[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]
It has become an advertisement cliché to use phrases that contain the word, “Best,” in them. Since I put Rectify on a much higher level than most TV shows that stoop to injecting that commendation on themselves, I was surprised to see “Best Show of 2013,” pop up in one of the program’s recent trailers.
That being said, the designation of “Best Show of 2013,” while lofty, has been earned in this one very unique, and very rare, case of television.
Having managed to completely enchant me from the start with a pilot full of originality and heart, I had a lot of curiosity coming up to the season finale as to whether the show could keep it up. Could it possibly continue with the quality displayed in the previous five episodes? Could its ending somehow not disappoint? Of course, per usual, Rectify never disappoints.
Is Ted dead or not?
The finale wastes no time immediately revealing the results of last episode’s cliffhanger (Daniel strangling jerk stepbrother, Teddy Jr.), but the answer isn’t given without teasing out Ted’s fate first, with a slow camera pan from the car dealership’s counter… to the knocked-over coffee pot Ted had been preparing at the time of the attack… to Ted himself, laying prostrate on his stomach on the floor. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t look alive, but as a viewer invested in Daniel’s well-being, which would certainly not be “well” if he murdered somebody, you want this to be a trick as you wait for a confirmation of life from Teddy that you’re uncertain you will receive.
Even if this murder was completely unrelated to the one he was accused of, and Daniel was still innocent of killing Hanna, no one in his prejudiced-against-him hometown would believe it. They are waiting for an excuse to send him back on death row. Teddy’s murder being explained away as a result of Daniel’s twenty years of pent up emotions for being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, emotions no longer able to be contained due to the verbal ignorance of a person as worthy of generating “bloody thoughts”* against him as Teddy is, would not have gone over well. I may have known personally that I could never turn against Daniel completely, the structure of the story having grown a fondness for him first, but such a finding about Rectify‘s protagonist being a killer would have crushed my belief that this particular sweet, thoughtful, lost soul was incapable of that degree of violence. It would have been a disconcerting, if not entirely outrageous, direction for the show to go in.
Luckily, the potential scariness of instinctively siding with a murderer, even in the face of such damning evidence as a dead body, doesn’t have to be analyzed because the body’s still breathing. In a call back to his acting disgusted, or like Daniel is lying while describing his horrific experiences of prison rape, Teddy hasn’t so much been physically injured but made to suffer damage to his pride, waking up with his pants down, backside covered in coffee grounds. It is out of embarrassment**, more than any regret for his cruel, unwelcoming behavior towards his stepbrother, that Teddy Jr., remains silent about the ordeal. He certainly doesn’t change his ways, continuing to badmouth Daniel to his wife, Tawny, and father, Teddy Sr., and seemingly viewing this incident as more proof that he is right about Daniel, than as a sign he needs to reevaluate himself and how he treats others.
* to quote General Crook in Deadwood season 1, episode 12 “Sold Under Sin”
** Loved his fearful stares at “Tall Man” in front of the dealership, a symbol of his assailant which I have since found available for purchase on Amazon, but not cheap.
Breaking down in front of mom
Daniel’s mom started out the series staring out of windows a lot, appearing glazed and numb. As the show’s continued, though, it has become clear who Amantha inherited her spirit from.
Looking back, Amantha was only twelve when Daniel was found guilty and sentenced to death row. She probably didn’t understand everything that was going on, or attempts were made to shield her from some aspects of the town’s complete hatred of her brother. Mom, unfortunately, had to witness and remember every terrible detail, and you can visibly see how those twenty years hardened her. A fighting nature, that was probably as loud as Amantha’s during those early years, is still there but has become more of a blazing internal fire, whereas Amantha continues her loud, proactive crusade of refusing to hold back her temper from anyone who insults the people she loves. She goes so far as to yell at a retreating officer that the police are a lynch squad.
