“I felt like [in Season 1] we had six episodes to tell a story. We didn’t know if we’d have any more episodes to tell [it]. That wasn’t guaranteed, and I just felt like let’s not have any regrets. Let’s tell the story that we want to tell, that I want to tell, and not feel like we became afraid and were pandering. Having more stories, I don’t know. I don’t know if it serves this particular story to have more episodes. It’s a different kind of animal.”
It should come as no surprise that “Rectify” creator Ray McKinnon is a thoughtful, self-aware individual. Speaking to Indiewire last year before the Season 2 premiere, Mr. McKinnon shared the above thoughts about whether he would have made Season 1 longer, if given the option. At the time, he was finishing editing the ninth episode of the upcoming season; a season that was given an expansion from six episodes in the first year to 10 in the second. For Season 3, it’s been cut back down to six, but don’t think of it as a demotion. “Rectify” is merely rediscovering its roots.
Somewhere along the exquisitely drawn character arcs in “Rectify” Season 2, the details began to overwhelm the meaning behind them. Scenes started to feel superfluous without ever being irrelevant. It’s a specific distinction to make, as the show never felt as lost as its central character — Daniel’s (Aden Young) existential exploration was always on point while Tawney, Teddy and Ted’s discoveries felt prolonged. But it did begin to bog down, while still using many of the same elements that once made it distinct and even riveting.
Born with a tone and pace all its own, “Rectify” felt instantly of a unique and singular mentality. Part of that reading certainly came from spending so much time in Daniel Holden’s mind, or from watching others try to understand what was going on within it. But in the second half of Season 2, we were watching how the actions of others could affect Daniel’s future, rather than how they actually affected Daniel.
McKinnon quickly ties a bow on that issue to kick off Season 3. Without spoiling last year’s cliffhanger ending — it’s Indiewire policy to avoid major spoilers in season reviews — the new season immediately addresses the big questions while simultaneously connecting two key characters. Daniel, of course, remains at the core of the series, but Clayne Crawford’s Teddy takes a big step forward in the first two episodes of Season 3. More importantly, the two lonely men begin to parallel each other in intriguing and purposeful ways.
“Rectify” doesn’t sharply shift gears for its new season. Rather, it matches the actions of its characters. Daniel, Teddy, Tawney and more members of the Holden family are on missions of self-discovery. Each is set on their own path, piecing together new ideas from the past, and the show follows suit. Episode 1, “Hoorah,” feels like an extension of last season, but with the suppressed nature of this Southern family — a device used to extend drama in Season 2, as the Holdens were often too polite to lay issues out in black and white — finally giving way to the more immediate needs of both the characters and the audience.
The boldest new injection comes via flashback, a consistently and effectively utilized path into Daniel’s headspace. While reflecting on one of the more mentally taxing moments of his stay in prison, Daniel imagines a baser version of himself responding to the damaging treatment during his time on death row. It’s a shocking scene, and one that seems as fresh as it is reactionary to the discoveries he made while under interrogation in the Season 2 finale.
Yet the most promising examples of what’s to come arrive during Episode 2, as Daniel is literally confronted with the idea of what to do next. His answer is equally charming, alarming and telling. Viewers may grin and giggle at Daniel’s simple-minded worldview, but — as usual — his choices hold more meaning than society typically assigns them. So do Teddy’s, if for opposite reasons. It’s in this fractured connection, forming a fascinating parallel, that “Rectify” seems to have found its focus for Season 3. McKinnon’s story is evolving, and — through two episodes of the new season — it seems more in line with what suits this particular story. It’s a different kind of animal, but the product of two we’ve met before.
“Rectify” Season 3 premieres Thursday at 10pm on SundanceTV.