DAVID BIANCULLI

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ERIC GOULD

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New 'Rectify' Is Downbeat, But Gets High Marks
April 22, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 3 comments
 

Daniel Holden has been released.

After 20 years on Death Row, Daniel's murder conviction has been overturned, thanks to new DNA evidence that says he's not guilty of a classmate's rape and murder – even though he confessed to the crime. This is enough to win him a new trial, and the DA's office has to decide if there's enough new evidence for one.

When Daniel returns to his small Georgia hometown, he learns the world he knew has radically changed, from his family — with a new stepfather and in-laws — down to the giant soda cups at the mini-mart and the now-obsolete cassette mix-tapes he left behind.

So begins the haunting and exquisitely crafted Sundance Channel series, Rectify, which is really a miniseries of six episodes that follows Daniel's first seven days after being freed. The series premieres Monday, April 22 at 10 p.m. ET.

As Daniel emerges from two decades of virtual isolation in a tiny white concrete cell, he needs to re-learn and re-navigate the ordinary world. Series star Aden Young delivers a nuanced performance as a pale-ish savant who has had half of his life erased. Daniel now speaks esoterically with a odd amalgam of bookishness and fatalism that's the product of a life of solitary confinement. It's plain that, although free, he's still immensely locked up inside.

Daniel has returned to the fictional town of Paulie, where the population is split between those who always believed in his innocence and those who believe he's guilty beyond doubt. His sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer, below), who was 12 years old at the time of his lock-up, is Daniel's fiercest, most ardent advocate. Now a young woman, her passions and recriminations run high and are sometimes unbridled as the young girl she once was. In a similar way, both she and Daniel are arrested in time.

Viewers have to choose, too. As new facts come to light regarding Holden's old high-school friends, who were also there the night of the teen girl's murder, viewers are constantly challenged to come down on one side of Daniel's guilt or innocence.

Rectify is created and smartly written by actor Ray McKinnon (he played Reverend Smith in Deadwood and Linc Potter on Sons of Anarchy). It's got novel-like depth and, although quiet, the show isn't dull. And, produced by Breaking Bad veterans Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein, it's obvious that the branches of that tree are in full flower. There are lots of oddball close-ups, low angles and characters at the edges of the frame that remind us of the power of that venerable AMC series.

In some ways, Rectify exceeds those prior milestones, particularly in its moody tone. It's a murder mystery with tinges of deep-fried southern religiosity that is in counterpoint with the evil that may lurk within Daniel — or around him, within the true killer or killers of the girl.

The show also takes some clever Southern Gothic turns. In episode five there is a particularly strong sequence where Daniel may or may not have visited the girl's old house in the middle of the night, and it finishes with one of the very disturbing moral ambiguities that abound throughout the series. Daniel is clearly good-hearted, and prison has stripped him down to a level of child-like innocence. But prison has also left its imprint. He's now an ex-con who's quite capable of harsh behavior when pushed.

Viewers are smartly shown both sides of him, the conflicting facts of the case and some of the questionable characters around him. And we are challenged to find the one piece of the puzzle (particularly around Daniel's confession), the genuine one, that we can point to as the real truth of the story — either about the murder, or the people around Daniel.

Rectify's short run of six shows ends on a troubling note, and is nowhere close to a feel-good experience. But if it returns for a second season, it is well set up for the continuing story. For those interested in the quiet spaces that television can stretch out in, without the usual plot tricks, Rectify's small-town Georgia is the place to be.

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
Sara
I love this show! Thanks for the article. I hope they bring this back for a second season, it is so rich.
May 25, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Catherine
Dear David,
Please use whatever influence you may have to get Netflix to start streaming Northern Exposure....and have a good week.
Catherine/Darien, CT
Apr 22, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
R. Jacobs
"Daniel's murder conviction has been overturned, thanks to new DNA evidence that says he's not guilty of a classmate..."

Really? Is DNA evidence necessary to prove one is not guilty of a classmate?
Apr 22, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
RJ - Touche´! Thanks for the editorial assistance! –EG
Apr 22, 2013
 
 
 
 
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