There are moments spread across “Rectify’s” three magnificent seasons that stand out by blending in. Remembering the series is remembering a tone; a feeling; eternity in an instant. For this admiring critic, it’s a static shot of an empty baseball diamond, except for one man sitting in the outfield, or a bar populated by two lovers with more on their minds than each other. For you, it could be any number of scenes filled with more thoughts than words; implications over action; anything that stands out beyond its placement in the plot.
Season 4 features dozens of similar moments within its first two episodes, especially in the first hour spent solely with Daniel Holden (Aden Young). But it also packs a sense of urgency, as though all that time dwelling on the stuff in the basement (as some have described it) has lead to this moment: acceptance or rejection; progress or regression; life or death. As we’ve paced alongside Daniel for three years, dwelling on life’s larger objectives with him, it’s a sight “Rectify” fans have been happily waiting to see. And the beginning of the final season is a sight to see, indeed.
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Throughout three magnificent seasons, “Rectify” has served as a contemplative examination of identity, focusing on a man, his family and one night’s profound effect on them all. After being tried and convicted of raping and killing a local girl named Hanna when he was 18 years old, Daniel was released from death row on DNA evidence after 19 years behind bars — meaning he spent more of his life in prison than out of it.
Daniel makes quite a compelling lead figure for the introspective and politically astute SundanceTV original, but — just two pitch-perfect episodes into the final season — one can see how the series has shaped the notion of self through pairings. Even for a program that spent far more time with one man sitting alone and silent, thinking over his choices, desires and purpose, Daniel has been seeking to understand the importance of and inescapably trying to form connections with individuals on the outside since he became a free man, and that quest is about to reach its head.
Early on, Daniel shared a romantic link with Tawny (Adelaide Clemons), Daniel’s sister-in-law. His sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), has been tied so firmly to Daniel she lost herself while fighting for her brother. Last season saw a long-percolating feud finally surface between Daniel and Teddy (Clayne Crawford), Tawny’s husband and Daniel’s step-brother. Each pairing unveiled something new about Daniel, but the quiet, timid and guilt-ridden ex-con remained trapped in a bubble difficult for his family to comprehend, even when they were the only ones trying.
Season 4, which marks the all-too-soon end of “Rectify’s” distinguished run, finds a fresh thematic connection for Daniel while simultaneously setting him free from past complications. More importantly, it gives Daniel an impeccably astute voice rarely heard before and never this magnified. Hitting after a three-year wait in Episode 1, Daniel’s articulation of his inner struggles provides a clear mission statement for the end just as it pulls back yet another curtain on this fascinating character, and thus the penetrating series built around him.
“I’m not sure anyone, unless they’ve gone through it, can truly understand how profound that loss is,” Daniel says. “It’s like the psychic glue that glues your whole existence together is gone. You become unglued.”
Sparing more details for fear of tarnishing Aden Young’s well-crafted cadence and heartfelt overall performance, Daniel is finally given the chance to explain his inner pain to someone who might be able to understand. His move to Nashville and residence in a halfway house filled with other former inmates (both motivated by court order last season) provide the opportunity for progress proven unobtainable back home. But it’s up to Daniel to get there, and watching him try is immensely rewarding.
In Paulie, GA, the rest of the Holden and Talbots are seeing similar freedoms — save one. While Amantha may remain frustrated in her status as Teddy and Tawny struggle to save their marriage, Janet (J. Smith Cameron), Daniel’s mother, is struggling to see things clearly when her son has been taken away once more. Again, he can’t come home. Again, she must travel to see him. Again, he’s been removed from her life. Janet serves as the only bridge between the two episodes, and her connection with Daniel will clearly define more than their independent arcs this year.
At one point, both characters question reality, specifically using the word “real” in resounding context. The scenes stand out, driving the story forward and powerfully bridging the gap between “Rectify” and its audience. We’ve all been there, one way or another. And while we may not share the specific plight of these characters, everyone will feel a profound loss when Daniel’s story draws to a close.