Rectify: a Review

rectify

Rectify is The Sundance channel’s first foray into original TV programming. I had heard some quiet buzz about it but didn’t pay much attention until I stumbled upon it whilst browsing Netflix. The first season is a lean 6 episodes fish out of water story with a damaged underdog protagonist, just up my alley. I was looking for something to move me and boy did this slow burn of a show ever!

It is a modern-day tale set in the American south. The protagonist is Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who is newly released from prison and trying to find his way back into the world he once knew. But after 2 decades on death row, the world has changed as much as he has. To complicate matters he has not been exonerated of the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hannah Dean. He is simply released when a recently analysed DNA sample fails to support his conviction. What has been a tireless crusade for his mother and sister morphs into a case of “be careful of what you wish for”. There are many folks in the town of Paulie, Georgia that believe Daniel is guilty and they are violently angry about his release. Daniel’s ritualistic survival techniques, a result of a harrowing coming of age on death row, have left him frightenly ill-equipped to handle the uncertainty of everyday life on the outside.

I enjoyed the way this TV show is told and how it made me feel. Flashbacks to prison life are brilliantly juxtaposed with Daniel’s adjustment to the harsh realities of small town life. The acting is superb all around; there are no big names in this. Aden Young’s subdued portrayal of Daniel tugs at my heart. Abigail Spencer as his sister, Amantha is so strong yet vunerable as she continues to look out for her big brother. There is also a nice, albeit brief, cameo by Hal Holbrook; as Daniel’s original defense lawyer. I hope to see more of him. Luke Kirby plays the current lawyer in a under written role. I look forward to more character development in that department.

The closest thing to a villain is Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), who is Daniel’s step-brother. He does not know Daniel and feels threatened by him. Yet I can’t blame the jerk, his role in the family business (started by Daniel’s late father and now run by his step-dad) is at stake. To complicate matters, his kind and gentle wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) has taken to Daniel as a child would to a bird with a broken wing.  There is a gentleness and a brutality to this show that dragged me into the narrative. It didn’t take long to realise that I needed to find out more. I watched the first 4 episodes over a weekend and had to wait a week between subsequent episodes for the conclusion. It ended on a cliff hanger and I am intrigued to learn more.

Is Daniel guilty or innocent? I don’t know. I wonder if I ever will. There remains some pretty damning evidence against him. However, there are others involved in the incident and there are hints of a cover up. There is also a political agenda forcing a retrial, which I hope will be the focus of future seasons. This is a well acted character study and a realistic depiction of small town living. The focus is on one family (Daniel Holden’s) that has been torn apart. Yet there are glimpses at another family’s (Hannah Dean’s) ongoing suffering. The empathy it evokes in me is powerful. There is no clear-cut villain.

There are many interesting characters, some more richly drawn than others, that are so different in their values, priorities and abilities to cope with a tragedy that continues to haunt this town. I care about what happens next and that is what compels me to stick with a show.

There is not a lot of action in this show; it is mostly about the characters. It is similar to Mad Men in that way. If you enjoy that pace, this is one to check out. And at 6 episodes, it is not a huge commitment. I do hope that there is an end point that is clear in the show runner’s mind. Ray McKinnon, the ill fated preacher in Deadwood is the man in charge of production. I hope he takes a page out of Vince Gilligan’s (creator of Breaking Bad) book and realises what makes for an interesting introductory season can only be stretched so far. It has been picked up for a second season. I am keeping my fingers crossed that as this show introduces us to new fleshed out characters, it doesn’t wander too far from Daniel’s story.

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