The Intimacy of Sisterhood Gets the Treatment it Deserves on The Path

TV Features
The Intimacy of Sisterhood Gets the Treatment it Deserves on The Path

Hulu’s The Path is a powerfully good new series that brings up many questions about how we as individuals function within our families and within society, as a result of the relationship between personal faith and belief systems. Organized religion is taken to task in many ways, but like any good series, the grander issues (worship, cults, power) tend not to outweigh the more common and universal themes. There’s an especially lovely and haunting scene from the show’s latest episode, “Breaking and Entering,” that highlights the significance of familial intimacy, specifically that of sisterhood, for one character in particular.

Of all the show’s many fascinating participants in the Meyerist movement, Michelle Monaghan’s Sarah Lane might be the most difficult for some of us to connect with. Aaron Paul, as her husband Eddie Lane, is a much more relatable everyman. He wants to believe—for the sake of himself and for the good of his family—but he has doubts. Sarah, however, is steadfast in her faith in the movement. She’s not nearly as terrifying as the Meyerist leader (Hugh Dancy’s Cal), but we have a few reasons to be afraid of what she’s capable of doing. Early on in the season, when she thinks infidelity is threatening to tear apart her marriage, she confronts the woman she believes to be Eddie’s mistress. Sarah makes it clear that she will use her position of power to make sure this woman follows protocol, confesses or unburdens (and, most importantly, assuages her concerns) before she lets her leave that tiny cell.

There’s also her reaction to their son Hawk (Kyle Allen), who’s bringing in another to the ever-present faith, family and intimacy conundrums. While Eddie has been content to let Hawk navigate this difficult space between his physical and emotional feelings for a girl at school, and his faith, Sarah is in a state of panic. She is convinced that her son must not be left alone to deal with this crush—that it could result in his deciding to leave the movement, and the family. In her mind, Hawk is one make-out session away from pulling a Tessa. And in “Breaking and Entering,” (aptly named for both her intrusion, and Cal and Eddie’s) we finally get to meet the mysterious, long lost sister whose legacy weighs heavy on Sarah, and Sarah’s mom.

The scene begins with Sarah spying on Tessa and her children, as they hurry out of their brownstone in the city. There’s beautiful work on the musical composition here, from Will Bates. A heavy, organ-like note rings out, and pulsating sounds kick in as she lets herself into her sister’s home. Every room is the perfect room. Bright lighting invades the first floor, as Sarah encounters gorgeous steel frames holding memories of perfect days gone by; we see wooden toys for the children, and schedules stuck to the fridge for cheerleading and yoga. And because you can’t connect properly to your sister without knowing what she eats for leftovers, there’s a strange, lovely moment when Sarah opens a container in the fridge and holds it up to her nose.

It’s an exquisite specimen of television, watching Sarah glide from room to room, touching comforters, and opening drawers. The camera is patient, and this intense drama (which has been compared the The Leftovers for its heavy themes, violence and treatment of religions and cults) finally takes a moment to breathe. But it all gets even more fascinating when she tries on her sister’s red lipstick.

Because we’re still trying to figure out who Sarah is (and how far she’ll go for her beliefs), it was unbelievably refreshing to see her take that bright red color and apply it to her lips. In that moment, she became vulnerable in a way we’d not yet known her to be: she became a little sister. And the small smile that escapes from her lips as she’s opening up the lip color tells us that this is a feeling she’s longed for, for some time.

And, of course, it’s not just about wanting to play dress-up. On the one hand, she wants answers as to why people like Tessa (and Alison Kemp, the woman Eddie’s been secretly meeting with, and protecting) leave the movement. If she can find out why they become deniers, perhaps she thinks it will help her keep Hawk from becoming the same. But The Path, like The Leftovers, is a show concerned with the intimacy humans crave, whether it comes in the form of a god, a group of like-minded people, violent outbursts, sex or family. And like The Leftovers, The Path will use grand and seemingly minor moments with its characters to explore all of these avenues to intimacy. Sending Sarah to Tessa’s home worked as a powerful means of humanization for a character who previously read cold much of the time. Now that we know that Sarah has this very natural craving to be close to this person she’s been deprived of, the fervor with which she practices her faith is all the more understandable.

And even though we don’t see her alongside Tessa, it should be noted that the scene serves as a reminder that the relationship between sisters is always interesting, when explored with nuance in a TV series. It’s a complex connection that we’ve seen with characters like Peggy and Anita on Mad Men, Julia and Sarah on Parenthood and Ali and Sarah Pfefferman on Transparent. The Starz series Power did such a great job with Angela and Paz in its first season, that the relationship was sorely missed when Paz disappeared in Season Two. Siblings are always great fodder for drama (and comedy, obviously), and I believe that some of our favorite shows will only benefit from a deeper dive into the intimacy of sisterhood.

Up until “Breaking and Entering,” I wasn’t even aware that one of the main characters of the series was in a state of grief. In her sister’s home we learn many things—that Tessa has a loving family, that she’s financially well-off and that she’s got more prescriptions in her medicine cabinet than the average, happily married mom of two. She is struggling with something, and medicating herself accordingly, while her sister Sarah is struggling too… and perhaps medicating herself in the way she was taught. It could be that they’re both grieving the loss of a key component to their families—the loss of each other, of their bond as sisters. If The Path is going to join in with the other TV shows that are giving us complex women characters (and better TV as a result), they’d do well to further explore this loss as the episodes (and, hopefully, seasons) continue to unfold.

Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer and the TV Editor for Paste. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.

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