by Matthew Thompson (Images-SundanceTV. The Rectify website can be found here)
(This review contains no major spoilers and mainly focuses on the premise and characters of Rectify, so is a safe read for those who have not yet watched the show.)
With network season behind us save a few stragglers that will be dipping into June, I finally have the time to catch up on some shows that I missed the first time around. One that really caught my eye this past year was Rectify. When 2013 came to an end it found itself dotted across many year-end Best of TV lists. Now that I’ve had the chance to watch the first season of the critically acclaimed drama, it is easy to see why. Sundance really struck gold with their first original series on the network.
Rectify hones in on Daniel Holden (played by Aden Young). After being imprisoned for the rape and murder of his girlfriend as a teenager, he spends the next 19 years on death row awaiting his execution. But then new evidence is found resulting in his release which is where the show picks up. What makes the show so captivating is not figuring out what happened with the crime, but seeing a man adjusting to his return to society after nearly two decades spent in isolation. You can imagine the kind of things one would miss in that time. For instance, one humorous sequence sees Daniel stepping foot in a Wal-Mart where he marvels at the visuals featured on the wall of flat-screen TVs. As someone who spends half his time on this site blogging about video games, I loved his reaction to picking up a PS3 controller for the first time when last he played a game on the Sega Genesis.
While those make for some fun fish-out-of-water moments, the show is far from light-hearted and Daniel grapples with much bigger issues. He hasn’t been around people for 20 years. The structure of his family has changed. He has a new half-brother and step-family he is getting to know for the first time. And he is being released into a community who doesn’t necessarily believe in his innocence. A community that has never been the same since the murder case rocked the town years ago. Watching Daniel both enjoy and struggle with his newfound freedom is what makes Rectify such a fascinating show to watch. It is a slow-paced character study not just of Daniel, but those who surround him, an interesting cast of characters in their own right. There is his sister Amantha who has spent much of her life fighting for his release. There is his deplorable new step-brother Ted who is more concerned about how Daniel’s release will negatively impact his life. Ted’s wife Tawney couldn’t be more different than him, a devout Christian who reaches out to Daniel in his time of need.
On top of all of this, there is a bit of mystery surrounding the crime that put Daniel Holden in prison to begin with. He was released, but his innocence isn’t presumed by the townspeople, especially not by those who put him away in the first place who will look to do so again, while his lawyer tries to prepare a case to make sure he does not head back to prison. Flashbacks to Daniel’s time in prison as well as scenes featuring other characters that played a part in his original trial help to slowly unravel what actually went down back then. This all helps to add another layer of intrigue to the proceedings.
Rectify’s first season really is top-notch television. Despite some moments of levity sprinkled throughout, the subject matter here is decidedly heavy which won’t be for everyone. The same can be said for its slow pace. But if those don’t turn you away and the premise sounds interesting to you, I’d highly recommend giving Rectify a shot. The six-episode first season can be streamed now on Netflix. And you can be all caught up in time for the premiere of its second season on June 19th.