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A sobering fact was revealed last week. The penultimate episode of season three of Rectify drew in 197,000 viewers and was the least watched scripted original show on cable. But, thanks to the magic of being on a small network like SundanceTV (and having raging critical support), Rectify will be coming back next summer for another season. This is definitely one of the perks to watching television during the era of “too many amazing shows to watch.” I certainly hope that a few more eyeballs join the party in 2016, because this is a show that deserves a large audience. It is drama at its finest. If you are one of the many who have not had the chance to experience this truly remarkable series, let me take a few moments to explain why it’s worth giving up 22 hours of your time to watch the previous three seasons of the show (that’s right, over three seasons there are only 22 episodes- that’s totally doable, people).
Rectify tells the story of a man who was sentenced to death at the age of 16 for the rape and murder of his high school girlfriend. Now, 19 years later, Daniel is released due to new DNA evidence that indicates someone else was responsible for the rape and his conviction is vacated pending a new trial. Now, this certainly isn’t an original idea for a series. There have been other stories told about men released from death row. But the focus of this series isn’t on proving Daniel’s guilt or innocence, or even with solving the question of who was responsible if it wasn’t Daniel. It is much more concerned with the everyday life of this man and his family in the aftermath of Daniel’s return to society. It is a show that revels in the silences of life. The awkwardness that comes from not knowing your place in the world and within your family. It doesn’t apologize for the actions of its characters, and it doesn’t absolve Daniel of any guilt he might have in what happened that fateful night back when he was 16. Rectify asks hard questions and doesn’t offer any easy answers. And it is a joy to experience.
Now onto my thoughts on season three. As much as I enjoyed season two of Rectify, I felt it suffered a bit from its increased episode load (up to ten from season one’s six). So I was thrilled when it was announced last year that season three would be back down to a six episodes. This season was more streamlined, managing to push the plot forward at a quick clip while still offering up a number of excellent character beats that served to deepen the already rich tapestry of the series. We learned far more about Janet this season, and saw how Daniel’s presence has affected her life and marriage on a far deeper level than was obvious in the first two seasons. I’m interested to see how Daniel’s departure impacts Janet and Ted’s marriage, for the good or for the ill, when we reconvene for season four. We also saw where Amantha gets her inner strength, as Janet is one tough lady. I was thrilled to see J. Smith-Cameron get the chance to really shine this year after taking a backseat in the past.
Another particularly interesting element of the season was the continued tailspin of the Tawney-Teddy marriage, the foundation of which, we saw, was already cracked before Daniel ever emerged from his prison cell. Teddy is such an interesting character. There are moments within the series that elicit deep sympathy for him and it is very easy to understand his feelings of jealousy toward Daniel upon his arrival home from prison. But there are just as many moments that reveal the far less savory side to the man. His conversation in the car with Jared this season was one of those extremely troubling moments, and after that, I don’t know if I can ever muster much sympathy for the character again. While Teddy may not have crossed the line that Trey, Chris, and George did with Hanna Dean, he certainly had his toes firmly on the line. But, Teddy is much more than a “good ol’ boy” stereotype, and there is certainly still a story to be told about his failing marriage and Tawney’s own decision regarding whether or not she should set out on her own.
I also loved the deeper look we were given into Tawney and her own journey. For so much of the series, Tawney has been reactionary and not proactive. Now, Tawney is coming into her own. She has missed out on a great deal of her own life by choosing to marry young and stay at home. And she is now taking steps to determine her own future, outside of the influence of both Teddy and Daniel. In her final scene of the season, the beautiful dream sequence with Daniel, I finally got the feeling that Tawney will be just fine moving forward. She now has an inner strength that I think she pushed aside for a number of years. But it is back, and Tawney looks like she will be just fine.
But the show is, at its heart, about Daniel Holden’s journey. And that journey has taken him away from all the characters of Paulie and into Memphis. Now, rather than have a potentially innocent man in prison for the murder of Hanna, Paulie has Trey in prison for a crime we know he didn’t commit (although, considering he did rape Hanna and certainly may have murdered her, there is the lingering question if having Trey in prison really such a bad thing). Those Daniel has left behind are still struggling for meaning in their lives (Amantha, while content, isn’t happy at Thrifty Town, two marriages are on rocky ground, and Sheriff Daggett may have just made a terrible mistake that will sink his career). Having Daniel arrive was the impetus for a great deal of soul searching, and now that he is gone, the questions within each character remain. As for Daniel, he is at the start of a completely new journey. And while I’m excited to see where life takes him in season four, I’m just as intrigued to see how those he left in Paulie fare.