Janet knows that the majority of the town will never change their perception of her son as a killer. She knows that Daniel would be safer somewhere else, and that her house, family, and business (the tire store) will forever suffer and be threatened as long as he stays in Georgia. Yet, in a terrific scene, she considers telling Daniel to leave and then doesn’t. She is not going to ignore what’s best for her son (readjusting to his new, free life with family at his side, who will stand by and care for him at the only home he’s ever known outside of a prison cell) for what’s possibly best for herself.
Especially socially, it might be better for all, Daniel included, if she told him to go. Daniel even gives her permission to tell him to leave in the first episode, “Always There,” warning her that he might not realize when he’s overstayed his welcome, unable to see that it’s time to go off on his own because the will-power and strength to start over alone, as a thirty-eight year old man who’d never had a career, has no one willing to hire him, is unsure how to fill his time, and still sees the world from an eighteen-year-old’s perception, is immensely daunting.
Instead, Daniel’s mom asks for her son’s help in demolishing her kitchen, a task she’d held off on (whether out of being distracted or a desire to preserve her home as Daniel remembered it, allowing his house to be one constant in a world that would not otherwise standstill for twenty years until his release) but has decided she now wants to tackle. The very mention of the project seems to bring life back into her eyes, life that had been buried by worry and increased cynicism at the cruelty of people around her.
But Daniel knows what she was going to say. And if she had asked him, he would have left, already feeling guilty for what his family’s had to go through because of him***. He recognizes that in not telling him to leave, his mother is ready and willing to live a harder life because of him. He also feels “pathetic” in that a house revamp needs to be arranged for him to have something to do. Nonetheless, it’s not out of pity that his mom makes the offer but love, and when Daniel is no longer able to hold back the tears in front of her, you can see the pain he carries for all the sacrifices his family has had to make for him, and how useless and out of his depth he feels, back in reality. He’s trying to find a way to fit into a world that’s kept moving, a world where he has a lot of enemies and an unearned criminal reputation but, so far, he still hasn’t figured out all the answers.
*** Amantha dismisses this notion during a whim ride brother and sister take to a place from their childhood, clarifying for him that it was the town that hurt her and their family, “not you, Danny”. This trip also marks the return of the statue the goat man was so fascinated with last episode. Seeing it standing there in this new context either:
- supports the idea that Daniel really did meet this man. The money he has to show from the encounter also acts as corroboration.
- legitimizes the theory that he met the guy in a dream. If the place was important enough for him to remember and want to return to with his sister, why couldn’t a statue from the area (a statue covered in vines which would have had to have grown over night to not have been there the previous morning) appear in his dream?
Daniel latest monologue
“You know, and if you don’t have the, the years of experiences, the- if there isn’t the, the repetition of everyday living to make things mundane- and because, because mundane is calming and soothing. Mundane isn’t out of the ordinary… And when everything is out of the ordinary- it can be too much sometimes, you know?”
Aden Young showed his skill last week at delivering speeches when Daniel shared with Tawny his experiences with the “goat man” that morning. In this episode he has a new listener, his lawyer, and Amantha’s love interest, Jon Stern (played by Luke Kirby, Jack in the first season of other TV gem, Slings and Arrows). Whereas Tawny had a reversal in her eagerness to help Daniel after hearing his monologue, in which he also asked permission to kiss her****, Jon is much more sympathetic towards him, trying to assure Daniel, for whatever comfort it can bring, that, “It’s normal to not be happy sometimes.”
Please, don’t take my word for the beauty of this scene:
Daniel’s full monologue
****Avoiding Daniel’s phone calls, she returns to the man she had been avoiding, her husband, Teddy, and tells him she wishes she had not convinced Daniel to get baptized. It appears in attempting the sin of kissing a married women her openness towards him has flipped (perhaps not permanently but temporarily), but is her anger at Daniel (who drops the topic after she declines, meaning no harm and only feeling a closeness to the first friend he’s made since freedom) or herself (for wanting to say yes)?
