Imagining an ending to “Rectify” may be one of the most difficult propositions for any TV fan, writer or creator. Instinctively, people want answers in finales (if not sooner). They want closure. They want satisfaction. But SundanceTV’s first wholly-owned original series has always been about the journey. After all, it started well after the event that changed the main character’s life. It’s about what comes next; what happens after; how life goes on, no matter what.
So how do you end a show like that?
“I found what I believed to be the most truthful stoppage of the story,” Ray McKinnon, the creator, director and executive producer of “Rectify” told IndieWire. “Because it’s going to continue to go on in some unseen way.”
In a past interview, McKinnon said he had an “image of how it’s going to end,” one he’d been sitting with for two years. But that changed when it came time to write that last script.
“The conclusion that I found that felt right was not the one that I had an image of two years ago,” McKinnon said. “That didn’t happen, really, until late in the process. It was different. But it felt right.”
That’s all we’ll say and all McKinnon wants to say regarding the rapidly approaching “Rectify” series finale, because neither of us would want to distract from the season leading up to it. McKinnon, who at the time of our interview had just started editing the final year, said he was “cautiously pessimistic, as is my nature,” about Season 4. While fans have no need to worry, such feelings are understandable considering the big changes in store for Daniel Holden and his family.
After agreeing to a plea deal that shipped him out of Paulie, his hometown, the final season begins with Daniel starting anew in Nashville, and the first two episodes split focus accordingly: Episode 1, “A House Divided,” follows Daniel (Aden Young) while Episode 2, “Yolk,” is dedicated to Amantha (Abigail Spencer), Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and the rest of the Holden/Talbot clan.
Though inherently worried, McKinnon saw the change as “exciting,” as well.
“We took the number one character in our show, and we pulled him from the epicenter of that ensemble,” McKinnon said. “That, for me, is exciting because the challenge to continue to be unconventional, to be fresh, when you’re dealing with an ensemble of seven people was starting to become difficult in Season 3. Now he’s around this whole new group of people. So the audience is going to have to engage and get to know a different group of people on his journey.”
“And the same goes for the people back in Paulie: How do they fill that void? What we found is when we pulled [Daniel] away, they have the opportunity for the first time ever — Amantha and Janet in particular — to see really where they are in their own lives; whether they’re happy or unhappy and whether they’ll do something about it.”
“The whole season became symbolically about all of these characters, in their own ways, unencumbering themselves from the past because, as human beings, we all are weighed down and influenced by our past. Their collective past is a kind of weight that most people don’t experience.”
McKinnon also drew inspiration from visiting Nashville before production began on the final season. Calling it “a brave new world for us,” McKinnon found fresh storylines in Project Return, a non-profit organization that helps ex-offenders find employment, as well as an artist cooperative; both of which play into Daniel’s new life on his own.
“It was unbelievably inspiring,” McKinnon said about Project Return. “There are so few resources to deal with ex-offenders when they get out. It’s like, ‘See you in about two years. Good luck!’ This place, their first tenant is, ‘Let us help you find work, because if you don’t find work, you’re gonna be in trouble.’ That was a big inspiration for the whole season.”
Helping people by seeing their shared similarities as opposed to their stark differences is important to McKinnon. When asked what he hopes fans remember about “Rectify” when the series wraps in December, the creator sums up his vastly thought-provoking series with impeccable clarity.
“I think we live in a world where we tend to put people in boxes. We’re not looking at each other’s humanity enough. And ‘Rectify,’ hopefully, has allowed people to look at a group of small town people in a more complex way than they’re often portrayed.”
“When I go back to my hometown, I’m continually reminded that even though we may think differently on some issues, there’s a common humanity there. That’s what we need to continue to seek out in each other, and hopefully ‘Rectify’ has brought that out in some way.”
SundanceTV airs new episodes of “Rectify” Wednesdays at 9 p.m.