The first episode of this American series set itself up as an engrossing, slow-burning study of how one man who had his death sentence overturned after spending 19 years on death row is now reintegrating himself into the small-town, Deep South community. We not only saw how Daniel Holden was himself getting used to life on the outside but also how his family and friends were getting used to his new-found freedom, too.
Editor’s Note: To get AMC UK here in the UK, go here for details
“There are people around here who would see Daniel dead; people who would do it themselves if they thought they could get away with it,” Daniel’s sister Amantha said at the start of this episode.
Daniel, meanwhile, is reacquainting himself with small-town life, wondering out to the local store to ponder the largeness of soda cups and the spinning hot dog carousels. A group of young kids sneak in and take a surreptitious selfie with him – with the headlines on the newspapers he’s now a local personality, whether he likes it or not. He goes to his local (presumably high school) baseball field, takes off his shoes and socks, drinks a bottle of water and eats a chocolate bar before lying back in the grass to feel the sun on his face. “What that must be like?” asks his sister Amantha, who just happened to be passing in her boyfriend’s car. It’s simple things like the sun on one’s face that freedom can be measured. Like Red said in The Shawshank Redemption: “We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men.”
Throughout this opening few scenes of drama, it’s Daniel that says the least out of everyone. Still suspicious of everyone, and still feeling his way back into his life. This is something that Amantha’s boyfriend John (and Daniel’s lawyer) remarks upon – why can’t he be more open? Why can’t he profess his innocence more regularly? He’ll need to win the public over when he gives press conferences.
But Daniel is opening up slightly. He still talks slowly, thoughtfully. Spending time with his Ted Jnr – his half-brother who’s taken over the family business and wants to make sure Daniel has no ideas of coming back – he speaks about his time in prison, and how rape was commonplace. And how that rape consumed him, too. He tells Ted Jr about it in steely-eyed detail (one would think because he was aware of his half-brother’s plan and wanted to scare him), which compels Ted to freak out slightly and alter his opinion of Daniel – he now thinks he’s guilty of the crime.
Elsewhere, the politics and dynamics of small-town America come to the fore. And that means people gossiping in a claustrophobic , everyone-knows-each-other kind of way. The waitress in the town’s diner spies Amantha with lawyer John and tells the Senator, who she happens to be boffing on a regular basis.
There’s a touching scene when Ted Jr’s wife, the heavily religious Tawny, talks to Daniel quietly at a family cook-out. She asks Daniel what his favourite season is (mainly because she can’t think of much else to discuss), but Daniel found it diffilcut to answer – when he was inside the seasons were shut out by thick walls, which had even thicker walls around them. “What was real to you Daniel?” she asks him. “The time in between the seconds,” he answers.
Rectify is full of these little, sparkling moments, which are so beautifully written it makes your heart melt. The drama drifts like a breeze through the trees, and the characters’ interactions are subtle but incredibly loaded. Ted Jr wants Daniel nowhere near the business he’s built up, and Daniel knows it. Tawney is sympathetic to Daniel, which will no doubt cause more ruptions between the two in the coming episodes.
The end scenes of the episode are all about sex (while this track is playing in background). In fact the whole episode was all about sex – from Ted’s description of his sexual abuse in prison and the Senator’s afternoon trysts to Ted Jr’s heavy use of sexual politics to embarrass and exploit his wife Tawnee. When Ted Jr and Tawnee do have sex she is unresponsive. Her mind is elsewhere. Daniel, though, whose only exposure to sex during his time on death row was rape, received a porno mag from Ted Jr as a ‘coming home’ present. Once again, you got the sense Ted Jr was playing mind games. What sex meant to Daniel before the rape and murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend Hannah no one yet knows. Perhaps Ted Jr, by giving Daniel a jazz rag (which Daniel tentatively makes use of) hopes that these sexual images may ignite the beast again, setting Daniel down another path of no return. We’ll just have to wait and see.
One thing is certain – Rectify is quality, adult and, more importantly, human drama. Well worth your time.
For our episode one review go here