“Rectify,” the first original scripted series produced for Sundance Channel, came to an end tonight with a cliffhanger finale that saw former Death Row inmate Daniel (Aden Young) beat within an inch of his life by the brother of the woman Daniel was convicted of — and then exonerated for — killing.
If you were expecting a definitive answer to Daniel’s guilt or innocence, you probably haven’t been watching the show very closely. This slow-paced but deeply penetrating drama is more concerned with Daniel’s state of mind after years on Death Row than conventional TV crime drama resolutions.
The finale wrapped up last week’s cliffhanger — Daniel strangling his stepbrother Ted (Clayne Crawford) — right at the beginning with the reveal that Ted is still very much alive, and too embarrassed about what happened to tell anyone. And the rest of the episode managed to check in with just about every key character we’ve met in the past five episodes of the show.
Ted is surprised to learn that his father (Bruce McKinnon) firmly believes in Daniel’s innocence, but also manages to reconcile with wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), who admits that Daniel’s baptism may have been “too much, too soon.”
Daniel’s mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) realizes that her son may not be safe in their small town but can’t bring herself to ask him to leave (instead she asks him to help remodel the family kitchen — in the sort of quiet and unexpectedly moving scene that’s become a trademark of this show). And lawyer Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) warns Daniel’s sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) that the town may not be safe for her any more either. He even advises her to get a gun, against both of their liberal leanings.
But after Daniel apologizes to Amantha for blowing up on her (in her last week’s episode), she resolves to bring him to Atlanta so they can both escape the small town where everyone knows Daniel’s past a little too well.
Going to Atlanta with Amantha could have been the key to a new beginning for Daniel, but instead he pays a visit to the grave of Hanna Dean (the young woman he was romantically involved with and then convicted of killing) and winds up surrounded by her brother and a pack of friends who brutally beat him.
That’s the plot in a nutshell, but as usual with “Rectify” the show’s special qualities come from its striking filmmaking, offbeat writing and committed performances. There’s no other show on television right now that would give us something like Daniel and Amantha’s walk in the pecan grove or the visually stunning and emotionally shattering closing overhead shot of Daniel back in his cell, while the empty cell of fellow Death Row inmate Kerwin Whitman (Johnny Ray Gill) is cleaned out following Kerwin’s execution.
In just six episodes — chronicling Daniel’s first week out of prison — “Rectify” has built a remarkably specific group of characters populating a unique world on TV. It’s exciting to ponder what creator Ray McKinnon and his talented cast and crew will do with the next ten episodes in Season 2.