Rectify concluded this third chapter of Ray McKinnon‘s exceptional, laconic, dreamy tale on SundanceTV not having wrapped up almost anything addressed over the course of the season. But like in its first two seasons, that’s ok. Rectify’s power is in its observational storytelling, where we get so up-close and personal with the main cast of characters that it becomes riveting to just watch someone stare at the grass (as Aden Young’s Daniel Holden does).
Despite Daniel being ever-central to Rectify’s story, Season 3 was an opportunity to expand on the stories of other characters, and show how they have been affected by Daniel’s return to Paulie. The incident between him and his stepbrother Teddy (Clayne Crawford, whose incredible arc this season I talk about in my TV Performer of the Week piece) in Season 1 set off a cascade of smoldering events that have slowly ripped the family apart. The disillusion of Teddy and Tawney’s (Adelaide Clemens) marriage was one of the season’s major pivot points, but that old coffee grounds incident also pushed apart Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) and her husband Ted (Bruce McKinnon), whose marriage had — before this — seemed rock solid.
The Holden/Talbot kitchen that may be the set piece that has defined this show’s later run so far, starting with Daniel ripping it apart after his mother had mentioned she wanted it remodeled. Several key scenes in Season 2 that dealt with Daniel’s struggles with self-destruction (and some of his wanderings) revolved around the kitchen itself, but ultimately he left it, both because of his actions against Teddy, and because of a court order that required him to leave the state.
From there, it was up to Ted Senior and Teddy to pick up the pieces and finish things together, and “The Source’s” scene where Teddy, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), and Jared (Jake Austin Walker) sat together eating and playing cards, laughing at inside jokes and looking like a family showed some of the pieces of their lives being put back together in the wake of Daniel leaving. His legacy with each of them endures — mostly with Teddy and Amantha — and their individual struggles and heartaches persist. But in that one scene, there was a respite from the anger, the hurt, the sadness, and the confusion. The family is being put back together. And the kitchen does look damn good.
“The Source” also followed Daniel and Janet on a beautiful side trip not only to the beach (where at one point Daniel emerged from the ocean water in a way reminiscent to the baptism at Tawney’s church) but also to the outskirts of the prison, where Daniel confessed to Janet he had considered wanting to go back to its cocoon. But the entire journey this season from start to finish was a way to not only highlight Daniel’s desire to have a positive focus moving forward with is life (despite him kicking that paint can — a minor slip), but also just more of his general Daniel-brand weirdness. Would he have been this strange had his life not stopped 19 years ago and then just picked back up? Regardless, he’s been a fascinating figure to follow. See you in the funny papers.
There was also Trey Willis (Sean Bridgers) being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit — a recurring theme in Paulie. Trey is certainly guilty of trying to pin George’s death on Daniel, and for being a real sleaze and a creep (and, it turns out, a rapist). But, we may never know if he is actually a murderer. There was a point late in Season 2 where I felt Rectify really needed to put a point on Hanna’s murder for viewers, and that we close that chapter. The uncertainty on everyone’s part, particularly Daniel’s, was feeling stretched. But Season 3 once again proved that knowing that truth is not a necessity. The show’s character study continues in its depth and breadth regardless of Daniel’s guilt. It would shade our understanding of Daniel’s life now with a different hue, sure. But it never has been — and still isn’t — essential to the storytelling.
Though “The Source” could have easily functioned as a series finale, more Rectify is a welcomed thought (the show was picked up for Season 4 even before Season 3 aired). There’s still so much to explore with the Holdens/Talbots, even aside from the murder mystery (though it still remains a driving force). And there are always surprises. Tawney, a character whose personal uncertainty has been somewhat of a drag this season, shared a really beautiful scene with Daniel in “The Source” in a dream, or in some kind of spiritual connection between the two, one that really sums up the show’s emotional course. Her desire to find herself, along with Daniel’s desire to find himself, have also required Teddy and Amantha to delve deep into knowing and confronting themselves as well, wondering not only about their futures, but becoming emotionally vulnerable as they figure it all out.
Love may help with acquiring freedom from the bonds of a prison — real or created — but it doesn’t provide any easy answers. And that’s why we keep returning to Rectify. To watch these complicated, authentic characters with hope, trepidation, and wonder. Now where’s that kettle corn?