Season 3 of “Rectify” has felt a lot like saying goodbye. After Daniel Holden’s ordered banishment from his hometown of Paulie, the former inmate and his family have been forced to face the future. Daniel (Aden Young) has to decide where he’s going to go and what he’ll do when he gets there. Amantha (Abigail Spencer), his sister, has to figure out what her life will be like without Daniel at the center of it, and the show as a whole is honing in on who actually killed Hanna oh-so-many years ago.
With all that in mind, “Rectify” isn’t ending; at least, not yet. Showrunner Ray McKinnon has voiced his aims to end the series sooner rather than later, possibly within the next few years, but first fans are ready to savor the Season 3 finale. Airing Thursday night on SundanceTV, “The Source” will address many of the questions opened up throughout the first five episodes.
After watching last week’s penultimate entry, Indiewire spoke with McKinnon, Young and Spencer about where the show is headed both for Season 3 and overall. Below, the trio touches on the origins of Daniel’s exile, understanding characters who don’t fully understand themselves and when, why and how the critically-acclaimed series should end.
Aw, well, thanks. Diving right in, Daniel’s impending exile has been such a driving force for Season 3. Mr. McKinnon, where did that idea first come from?
Ray McKinnon: As bad as I can recall — my memory too is suspect — we were painted in a corner from Season 2 and we started researching options. We researched what could happen in a plea deal in Season 2, and the idea of banishment came up as one stipulation that you can banish someone from a county. We researched further, and in Georgia you can banish someone from the entire state — except for in one county — and that was really intriguing. I guess there had been gatherings of humans who have been banished, so […] that reality intrigued me on a whole host of levels.
Mr. Young, what was your first thought upon hearing about this new concept?
Aden Young: I knew it was certainly something that I had never heard about. Upon reading it, it’s almost Shakespearean or tragedian in the Greek sense. The beautiful thing about Ray is that everything that comes through with the writing is just spectacular. You know it is always going to be odd. It is just unpredictable in that regard. For me, it was not out of the ordinary, but at the same time it was certainly something that I had never heard of. It was something I was excited to move forward with and start exploring.
Spencer: I hated it!
Spencer: I didn’t like it at all. I was like, “What?” [laughs] That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. Why would you do a plea deal and then vanish?
McKinnon: Don’t worry, Ben. He’ll get to the state line, and then the Georgia State Patrol will stop him and say your banishment has been rescinded.
McKinnon: We’ll get him back to Paulie immediately.
Thank God. I’m glad you said that because the key thing I want to do in this interview is spoil the season finale for everybody.
Spencer: [laughs] You’re welcome.
Young: It doesn’t give that much away. You know I could say that “I did it.” That would give it away.
That is true. That is true.
Young: Yeah, so drop the other spoilers, just write that I did it.
McKinnon: No, don’t! The awards people get carried away with that.
Actually, that leads into a couple of questions that I was a little worried might be spoiler-y, so we might as well get them out of the bat right away. The first of which was Michael Vartan’s character, the man Amantha met when she was at her work conference and had a little fling with, but hasn’t resurfaced. Should fans expect him to come back for the season finale? Is there a longer term plan or is he a one-off thing?
McKinnon: Oh Ben, really? Really?
[laughs] I have to ask. People are curious.
McKinnon: What I liked about that plot line was — there are a lot of reasons — but the one thing is it felt, for me as a channel-er of Amanther — a co-channel-er now — it was very cathartic for her to go somewhere else and testify her experience outside of all those who knew her and to have that character affirm that experience to her and tell her it was amazing and unbelievable, and what an incredible person you are for doing what you did and she is. I loved going down that road, and that is all I will say about Mr. Botan.
Turning a bit to Amantha in particular. I feel like with her new job and the new — I don’t want to say “dedication” because that seems too strong — but maybe the seriousness she’s showing at work. Ms. Spencer, do you feel Amantha actually wants to keep this job, or is it just kind of the next thing in line since she has to turn away from being so involved with Daniel?
Spencer: I think with the interim it is something that she is good at. It’s kind of like in Episode 2 when Daniel says, “Chop wood, cherry water.” It’s like she is giving her own version of that. Also, it gives her a world away. Even though it is in Paulie, it gives her a world away form Daniel. It is something to keep her mind off of all that is going on and yet still ties her to [home]. I feel like if you are on a journey and you are in a transition, much like Daniel, he went back home, there is something about going back home to start over. I don’t know where Amantha is going to go next, but it feels like the right thing for right now.
Between Daniel, Amantha and Tawney, there has been a lot of arrested development addressed this season. Among the three of you, who do you feel needs to grow up the most, and who is actually the closest to doing so?
Young: I keep giving him cigarettes and shots, anything that will just shut that voice good.
McKinnon: I suppose what we are doing in some way is trying to reflect the human condition. Part of what interests me in exploring the human condition is, “Do people change? Can they change? What are some of the factors that cause that change?” From my experience and observing a lot of other people that often times that only happens — a transformational experience or shedding of the skin — happens when we are at the end of our road and there is pain involved. We have to change or we continue to live in that almost intolerable pain. All of these characters, all of them, have aspects of that. For some of the characters, it is more tolerable than others, depending on the depth of the pain and also their sensitivity to the pain. Taking that into consideration, you could make an argument for all of them. Certainly Daniel is the one with perhaps with the most incriminations of not changing could be the greatest, but you never know you have to quantify what the greatest is. I don’t know. Teddy has got a long way to go. We will find out a little later that old Ted Sr. is not in development, but needs to change and grow and that is the human condition.
Mr. Young, you spoke to this a little bit earlier, but it doesn’t feel like the most important thing in the show is finding out if Daniel actually did what he’s been accused of or not. It’s more about his journey. But do you think it is important for Daniel, as a person, to know whether or not he was guilty or innocent?
