End of Season Report – Rectify, Season 1

17 Jun

Everyone gets ready to eat dinner

Rectify had an excellent first season overall and may have been the best new series from the past year.  In discussing the season, I’d like to start with the end, the powerful and vicious scene that closed Rectify’s debut season.

Few recent television scenes have incensed me with the furor that the last five minutes of the final episode of this season of Rectify did.  A pack of masked small-town middle-aged men descended on main character and freed death row convict Daniel as he visits the grave of the woman he was convicted of murdering and simply beat the living tar out of him.  Daniel, helpless, lies on the grass as blows are rained down on him by the masked men.  One of the men, the older brother of the woman whose gravesite Daniel is lying by, finishes the job by peeing on him.  Rectify had previously shown threats to Daniel by angry townspeople, including a damaged mailbox, but nothing even close to this extent. As I watched Daniel lie doubled over in pain before an ambulance arrived, I wanted to for someone to come and make these guys pay for what they did, legally or extralegally, but they just got back in their cars and went back from whence they came.

This scene triggered such strong emotions largely because so few shows aspire towards the level of realness of Rectify.  Moments in shows like Game of Thrones certainly supply anger and a visceral gut punch, but there’s always a detached perspective of a fantasy world.  Even shows like Breaking Bad take place in our world, but in a heavily stylized version of the world.  Not so with Rectify.  Few shows this side of David Simon truly feel like reality.  Everything in Rectify feels like it could actually happen in our world, a view enhanced by the gentle pacing and the emphasis on seemingly mundane events, like eating pieces of cake and taking trips to the store. Rectify led me to believe that I could drive down I-95 for a day and reach the town from the show, and it’s because of that sense of reality that each blow Daniel took raised my blood pressure and made me want to sock each and every man in masks.

The minimalism of the show also helped increase the power of that scene.  Unlike shows in which episodes routinely feature action and fighting, a punch means something in this world.  Violence isn’t something handed out in every episode.  This beating was an extraordinary event, that stood out starkly from the every day.

This reality is one of the factors that separates Rectify from everything else on television.  The whole season takes only a couple of days, and few shows make so much out of so little plot.  Little emotional moments are at the heart of Rectify, and they consistently hit.  The last scene was so powerful because you come to empathize with the characters.  We don’t yet know what really happened to the girl Daniel allegedly killed, but we do know that Daniel is a man who suffered deeply for two decades and who is honestly trying to face up and reckon with the opportunity for freedom he’s been given.  He still hasn’t quite figured out how to do make that peace, but his attempt at finding it stands in sharp contract to the simple-minded physical violence eye-for-an-eye strategy employed by the punks who beat him.

Flashbacks are difficult to use well, and in the past I’ve called out many shows for unnecessary flashbacks, which I think can be a crutch for exposition or character development best handled in the present.  I absolutely love the flashbacks in Rectify though, which show Daniel’s time in prison.  Daniel interacts primarily with another prisoner in the cell next to his, and their contact seems more free and natural than Daniel’s contact with anyone in the outside world once he gets out. Over time, this one fellow prisoner becomes his link to the remainder of humanity. The last episode features a moving scene in which Daniel’s friend is finally taken to die, and in his last moments finally sees Daniel, after years communicating only by sound, and confidently pronounces that he is sure that Daniel is innocent of murder.  It’s difficult to even imagine the very real plight of being released from prison after twenty years. At least in regular prison there’s at least a yard and some connection with the outside world, unlike death row.  Daniel has been in a box for twenty years, which has to have a huge effect on his ability to communicate with people who haven’t been.

People don’t know how to react around Daniel, and that difficult to bear awkwardness comes right through the screen.  People expect him to have trouble adjusting, but to have less trouble than he actually does, and to get over it real fast.  They project what they imagine twenty years in prison must be like onto him, even though it’s absolutely impossible for them to really understand. When he doesn’t sound unabashedly enthusiastic to be out of prison, people think he must be guilty.  He’s so haunted by the idea that he might be guilty that he’s convinced himself, over the years, that he’s not even sure what happened.  The difficulty that even simple person to person interaction poses Daniel is beautifully rendered and can be difficult to watch and enthralling at the same time.

As mentioned above, it’s often the little moments that really make Rectify stand out.  My favorite of the season was Daniel playing Sonic on Sega Genesis and rocking out to Cracker in the attic, dancing around in the way people only do if there’s no one else around.  It’s one of the few moments in the season where Daniel seems to be actually enjoying himself, appreciating the moment without the heavy emotional burden that every personal contact seems to take on him.  For a couple of minutes at least, Daniel can relax and really appreciate being free.

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One Response to “End of Season Report – Rectify, Season 1”

  1. Rich June 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    My favorite part of that Sega scene was that Daniel was using a gigantic joystick, a nice detail that shows he is still stuck in time. Nothing dates you more than choosing to use a joystick to play a non-flight-simulator-game. Poor Daniel will never escape his past.

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