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Rectify – “Running with the Bulls” Review: A Deep Hour

The most astounding element of the first season of the Sundance Channel’s marvelous drama Rectify was that it was not afraid to show us the silence and stillness that is present in everyday life. While so many shows on television today relish snappy dialogue or drawn-out fight scenes, Rectify let its central character Daniel Holden quietly take in the new and mysterious modern world around him. On a less skilled series, Rectify would be concerned with vindicating Daniel for the murder of his high school girlfriend and seeking vengeance against those who perpetrated the crime. But, somehow, Sundance has allowed showrunner Ray McKinnon to craft a series that delights in observing the world around us and musing on genuine questions of faith and religion, and focusing on the question of healing rather than on catching the bad guys.

Season two begins shortly after the traumatic events of the season one finale, with Daniel in a medically induced coma. Unlike most of last season, “Running with the Bulls” is not about Daniel acclimating himself to his new world and his new family. It isn’t about how much everyone has changed while he has been incarcerated. Rather, it separates Daniel into a dreamland, and gives us a chance to see how the rest of the family is dealing with Daniel’s sudden change in fortunes. The juxtaposition of Daniel’s own internal struggle alongside his family’s is particularly striking to behold, as we get to see how Daniel has come to impact his family greatly in the short time he has been “off the row.”

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As expected, Amantha is angry at the situation, vowing a vengeance that isn’t shared by Daniel (at least, from what we are shown in his dream scape). Janet is drowning in her own fears that she will lose Daniel only a week after she got him back. Teddy remains a cypher, clearly full of animosity toward Daniel, but we have yet to be let into his head enough to deduce what is causing his reaction (aside from the clash between Daniel and Teddy last season, Teddy has kept a rather low profile but I trust we will learn more about him this season). Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Tawney has begun to question, at least on some level, her faith.

One of season one’s most amazing elements was the relationship between Daniel and Tawney. The purity of their friendship (which could very well turn into something of a romantic nature, although I would be disappointed with the series if it went this route) was such a signpost for good in a show that has to constantly deal with the darkness of Daniel’s lost years on death row and the lingering mystery as to who really raped and killed Hannah. The presence of Daniel may have been a sign to Tawney that good can come from a horrible situation, but this turn in Daniel’s fortune serves as an indication that horrific things can continue to happen to good people. Adelaide Clemens has done such superb work as Tawney throughout the series to this point, and I’m happy to see the show potentially giving her even more meaty stories to play. A crisis of faith for Tawney would certainly shake-up the character in a truly interesting way.

While it is interesting to see the increased focus on Daniel’s family, it is Daniel’s time in his dreams that begin to show us how mightily Daniel is struggling to acclimate to the world around him. The strongest portion of “Running with the Bulls,” comes in its final moments in the conversation between Kerwin and Daniel in the cow pasture. The show hasn’t shied away from experimenting with other-worldly elements, as witnessed in Daniel’s encounter in the same field last season. But this scene is truly something amazing. From the incredible color palette- washed out whites, surrounded by late fall grays- to the decision to give Kerwin the lion’s share of the dialogue, the scene hums with precision and focus. While musing on the meaning of life or if it’s worth it to keep living isn’t a novel convention, doing so while emphasizing the beauty in something as commonplace as a cow pasture is. Kerwin doesn’t tell Daniel to keep living for his family or because he has earned this life as a result of so many years behind bars. Rather, he says that the pasture is beautiful. And, you know what? As he says it, you start to see it. But you know what is even more beautiful? Seeing the deep love between Kerwin and Daniel, and knowing that it’s that bond that will give Daniel the strength to move on and wake-up. It is an amazing moment, with unconditional love and forgiveness, which, if you think about it, is really all that Daniel is seeking in his new life- something that has received lip service from others in his life, but without the truth that you can feel behind Kerwin’s words.

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Final Thoughts

— I’m not sure enough can be said about the brilliance of that final scene between Kerwin and Daniel. Along with not having enough shows that utilize silence and stillness, there aren’t enough shows willing to display the depth of the emotional bond between male friends. That scene and that dialogue are truly remarkable. Kudos to McKinnon for writing it, and Aden Young (Daniel) and Johnny Ray Gill (Kerwin) for their incredible performances.

— Clearly, Amantha and Teddy don’t get along. I would be really interested in Teddy’s side of things, since we spent so much time last season dealing with Amantha and her feelings.

–Speaking of Teddy, he and Tawney still appear to be in a strange place in their marriage. While we understand Tawney’s side of things, Teddy certainly seems to be just as skittish around her as she is around him.

— Finally, I have to say that I’m just not all that interested in the mystery of who killed Hannah. Sure, it would be nice to find out that Daniel is completely innocent and to have the killers caught, but it’s just not nearly as interesting as the complex emotions surround Daniel and his family.

Rating
8.8
Pros
  • Beautiful dialogue
  • Stunningly moving performances
  • Great combination of Daniel and his family
Cons
  • Too much time with the Sheriff

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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