not 100 per cent off the mark with his vision. We see a goon squad chasing down Alison, druggy psychological torture sessions and an ambitious cultist making various nefarious moves to secure the top job.
This all sounds much more interesting than The Path actually is. I'm three episodes in and can't work out whether the show is lighting the fuse of a slow-burning intensity or if it's just a bit of a fizzer. Sadly, I suspect it's the latter.
That said, it's not a bad show. The performances are strong and the premise is neat so I'll wander down its path a little longer. But it's gonna take something drastic to fully convert me. For now, I don't think it's The Path's destiny to go down as a cult classic.