Rectify (Sundance series)


Rectify has all the hallmarks of TV shows I tend to fall in love with; interesting and complex characters, beautiful visuals and great music. The central protagonist Daniel was imprisoned into solitary confinement on death row 20 years ago as a teenager. Now, a grown man in his mid-30s, Daniel has been released from prison based on a new piece of evidence enabled by improvements in DNA technology. Despite these premises, Rectify spends little time on criminal justice issues. More pertinent to the series is the question of how to live while navigating through the various hostilities one faces and society’s demand for blame that manifests as retribution or punishment. While it may provide comfort and clarity to have people made responsible for their actions, to what extent does that help the community?

After spending decades in solitary confinement, Daniel is awkward communicating with his family and having physical interactions. Seasons 1 and 2 follows Daniel adjusting to life back at his family home in the small town of Paulie, Georgia; a place he left as a thoughtful and introverted teenager and returned as a shell of a man carrying mental scars from his time inside. However it’s not just Daniel that requires adjusting: his sister Amantha has spent 20 years fighting for the release of Daniel, and is lost in the face of questions as to what her life is about now: Daniel’s release was her purpose and now she is adrift, trying to discover a new cause to live for. She ends up getting a job as a check-out girl at the local grocery store, a position that may be considered far below her qualification.

The family tree has changed a bit too. Daniel’s mother married someone new; Daniel now has a half-brother and a step-brother. No-one is particularly good at communication. There are glimpses of how their relationships could be and there are moments where Daniel and his mother fall into their old rhythm; these moments are only recognised as a painful reminder of how much has been missed as after so much suffering all involved have forgotten how to feel joy and seem surprised and uncomfortable with getting what they hoped for.

The big part of the story in season 1 and 2 is Daniel’s experience with Christianity. Encouraged by his step-sister in law, Daniel decides to get baptised. He wants to experience what it means to be born-again and hopes it would help him to adjust out in the world: shake off the imprisoned part of himself. While the series isn’t promoting religion, it shows how it can comfort people at a time where the world is a confusing and uncertain place and how it helps people to forgive and be generous and kind to each other. However for someone like Daniel, that is intelligent and thoughtful, religion plays a ceremonial role at best. Christianity in small town America is a social culture that Daniel feels uncomfortable in, and even followers of Christ struggle to see past their expectations about what Daniel is.

The series moves along without clear direction, but the meandering and careful pace, led by Daniel is central to the theme. There are moments that are so shocking that you think would turn into a big story but do not; and there are other small events that end up taking on more significant meaning. None of it is very predictable yet the emerging story comes across very authentic and natural.

Season 3 goes more into Daniel’s relationship with his step sister-in-law Tawney, who has been inspired by Daniel and trying to find her ownself after years of playing the good house wife in her troubled marriage. It’s difficult to know whether Daniel and Tawney have genuine feelings for each other or whether their emotions are misdirected and they are just overwhelmed by the unusual circumstances they live in. The show however does not judge or overly dramatise anything that happens. Rather, the pace of the show flows like a peaceful river over the top of grinding emotion.

Rectify is a brilliant show. It is intelligent, thoughtful and beautiful to watch. I would highly recommend anyone to watch the show, and Season 4 will be starting on 26 October 2016!

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