Despite critical acclaim from the jump, Ray McKinnon’s SundanceTV series “Rectify” has claimed and held onto just a modest following — and the premiere episode of the show’s final season Wednesday (Oct. 26) demonstrated exactly why its fans are as devoted as they are.
Daniel Holden’s (Aden Young) story of redemption begins its trek toward the end with a typically chill, but powerful, bang: Like most of the series, the premiere was emotional, dramatic and beautifully paced, with Young’s quietly brilliant performance anchoring the story as usual.
Keeping the focus on Daniel, introducing us steadily to his new life after last season’s finale and the cast of characters that have sprung up around him, meant a chance for Daniel to open up and finally talk about some of the issues he’s been dealing with over the course of the series — a quiet overture before a season that the after-episode teaser promises will be fraught, possibly violent, and — as always — complex. In the meantime, we’ve been thinking about what we’d like to see by the story’s end.
Give Daniel a positive change of pace — if not peace
Whether he committed the murder of Hanna Dean or not (we’ll get to that later), Daniel could use a break. After all the family drama at home, and tension between himself, Ted (Clayne Crawford) and Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), we’d be 100 percent okay if the whole final season was just Daniel developing a healthy relationship with Caitlin Fitzgerald’s Chloe and enjoying a strong bromance with his housemates. Of course, it won’t be that simple: Nothing ever is, especially for Daniel Holden, and we imagine faces from his past will start showing up immediately.
For the time being, though, Nashville is providing the respite he desperately needs. He’s met someone non-judgmental and charming in Chloe, who could be the person to help him finally come to terms with who he is outside of his Death Row cell. No matter what realizations that process may or may not reveal, we’re looking forward to even the possibility of a life for Daniel that doesn’t include constantly looking over his shoulder.
Bring Tawney & Teddy to a graceful landing
Thanks mostly to Crawford and Clemens’ acting, the Ted and Tawney relationship hasn’t become the weak subplot most other shows suffer would have made it. But at the same time, their constant bickering, possible healing, bickering again cycle has made their relationship one of the more repetitious in the series — unfortunately apparent when “Rectify” is all about the evolution of its characters over time.
Separated, both Teddy and Tawney can prove truly interesting characters –but together, it’s hard not to feel like we’re watching two people on a sailboat they haven’t noticed sank long ago. At this point it doesn’t really matter where they end up — we just want a resolution, the sooner the better.
Reunite Ted & Janet, the show’s all-time best marriage, for good
If Daniel knew the repercussions of his Season 1 assault on Teddy — the effect it would have on literally everything and everyone else in his life — we know he never would have done it, and we wouldn’t blame him for that, either. One of the more troubling impacts it had was the stress it caused between his parents Ted Sr. and Janet (Bruce McKinnon & J. Smith-Cameron).
When we met them, they were the perfect image of an older married couple. The kind who, if you spotted them together on the street or having dinner, could give you renewed hope in marriage, commitment and true love. Since Daniel arrived, by no fault necessarily of his own, Ted and Janet have become more and more distant. The tension brewing between them was one of the more nail-biting aspects of last season, always bubbling under the surface threatening to poke its head out and ruin things even more — and it looks like their relationship is finally going to come to a head this time around.
If anyone genuinely deserves to be ruined by all the drama and tension that Daniel’s release brought, it’s these two least of all — so here’s to the hope that they’ll be able to mend their wounds by the story’s end — and any of the trauma this season is poised to deliver, of course.
Get Amantha away from Paulie, forever
While Abigail Spencer is having a moment, thanks to her work on NBC’s “Timeless,” fans know she’s been consistently giving one of the best female performances on television on “Rectify.” Amantha Holden, from the moment she was introduced, was a fascinating character — the sister who spent 20 straight years trying to free her brother from prison, after being wrongly accused (she believed) of murder. She’s been hurt and betrayed by Daniel since his release, however, and seems like she’s been suffering just as much as Daniel has ever since.
Whether it’s working at the local Thrifty Town or her unfortunate on-again/off-again relationship with Daniel’s lawyer Jon (Luke Kirby), Amantha hasn’t caught a break since day one. Even if she can’t admit it, it seems like a majority of her problems revolve around her relationship with the town of Paulie, Ga., itself — and all the people she knows there. It’s about time that, like Daniel, she gets at least a moment of freedom from this toxic relationship — and if we’re lucky, she’ll figure that out by the end.
The murder finally solved
“Rectify’s” handling of the Hanna Dean murder case has been masterful beginning to end, playing with our emotions and suspicions, never quite granting us solid footing when it comes to our lead suspect. Not even Daniel is safe from that, bouncing back and forth between thinking he did it, and knowing he didn’t — and taking us all down that road with him.
We thought for sure the mystery would finally be solved in Season 3, as Carl went on his hunt for the truth — but like everything else in “Rectify,” it wasn’t that easy in the end. The season premiere made it seem like a legitimate possibility that we may never find out who actually killed Hanna Dean — which wouldn’t necessarily be disappointing, although it would make “witness” Trey’s (Sean Bridgers) role this season seem superfluous.
Of course, judging by the final truth we may regret ever wanting to know! But for right now, as much as we’re okay with leaving the show’s future to the unknown, this is the one resolution we’re hoping to get.
An ending as ambitious & nontraditional as the series itself
The ambiguity in “Rectify’s” storytelling makes it a fascinating set of character studies — and while creator Ray McKinnon has teased that the ending may not be the most satisfying for viewers, that’s less of a worry than with any other show we can think of — “Rectify” hasn’t ever conformed to audience expectations, or standard TV tropes, so why start now?
Sam Shepard once said, “The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” — and if we had one wish for “Rectify,” it’s for the story to follow through. The series’ focus on its characters’ lives means that by almost any measure the story can’t really end — so while we hope for the few resolutions above, we want — and want the characters themselves, in the end — to be free.
To look toward the future, for once, beyond the ragged, tragic hindsight the show’s themes, and even title, so deftly evokes.
“Rectify” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SundanceTV.