The fate of Kerwin is revealed and it isn’t a happy end. With a reluctant Daniel appearing at his prison door’s window for good-byes, unable to speak to his pal but for a distraught expression that says it all, Kerwin walks off to face the death sentence Daniel later evades for himself. Their camaraderie had been a bright spot in an otherwise unpleasant situation, a mutually beneficial friendship for talking and getting distracted from the endless routine of jail that grated on composure and sanity. Now Daniel truly is alone in his cell, more so than even before, and that is traumatic.
Before he is marched away Kerwin has one final note to say to Daniel: he knows he’s innocent. Whereas I can’t remember what Kerwin’s death row-deserving crime was (has it ever been mentioned?), there are few who’ve doubted (or voiced their doubts) about the accusations against Daniel. This proclamation is therefore pretty meaningful, for being rare and for coming from a friend that didn’t know Daniel before Hanna’s murder, and isn’t biased for or against him.
When Amantha goes on that trip with Daniel in this episode she diagnoses him as suffering from survivor’s guilt. Kerwin would be a prime example of that guilt: why did I avoid death while he was forced to face it?.
Success as a season finale
The good news is, unlike Sundance’s other trial run at original television content, Top of the Lake, Rectify is going to be a continuing series while Top of the Lake, always intended as a miniseries, is over.
For me, however, Top of the Lake ended up not working as a miniseries because it chose the wrong episode to end on. “Episode VI,” with Jamie and the reappearance of Tui was heartbreaking and powerful. It didn’t provide all the answers but offered such an emotionally resonating punch that it didn’t matter. “Episode VII,” the actual finale, also didn’t provide all the answer but the new questions it brought up instead ended the series on a sour note instead of an impactful tragedy. The twist that Robin and Johnno could be brother and sister was supposed to be shocking but instead only infuriated and ruined what was already a complicated (what happened at their prom) but strong relationship. There were some moves towards closure in the season long mystery of Tui but not enough, and at this point in the series I had lost interest in her fate. Yes, she’s gone through things no one, let alone a fifteen year old girl, should go through but her numbness, trying to still be a child when actually a mother, doesn’t have the endearing effect it might have if we had known the Tui before all of this happened, to see what having a baby has changed and cost her. She’s not mature, and as a child she shouldn’t necessarily have to be, but this is what has happened to her and as wrong as it is, she needs to adapt. We’ll never know if she does, and I wish I wasn’t ok with that. I wish I still wanted to know.
Rectify‘s season finale could have worked as a series’ finale. I’m very, very, very thrilled it’s not one, that a second season has been ordered, but if this had been a miniseries, I would have been satisfied and not at all disappointed with this phenomenal closer.
The Final Scene
Visiting Hanna’s grave, a move that almost seems like he’s asking to get noticed and attacked*****, the outnumbered Daniel is beaten up by Hanna’s brother and his masked cronies. This is a terrible conclusion, but at the same time it releases the tension that had been building up ever since DNA evidence was found which exonerated Daniel. By Daniel going to this unspoken forbidden spot for him to visit (certainly never by himself), his assailants can attack unrestrained. They leave his body a bloody mess, but he’s finally met that inevitable, dreaded attack, felt the agony physically that he’s long felt mentally, and I think, somehow, sadly, there’s some relief to be found in that for him, some finality to that dread of what’s coming. It’s come.
The reaction I most dread seeing is Amantha’s. I can already picture season two’s premiere: Amantha at home, staring at the mysterious present Daniel left behind for her in the back seat of her car. She decides to unwrap it and finds an item that is incredibly sweet, outdated, and meaningful inside. Maybe this is a present he had bought for her twenty years ago, back when she was twelve, having every intention of giving it to her but sideswiped by a prison sentence that prevents gift giving. Then she’ll get a phone call on her cell, or hear the tires squeal outside as Jon appears at her door. Camera zoom on her terrified face. She knows what has occurred and, uncharacteristically speechless, she makes her way, dazed, to the car, Jon talking to her but her unable to focus on the words. Once at the hospital all hell breaks lose as the slowness of the medical personnel in pointing her in the direction of her brother, filling her in on what happened to him, marks the return of her stubborn, feisty, loud speech.
