July 12, 2013
Some viewers call Rectify slow and laborious. Those of us who relish a riveting, killer-paced, cerebral adventure are applauding in deafening decibels. "More. More."
This year, the Sundance Channel entered the fray of quality television by backing Top of the Lake, followed by the TV series Rectify. A smaller audience seeking thoughtful scripting and luminous performances is trumping negative Nielsen numbers.
As a high school teenager, Daniel Holden confessed and was condemned to death for the grisly rape and murder of his girlfriend. Near twenty years and many execution deferments later, DNA tests suggest a different scenario. While not proven innocent, a shortage of evidence frees him from incarceration. A new trial is planned.
Still mentally trapped in solitary confinement, he spends his first days of freedom (one for each episode) timorously nudging the psychological walls that suffocate him.
Equally confused - and complicating his adjustment - are family members who are totally unequipped to handle Holden's homecoming: his abrupt unexpected dismissal from jail while still burdened with the tenacious charges that put him there.
Enter his supportive mute mother and vociferous sister, both of whom are frightened, fragile, needy and bewildered. Step-dad seems the most level headed (this season, anyway), while his eldest son (Holden's step-brother) and daughter-in-law complicate matters. He is crafty, ambitious and jealous, married to a Michelle Williams look-a-like, a Pollyanna born-again evangelical.
In an ironical coincidence (albeit literary and deliberate), Holden's young half-brother is his social and emotional peer, the one human who is most likely to ease his adjustment back to contemporary living. By sharing his kid brother's burgeoning teen angst, hormonal arousal and social awakening, Holden picks up his life's threads at the same chronological moment that they were snatched from him at age seventeen.
Then there is the community of players: the punitive accusers, the aggressive avengers, the duplicitous innocents, an ambitious senator and one lone defense lawyer.
Holden spent his childhood plus 19 years of incarceration as a dependent. While his schoolmates graduated, found jobs and started families, he was self-tutored through the prison library and was parented by two death row inmates (one who believed him to be innocent and another who brutally abraded him for his unequivocal guilt).
Holden's multiple mind-boggling debilitating experiences of deceased loves, isolated internment, penal sadism, public contempt and peer deceit seem locked in his comatose Pandora's Box as he navigates the outside. And not least, he grapples with the sexual tension that permeates his past and future world.
Meantime, while adjusting to his newly liberated life, he devours everyday nuances that most folks don't notice: soaking up sun on his face, sensing the grass between his toes, shopping for foods he chooses, listening to music through headphones, feeling femme fingers coif his hair, sharing Dazed and Confused with his little brother or selecting his own prescription eyeglasses.
He has left a windowless colorless cinderblock cell for a pigmented world. And how does he see it?
"It's the beauty, not the ugly that hurts the most," says Holden.
It's a sad formula for freedom, but a super equation for TV.
• • • • • • • • • •
Canadian-born Australian Aden Young who plays the brooding Holden is already on the Emmy radar. His performance is magnetic, catatonic, charismatic, enigmatic, mesmeric, laconic, and hypnotic - you name the ic and he owns it. Sometimes even icky-creepy.
He is not TV's everyday hotshot hero.
We now celebrate anti-heroes as icons. With James Gandolfini's death, many TV pundits have attributed this mutation to Tony Soprano. Good guys who are bad and bad guys who are good and all iterations in-between. (But it's oh-so un-American). While the Wire rightfully claims some of the credit, we have Breaking Bad and The Americans carrying the gauntlet.
We know that two of Rectify's producers were inherited from Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston as Walter White opened that six-year series as an almost-ok-guy, but has since been sucked into hell. Can we read between the lines to guess what twisted genes these producers have passed down in this TV-geneology from White to Holden?
Missing from Rectify's DNA is the pervasive abrasive profanity, violence and sex bred by this genre. Those tempests have passed but are not gone. Holden now waits warily in the eye of the hurricane - observing, exploring, absorbing. So will Season Two erupt or linger in psychic limbo?
And what questions will it resolve? Is he a killer/rapist? Is he the victim of devious culprits? Is he complicit? Is he an innocent man from death row nefariously twisted by a protracted incarceration?
Rectify writer/creator Ray McKinnon was asked in a TV Guide Magazine interview, "If you were released after several years in jail for a crime you didn't commit, what's the first thing you would do?" He answered with "Go rob a bank."
Is this McKinnon the soothsayer? Or will McKinnon rectify Holden's horrific life and convert his struggle to normalcy?
At most, the Special Features contain a brief abridgment of Season One: its story, cast and crew, (a useful refresher to prepare for Season Two). Not enlightening, not thorough, but a framework for the show.
Six episodes, six synopses covering six days in the life of Holden. Flashbacks flesh out some of the gaps and hallucinations color the mix.
Hopefully Year Two's Extras will spend more time with creator McKinnon. Any more conversation from him here might necessitate spoilers and that is not going to happen. But hooked fans want to know more.
Studio: Sundance Channel, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Aden Young, Adelaide Clemens, Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford, Luke Kirby, J. Smith-Cameron
Length: Six Episodes, 272 minutes
Rated: Not Rated
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Dolby Digital 5.1