Rectify: Seasons 1-2
Network: Sundance Channel
Showrunner: Ray McKinnon
Stars: Aden Young, J. Smith-Cameron, Clayne Crawford
Watch It: You like dramas to be reflective and subtle, like wine • You enjoy watching devastating heartbreak • You just wish you could watch television through your favourite Instagram filters • Character complexity • Narrative simplicity • Powerful acting
Don't Watch It: You hate dramas that are a dry acquired taste, like wine • You prefer to root for the "good guy" • Rare, realistic sex scenes that show nothing, but feel very raw • You have a hard time watching emotional and psychological violence • Your shows need to "wow" you right away to deserve your time • Nobody shoots a terrorist or dissects a corpse
Rectify follows the Holden family as their son Daniel, imprisoned fifteen years prior to the pilot, is released from death row after new DNA evidence overturns his initial conviction. As he returns home to small-town Georgia, his family struggles to redefine their reality while the same people who condemned him the first time vow to return Daniel to death row.
Perfecting the "Gentle Cry"
Rectify is a phenomenal television show that deserves praise for being uniquely brilliant in the midst of television's most recent Golden Age. Rectify takes a simple premise, with initially very simple characters, and follows one idea all the way through:
do the things that happen to you define you?
This is not the first television show to trade immediate payoffs for a more nuanced character study. In the broadest sense, that stated objective is the goal of every drama– we call fictional people "characters" because we want to examine the inner makeup of humanity through the construct of a story. Rectify exists on the other side of harsh network demands for thrilling external conflicts and swelling primetime audiences, so this show can take its' sweet time getting the main thing right. In the first episodes, it's easy to measure the amount of space being created in every scene. You can feel showrunner Ray McKinnon asking us for our initial investment in what should've been one of Rectify's first big moments: when Daniel Holden is first released from death row in the pilot, and he sees his family for the first time on the outside of prison, their interaction is underwhelming and purposefully unmemorable. Wouldn't the reality of that same situation be as detached and surreal as Rectify portrays it to be?
This show sets a table for its' characters and lets them drive the narrative completely. Unlike other serials (LOST as a textbook example), there is no plot device the writers have to serve. They have complete narrative freedom because Rectify starts where other shows would've ended.
how do you rebuild a life you never got to live?
The answer, so far, is "however you possibly can". Daniel Holden and his family are incredibly fragile– and they're initially posed as outsiders in a hostile town. But the show takes it's time to reveal that everyone is this fragile, and everyone feels undone by the perceived hostilities of others. The writers show great restraint in refusing to put Daniel, or really anyone else, under labels. Aside from one (current) exception, there aren't "good guys" and "bad guys" because you keep discovering who these people are by what their circumstances reveal. Lesser shows would have to go out of their way to contrive ways of sympathizing with the characters we're prone to call the villains.
Wait for it... wait for it...
The show's greatest weakness is it's absolute devotion to one very simple narrative. Sometimes so little is actually happening. On one hand, this gives the show the pace of life, and we have time to reflect on what these people are thinking and feeling. On the other hand, sometimes it feels indulgent. If I were a cynic, I would say the show's worst moments make the show into a highbrow Hallmark channel special. Fortunately, there are few weak moments.
If you can get used to it's pacing, Rectify is a show that shares it's own indulgences. Everything is shot with such cinematic beauty I can just picture the actors standing around restlessly while the charismatic cinematographer runs around saying "more sunlight! Let's zoom out further! Get that majestic Oak in the frame!" Every-time you pause an episode, you're looking at a great shot. And you're probably also paused on somebody in the middle of crying.
Rectify is beautiful, but devastatingly so. Just when I felt the show was lulling me into a certain pace and style, standout scenes would be so visceral and tense that I didn't know exactly how handle them. If you're intrigued by the premise, consider the initial investment. Just remember that Rectify seems committed to following these characters all the way through.