Naturally, this is all speculation but I’m hoping season two’s premiere starts off right after the event, and not a month later, with Daniel healing, staying with his sister in Florida******, or at the very least somewhere not Georgia*******. while the episode ends on a highly dismal note, it included two moments of hope for improvement and acceptance from town.
The Hopeful Moments
To end my review on a positive note, while the episode’s closing is highly dismal, there were two moments before that scene which brought up the possibility that there could be improvement and acceptance for Daniel from his hometown.
- The first occurs at the start of the episode, at a place from his past. Frightened at what he has done to Teddy Jr. (even if deserved) as well as what Teddy’s reaction will be (a call to the police means a return to the suffocating prison cell), Daniel awaits the consequences of his actions. While he waits he seeks comfort in a nearby diner that’s on the brink of closing time. Eighteen year old Daniel must have frequented the spot, for he nervously asks the waitress if his usual meal is still on the menu. It is, but the concerned cook, who was about to go home and doesn’t want to leave the waitress alone with “him”, asks her if he should stick around. She says “no,” and when Daniel finishes his meal and asks if he could have another, instead of telling him “no” and pushing him out the door, she offers him the diner’s leftovers, free. He would have had no clue that leftovers were available. He would have had no clue that he didn’t have to pay for them. He would have gone away. But the waitress, perhaps having known him from his visits there before his rap as a murderer, perhaps purely out of niceness, shows kindness towards him.
- The second moment is at a book store that didn’t exist in the town twenty years ago. Stepping inside for the first time, Daniel soon runs into the owner. He knows who Daniel is, from news and gossip, but couldn’t be more cool upon their meeting, helping and treating Daniel like any other customer. Since the store already looks empty of shoppers, maybe it wouldn’t be hurt by the taking on of a new employee who doesn’t attract them…
***** Could his phone message to Tawny saying he’s leaving have a darker, suicidal connotation, because the grave site truly was a foolish place to go alone and he should have known that? Daniel doesn’t mean any harm by the visit, of course. He cared, very probably loved, Hanna. This could be part of his grieving, his feelings of guilt (even if he didn’t kill her). Few would see things from his side, though, and Daniel knows that as well.
****** If he thought Walmart was disconcerting and overwhelming in episode four, “Plato’s Cave”, how about Disney Land, where dreams come true and adults’ showing childlike wonder at what they see is expected?
******* Georgia is a fantastic location for the show that I’d hate to see dropped, but as an officially unsafe, volatile environment for Daniel, not sure if there’s going to be a way for him to stay.
Were you as satisfied and ecstatic at Rectify‘s finale ( horrid as the actual climatic event was) as me, or do you feel too many threads were left open (for example, whatever became of the threatening text messages Jared was receiving?). What do you most want to see happen next season (for example, will there ever be any flashbacks to Daniel and Amantha before Hanna’s murder, or is that too against the format of the series, which is set in present time?) Throw out your opinions and have fun brainstorming ideas in the comments below.
-Sundance credited for all pictures
UPDATE 4/16: After recently starting to rewatch the series, in preparation for the 4th (and final season), I feel I was too harsh towards Teddy Jr. in this review. I still don’t appreciate how Teddy has never seemed to recognize, or brought up, how he verbally bashed Daniel before his attack. There’s no excuse for that. There’s also no excuse that Daniel physically attacked him.
Maybe, it could be argued, Teddy deserved to be punched in this moment. I think that was the mindset I was coming from, writing this after the episode aired. What Daniel did was more than punch. It was sexual assault and traumatizing.