Young: I think that is one of the questions that appears in the show that is intriguing. It is momentum. Here you got this ghost who has returned to the land of the living, who has to find a way to move forward, to be a part of society, and at the same time as he commences that journey he also has to go backwards in order to understand what it was that affected his life so much.
Of course, he is more than curious as to what his role was on that evening. A simple recounting of that night, almost 20 years [later], as they say you know, he has gone over everything. As that memory has been replaced more, more and more, it is shifted. It is changed. Now, the doubt is questioning what was his role that evening. That doubt has been fed by Trey. That doubt has been fed by the reality of his actions and his impulses. He wonders whether or not he is that creature who could have possible taken and destroyed that woman’s life. It is a big question for the show. It is something that drives the intrigue of Daniel’s journey. How do I come to terms with perhaps never, ever, knowing whether or not I am guilty of that sort of behavior, that sort of monstrosity? I’m intrigued to see where it goes from here. I’m intrigued to see what his journey is toward either wanting to know the truth or coming to terms with the fact that he might never know the truth.
At this point in Season 3, it almost seems more important for Amantha to know the truth of what happened to Daniel, but at the same time I’m not really sure if she doubts his innocence or if she’s just upset he signed that plea deal saying he was guilty. Ms. Spencer, do you kind of have an idea of where she is at right now?
Spencer: No, on some levels I don’t know if Amantha knows where she is at right now, but she is in the midst of it. I think what is interesting about Amantha is that over the course of the 20 years that he was in prison, she was really just looking at the facts of the case. She was really just looking at if he was coerced and all of the other things that are a bit more objective. My instinct is that in her gut that she knows he didn’t do it; that he is innocent. It could also all be for not and that is also Amantha’s projection of just not wanting to live in fear that she gave her life to something that she potentially was wrong about. I think her instinct is that he is innocent, but she is starting to wonder. She says it and it is really, really, a slippery slope for her to walk, to even begin to wonder. Then there is the human element, whereas Daniel and Amantha are living together right now. They have to be brother and sister in this very tenuous transition that they are both in and meet each other for the first time. This is really the meeting of Amantha and Daniel as they are right now, without projection. I think that is really interesting too.
McKinnon: I think one thing Amantha is starting to do in this season is see Daniel for who he is, outside of what he may or may have not done, and who he is now. That is growth on her part because she is not projecting so much of her ideal of what she wants him to be but rather seeing what he is.
Young: I think that is true of a lot of the characters, though. If I was the cameraman on the show I would be absolutely exhilarated, because you got all these characters looking, facing their own reflection, as somebody who has shifted. None of the characters are coming from a place of wellness. They are coming from a place of real evaluation, and the camera gobbles that stuff up. Years ago, television was about a character who you knew exactly who he was, “Magnum PI” for example, but now so much has shifted. Now, we have these characters who constantly are having to change. With “Rectify” […] we never expected the day to come but now the day has come. What is tomorrow going to bring? It isn’t the tomorrow that everyone imagined.
With so much doubt and uncertainty in this season, has that presented any particular challenges for you as actors? Any difficult scene or moment because your character is so uncertain of what is going on or what they believe that perhaps that made it harder to convey or harder to push for a certain angle?
Young: The most difficult challenge is to stay focused on the intensity of the story that Daniel has to tell or that I have to tell through Daniel, through the writing. I suppose the biggest challenge is recognizing that thing within the framework of the episode itself and understanding where does this fit in the prose of the show’s beginning and 50 minutes later the show is over. What do those scenes mean within that? Maybe as an actor, I shouldn’t be concerned with that at all? Maybe I should only be concerned with the here and now of the character, but it doesn’t trait me to understand the atmosphere of what Ray is trying to achieve. That is always the biggest challenge for me, it is calibrating that to such a degree that it fits within what Ray is trying to say, and I am constantly fucking it up.
[laughs] I don’t agree with that, but—
Spencer: I, on the other hand, don’t find it challenging at all.
McKinnon: If you’re ever making a television show, don’t cast smart actors because they are just a pain in the ass. [laughs] The moment you start to bullshit them you’ve lost them, so you have to either know what you’re talking about or when you don’t talk to them.
It’s good advice.
McKinnon: If the water is fine, everyone has got to swim. [laughs]
I’ve read a few interviews with you, Mr. McKinnon, where you’ve stated you don’t necessarily want the show to go on much longer. You’ve already been renewed for Season 4, which is very exciting for everyone, including myself, but have you started to think about how you want to end the story at all?
McKinnon: Yes, that is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out the 20 hundred thousand little moments that lead up to that. It’s very difficult for me to tell a story that I can be somewhat satisfied with. I’m trying to enjoy this little bit of time off all at the same time. There is an underlying black terror in my heart.
So do you know how it is going to end right now?
McKinnon: I have an image of how it is going to end if we continue down this path. If we go forward, nothing is ever a guarantee, but yeah I have an image, that I see, that would be wonderfully sad to get to if that happens, but sad in a good way.
McKinnon: Maybe not sad. Maybe ifs.
Looking back on Season 3 as a whole, I was curious on how cutting back on the total number of episodes affected the final product? Did you feel that it really helped with your season as a whole or was that just an adjustment that was made to fit the story? How did going from 10 to six help or hurt you?
McKinnon: I don’t know, you know? Everybody has their own experience about this show and they will have that experience. I’m talking about the audience in terms of view. For me, people say “You make six episodes. I make 23.” For me it is more like I just made three movies in a year, the way I make these shows because I am a part of every stage of the process in the way a film director would be. Six was a lot, so I feel like I have my sanity or some of it — whatever I brought into it. This season and last season was for me, for the wimp that I am, was too much for this show.