Let’s begin with the good news: Rectify has been renewed for a third season! And now the bad news: S2 has come to an end.
Let’s bitch it out…Rectify has had an interesting, if not always successful second season. At times, particularly during the middle stretch, the storytelling and even the show’s trademark emphasis on atmosphere and environment felt sidelined by strange character mediations that weren’t quite as insightful as they might have been intended.
The last few episodes have brought the narrative back to the forefront, escalating the emotional turmoil in Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) and Teddy’s (Clayne Crawford) relationship and introducing the plea deal that threatens to separate Daniel (Aden Young) from his family permanently. The result has been a return to the show’s strengths: the emotional beats are still allowed some breathing room, but there’s a newfound tension that lends an urgency to the proceedings. Somehow the series that has resisted so many conventional dramatic tropes feels appropriately amped up, without compromising the formula that provides its uniqueness.
“Unhinged” opens with a glimpse of what could have been: Daniel and Tawney in bed. The easy chemistry reveals just how well-suited they are for each other: their movements echo each other and their posture and demeanour is intimate and relaxed. They notice this, as well, and immediately move apart. It’s only when Tawney begins to sympathize with Daniel’s situation that he drives a wedge between them by revealing details about his confrontation with Teddy (minus the alarming details). “It wasn’t rape,” he admits, “but it was violent. And unhinged.” The confession – the first of two in the episode, and the only truthful one – is enough to break the intimacy. There’s a sadness in Tawney’s admission that she thought it was her who caused Teddy’s increasingly abhorrent behaviour.
The emotional distancing act all part of what I call “the Daniel Holden easy resolution solution”. “I just want it to be over” he tells Jon (Luke Kirby) when his attorney inquires why Daniel is willing to consider the plea deal and the banishment that comes with it. After seeing what his presence has done to his family, Daniel doesn’t have any more fight left in him. It’s hardly revelatory given his recent actions, but it’s still depressing considering how much everyone has sacrificed for him. The simple fact is that he considers himself a bit of a martyr at this point and he’s tired of putting his family in painful situations, mistakenly believing that it would be better to give up and go away rather than keep fighting.
I like that Amantha (Abigail Spencer) calls him on this assumption, although her semi-aggressive approach doesn’t exactly win him over. Labelling her brother a coward and telling him that she will never reach out to him may be what she’s feeling, but it certainly doesn’t help the situation. Amantha is so mired in her decades-long struggle that she can’t comprehend anything outside of her own perspective and even if she’s entitled to it, her refusal to pull back (never mind let go) will only continue to hurt her (exhibit a: the break-up with Jon).
Meanwhile the forces against Daniel move into strike position. Senator Foulkes (Michael O’Neill) wants Daniel to answer for his actions by submitting to a debrief and have him admit to the murder (“Otherwise what’s the point of this plea deal?” he asks, once again inserting his agenda into the proceedings). This occurs as Sheriff Daggett (J.D. Evermore) begins to piece together what happened in George’s cottage, or at least that Daniel visited the missing man’s home. There’s hope that Daggett will prove to be a better Sheriff than his predecessor and realize that there’s more to the truth than what Foulkes (and even Daniel) are saying, but we’ll need to wait until next season to see how he reacts to the revelation that George is dead.
The debrief is obviously the climax of the episode – an emotionally grueling trip down memory lane for Daniel that is split in two distinct parts. Initially it seems as though Amantha’s words have sunk in and Daniel refuses to admit to the murder, placing blame on the strong-armed efforts of the former Sheriff and Foulkes. Things reach their apex when Daniel reaches his breaking point and confronts the Senator: “I just said what I needed to say, to get out, to see my father. And you let me say it. You let me.” Foulkes naturally refuses to budge, and when the debrief resumes Daniel’s resistance is gone. To me the confession is obviously a white flag, but the admission still feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the room. After all, this is the moment that both the character and the series have avoided for sixteen episodes and whether we believe it is the truth or not, Daniel has now verbally admitted to Hannah’s murder.
‘Unhinged’ ends on several notes of ambiguity. In a final montage, we see George’s body discovered by a group of boys playing by the river, and Sheriff Daggett is about to send Trey’s DNA sample to the labs juuuuust as Teddy arrives, ready to press charges against Daniel. Thankfully these will be explored when the show resumes next season (it would have been one hell of an open-ending had Sundance not renewed the show!) It seems clear that the plea deal will be revoked, Daniel will be charged and George’s body will be entered into evidence. For now, however, that’s all speculation. All I know for certain is that this emotionally gripping tale has concluded for another year and I couldn’t be happier that we can look forward to another season with these characters. Rectify may be a small, under the radar show, but it’s undeniably one of the most powerfully compelling dramas around. TV is better for it.
- Like any good drama, the finale involves a misunderstanding that will end up causing conflict in the future. Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) misinterprets Ted’s (Bruce McKinnon) intent to talk about Teddy’s attack as proof that he knows about Tawney’s miscarriage and so the truth gets delayed just a little bit longer. We’ll have to wait until next season to see how Janet reacts (after Teddy’s decision to move forward with charges becomes public).
- When Teddy and Tawney finally see each other – more than halfway through the episode – there’s a note of resignation in both of their voices. Teddy almost seems to believe that things can be patched up, even though Tawney already has her bags packed. It’s impossible to avoid the note of finality, however, when he asks her if they were happy before Daniel arrived and her only answer is “I’m sorry.” It’s an ambiguous response, but a loaded one. It’s very telling of the level of (mis)communication in their marriage.
- Jared (Jake Austin Walker) sighting! The youngest member of the Holden family makes a rare appearance to chat with Daniel about his plea and ask if he needs to borrow his bike. I can appreciate why some viewers find the character bothersome since he is rarely given anything meaningful to do, but I hope that his final scene at Hannah’s house suggests that he may become a more significant character moving forward. If nothing else, I’ve always enjoyed how Jared’s inquisitive nature contrasts with the emotionally charged reactions from other characters like Teddy and Amantha.
- Finally, I want to single out J. Smith-Cameron for her work as Janet. I think Smith-Cameron has the most difficult role on the series because Janet is so emotionally closed off, but she still manages to convey so much behind her supportive mask. I was particularly affected by her attempt to remain strong when she and Daniel discuss cities he could live in. Also, her emotionally distraught face as she sits on the stairs during the final montage kinda destroyed me.
- Tawney (when Daniel suggests people react differently under stress): “Evidently I hoard food.”
- Daniel (after Jon indicates that the Senator and the Sheriff would be at the debrief): “Old friends.”
Your turn: what did you think of the finale? Do you agree that the last few episodes are a better model for the show to aim for next season? How did you interpret the open-ending? Do you want to see Jared become a more significant member of the ensemble? Sound off below.
Rectify has now finished airing its second season. It will return for a third season next summer on Sundance.