RECTIFY Season 2 Review: Sundance Channel’s Meditative Work On Life and Death Continues To Shine

     June 19, 2014

rectify season 2 aden young

Last spring, Rectify, from creator Ray McKinnon‘s (Sons of Anarchy) debuted on the Sundance Channel.  Sundance was on a roll, having just aired the mesmerizing miniseries Top of the Lake.  I listed both series are two of the best of last year — both were about terrible and mysterious crimes in small towns, and how their impact resonated in every corner, and both took their time with their storytelling.  Top of the Lake may have gotten more attention at the time, but Rectify was a six-episode gem that also promised a more extended story and look into the life of Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who was released from Death Row after 19 years thanks to new DNA evidence that exonerated him.

Season 1 explored his return to his hometown of Paulie, Georgia, whose residents — outside of his family — still blame him for the rape and murder he was originally convicted for.  Hit the jump for more on where Rectify Season 2 finds Daniel.  A discussion of Season One will take place below, so if you haven’t caught up, it is currently streaming on Netflix.

rectify season 2 aden youngThere’s a mention in the first episode of Rectify‘s second season that the timeline of events from Daniel’s release to his beating took place within one week.  It seems inconceivable, but it’s part of Rectify‘s timeless narrative fluidity.  Daniel focused on some of the most minute things back in Paulie, things he hadn’t seen or experienced for 19 years.  In between though, viewers were taken back to his stint in prison.  These time jumps made Daniel’s journey feel full and complete, allowing the experiences of the past two decades to be told in what was really very short episodic time.

The first season ended with a reckoning for Daniel at the hands of Bobby Dean (Linds Edwards), brother to Hanna, Daniel’s murdered girlfriend.  Rectify could have ended there and felt complete in many ways, but three episodes into its expanded (10 episode) second season shows there are still so many things to explore within the Holden family, not to mention regarding Daniel’s experience in Paulie and on Death Row.

In the new season, Daniel is in an induced coma after the beating, which allows his family members to take center stage.  His mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) is still the brave-faced glue of the family, while his firecracker sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) is just as caustic as ever.  Step-brother Ted, Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is trying to move forward with the family business, and with life without Daniel (especially after what happened with at the office last season — let’s just say, he’s still uncomfortable around coffee).  His wife Tawny (Adelaide Clemens) wrestles with her feelings for Daniel that she initially mistook for religious zeal, and attempts to salvage her faltering marriage.  Half-brother Jared (Jake Austin Walker) is just trying to figure out where he belongs, as is step-father Ted, Sr (Bruce McKinnon) whose business is very much on the rocks.

rectify season 2 aden young j smith cameronThough Daniel remains in his coma for the first two episodes of Season Two, he is very much alive.  In his mind, he dreams mostly of prison (both a real history and a metaphor for his current medical state), and of his friend Kerwin (Johnny Ray Gill), who was put to death before Daniel was released.  The two wax philosophical, as is Rectify‘s way, and many flashbacks to Daniel’s past in the prison also reveal a different side to the Daniel we met in Season One.  The strange and deeply contemplative young man is shown here as hostile, unstable, and even violent.  Though there are threads that point to others being responsible for the death of Hannah Dean two decades before (including the shady Trey [Sean Bridgers] and George [Michael Traynor], who committed suicide), Daniel’s involvement and the truth of that night remain in question.  In the present though, all he wants to do is put this past behind him.

Of course, the point of Rectify is not the whodunnit, but about much more esoteric questions: Can you ever go home again?  Whose life is worth saving?  What does peace really look like?  Is there such a thing as true forgiveness?  Or real justice?  Some of these questions play out in a subplot revolving around Daniel’s lawyer (and Amantha’s lover) Jon (Luke Kirby), as he visits with a Death Row inmate through his last meal, and others happen in ways that are like trying to describe the wind.

rectify Luke Kirby Abigail SpencerOne of the most magical things about Rectify though is the way it chooses to go about its storytelling.  The series is just as relaxed and haunting as it was originally, spending a lot of time on everyday beauty (and horror).  McKinnon’s scripts are pitch-perfect when it comes to the rhythms and cadences of small-town Southern life, and the natural way the interactions among the family members happen (and even among the townsfolk) resonates deeply and emotionally.

If there’s any criticism to be made against Rectify, it’s that it’s only released one week at a time.  There is nothing like immersing oneself in this world, with all of its tragic beauty.  Having Rectify return at all, especially in a quieter summer slot where it might garner more attention, is a blessing.  “How did you come back?” Daniel asks Kerwin in his coma sleep.  “Just came back.  Where else was I supposed to go?”

Rectify Season 2 premieres Thursday, June 19th at 9 p.m. ET on the Sundance Channel.

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