Returning to TV screens this week is the Sundance original series Rectify. At the start of the first season we saw Daniel Holden (Aden Young) released from 19 years on death row thanks to the tireless efforts of his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and newly uncovered DNA evidence suggesting he may not have been responsible for the rape and murder of his high school sweetheart. However, nothing is cut and dry in Rectify‘s small town of Paulie, Georgia and many bitter residents, including Daniel’s stepbrother Teddy Talbot Jr (Clayne Crawford), still believe Daniel to be guilty. At the end of season one that bitterness boiled over as a group of vigilantes took justice into their own hands. Picking up where it left off, Rectify season 2 finds the Holden-Talbot family dealing with the aftermath of yet another tragic act of violence. Rectify also stars Adelaide Clemens, J Smith-Cameron, Luke Kirby, Bruce McKinnon, and Jake Austin Walker.
Earlier this week I joined a number of other journalists at Fonuts Bakery in Los Angeles where we met with the cast to discuss season two. They talked about what sets Rectify apart, the tremendous writing of creator Ray McKinnon, Daniel’s mental state following last season’s violent climax, and more. Check out what Aden Young, Adelaide Clemens, and Bruce McKinnon had to say about Rectify Season 2 after the jump.
Rectify‘s debut season was an extraordinary feat of technical and philosophical accomplishment, earning it a well deserved place on numerous critical Top 10 lists. Each episode is beautifully shot, every performance raw and layered, and every moment is used to enhance and explore the show’s narrative themes with care and delicacy.
“I really don’t think we’ve seen this kind of exploration on television before,” commented Adelaide Clemens. That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s hard to argue. Rectify manages, through a deliberately slow and contemplative pace, to provide genuine meditations on god, family, justice, and redemption without ever seeming indulgent or overwrought. It is a show that reaffirms the value of life, the absolute marvel of every moment lived, and yet it also acknowledges the darkness of humanity, the pain we cause each other, that each of those moments could be the best or worst of our lives, that these moments could have ramifications stretching decades, touching innumerable lives in countless ways. Ray McKinnon has created an absolute one of a kind masterpiece of introspection and revalation.
Speaking on the challenge of acting in such a complex show Young said, “There are so many layers to the writing that often times we’ll come in with great intentions thinking we know the character. We’ll just be like, ‘We got this, this is the scenario,’ and right when you’re about to go, this little landmark here or there, or like a seamark as you’re sailing through these beautiful waters, and you go, ‘What’s that? Oh that’s the scene.’ It’s about the navigation between these moments of family dysfunction. “
Naturally such themes could only be explored through characters of equal complexity. Bruce McKinnon, who plays Daniel’s kindly stepfather explains, “There’s really no bad guys or good guys, everybody’s coming from their own sense of truth. It’s not obvious black and white, it’s all grey.”
Rectify eschews broad strokes and cliché in favor of intricacy and character study, each player in the series as captivating and fallible as the next. All the characters are treated with respect. Even Ted Jr., the shows most obvious antagonist, is always relatable (if not always likeable). Look at Tawney, Teddy’s wife, a devout Christian who believes God put Daniel in her life so that he might be saved. Rather than the bleary-eyed, bible-thumping evangelist one might expect, Tawney is a dignified woman of quiet strength and her faith is something to be admired rather than ridiculed. When that faith is tested by unexpected romantic feelings, the threat of it’s loss is felt as deeply as if it were a threat to her life.
Clemens commented on Tawney and her complicated relationships, saying “That kind of weird love triangle between Tawney, Daniel, and Teddy is something that’s very much explored. What I find really interesting is that Tawney is so Christian and she’s so loyal to her Christianity and to her vows, so the idea of even entertaining another man in her life is just not in the cards. But what I really loved exploring was just the feeling, having an overwhelming feeling and what do you do with it? That feeling for Daniel, how does she get beyond it? I think she tries really hard to be a good person.”
Of course, Daniel himself is an enigma. After a near two decades behind bars he is constantly mystified and overwhelmed by the new world around him. Book smart, but lacking social skills, he is impossible to read and while he was released from prison, he certainly was not exonerated. Along with the audience, every character on the show is uncertain of Daniel’s guilt or innocence, including Daniel himself. Young explained Daniel’s uncertainty saying, “What’s going on? This isn’t the world I left. This is the world I built, this town, and I built it in 35 seconds that night. I built it with my hands like this [around her neck]. Or did I? I don’t know.” He went on to explain, “Season one was very much a creation story because it’s about the rebirth of an individual into an alien landscape. It’s about terrible grief, having lost twenty years, having gained a language of violence…and that junkyard that accompanies that neighborhood of death, just coming to terms with that. We see the creation of this person, and on the eighth day he rests, the world is what it is. We’ve built the world of Paulie.”
As Bruce McKinnon explains, that town, The town of Paulie, Georgia is another character in the show itself, “Every town in Georgia has it’s own vibe. What happened, what’s happening, what’s going to happen, fear and drama, that’s why living in the South and writing about the South is always so poetic. It’s like a river, you just never know what’s going to be happening around it. That’s why I think Ray being from Adel, Georgia- he has his finger on the pulse of all that. So it adds it’s own character, one more character.” J Smith-Cameron, who plays Daniel’s mother Janet, described it as, “that pastoral beauty up against the sort of scary, unruly, perverse side of small towns.”
And the second season picks up in the midst of that small town perversity as we get a look at the ramifications of vigilantism, adding a new layer to the crime drama element even as it adds new layer to philosophical musing on the nature of right and wrong. And it looks like we will see these questions explored with the show’s established methodical pace. With it’s first season, Rectify proved itself as a show that’s willing to take it’s time, each installment of the six-episode run taking place over the course of exactly one day in Daniel’s post-prison life. The second season has an expanded run of ten episodes, and a new timeline wherein the story may move through time more quickly or slowly as the story calls for it.
To a certain extent this was a practical decision as a result of last season’s finale. Young explains, “If we were to follow that same way by following a day an episode, we’d have ten days of Daniel in bed.” However, the new format also allows for new ways of exploring the story. Young elaborated, “What Ray has done is he’s structured it more symphonically…with a compression so weeks are able to fit in. As the story evolves, and as the destruction comes to be, and as the journey and exploration come to be, and as the secrets get to be in some ways released or dealt with, everything has to slow down, because it’s suddenly too full again. It almost begins as a very quiet adagio, even though time itself is more compressed, and ends in this sort of crescendo even though time is more of an adagio. I think it’s a marvelous texture.”
Clemens also commented on Rectify‘s unique format, praising creator Ray McKinnon’s bold style of storytelling, “He isn’t bound by any rules. He’s really challenging conventional TV. There are dream sequences that are flashbacks, there’s the present day, then you spend a whole day with these characters. Sometimes there’s just three hours and we see everything that happened in these three hours. I think that’s what’s really interesting, it’s so unpredictable, but it’s so well done.”
If the first season was about rebirth, the second looks to examine the process of growing up. Speaking on Daniel’s mindset as we enter the new season Young explained, “He’s taken from his life as a child and thrust into this world that heels got to decide, does he want to go on? For what reason? Where is he going find that solution? Where is he going to find divinity? Where is he going to find family?”
Of course these questions aren’t likely to have answers anytime soon. True to the nature of the show, they likely be explored slowly, with great depth, and personally I can’t wait.
Rectify returns to Sundance TV Thursday, June 19th, at 9PM