This was posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 on Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
"Rectify" is the most captivating show not a lot of people have seen. Why? It's on Sundance, which is a sister station to AMC with only a fraction of the distribution. And it's not a high-pitch drama. It's about what's not said as much as what is said. It draws viewers in slowly - if they allow it.
Shot mostly in and around Griffin, "Rectify" begins its fourth season and final eight-episode journey on Wednesday, October 26 at 10. It follows Daniel Holden, a haunted man released from death row after 19 years on a technicality, a man unsure of his own innocence or guilt. The series follows not just his story but those of his family members and townsfolk who had believed for a time that he was destined for death.
Holden (played with a melancholic depth by Aden Young) eventually confessed to the death and was set free on the condition he never return to Georgia. This season, he lives in a halfway home in Nashville, a place for recently released ex-convicts to find their way in society again.
The home is based on an actual program in Nashville that creator Ray McKinnon visited. "It's extraordinarily heartening," he said on set in Griffin this spring. "Also baffling as to why there aren't more of these."
The first episode airing tonight is focused exclusively on Daniel's adjustment without his family. He's lost. He's distant. He barely speaks above a whisper to his new boss at the warehouse; Avery, the man in charge of the house; or his suspicious housemates. He isn't sure he even deserves to be alive or free or anything at all. When someone asks him his name, he says, "It doesn't matter."
Avery in the episode helps Daniel break through that wall.
"Maybe you ought to lean the other way for awhile," Avery tells Daniel. "That you didn't do it."
In episode two, the scene shifts back to Paulie and the sadness of Daniel's absence (again) pervades the Holden household. And the case still isn't closed as the local sheriff continues to try to piece things together.
McKinnon, a Georgia native and actor, poured his heart and soul writing, directing and producing this series over four years. Critics embraced it. The UGA Peabody's gave the show its highest honor. And the small coterie of fans kept the torch up for a show that hopefully will gain more audience over time on Netflix, where the first three seasons reside.
Every year, he said it's "controlled panic" as he frantically finishes post production on the season. This year is different because once he's finished, he is truly done.
At the same time, McKinnon said, "it doesn't change the fact we have to figure out the best episodes we can. That's always a huge challenge. That doesn't get any easier. There is no formula for 'Rectify.' "
"I'm also aware that these are the last times I'll be spending with these fictional people that have become very dear to me," he said. "It's a complicated experience. It's time to say goodbye to them fictionally and I feel good about it. I hope we can create a satisfying last season for our fans."
For himself, "I feel like the characters will continue to go on in some level in my subconscious."
McKinnon liked the idea of placing Daniel in a new location and interact with new people. That includes not just the halfway house and the warehouse but also a cool art collective and a lovely artist named Chloe who finds him instantly intriguing.
"I broke the laws of serial storytelling," he said, "when I took the lead character and placed him completely out of the repertory."
And the art cooperative, also inspired by a real one in Nashville, seems like a natural home for Daniel. "He appreciates beauty. He appreciates the best of what humanity could produce. He's drawn to it."
In Paulie, McKinnon noted, everyone was projecting their own feelings and thoughts on Daniel. In Nashville, he is able to start anew and try to let go of some of that past.
"He's being projected back more of what people are really experiencing with him," McKinnon said. "He has an opportunity to really see who he is. It's a different kind of experience for him."
The existential question of whether he can make it in this world remains. "It just takes different kinds of turns," he said. "And hopefully by the end of the season, we'll know if he can make it. We don't know yet."
Meanwhile, back in Paulie, "everyone there too is trying to unencumber themselves of the weight of the past. Some will succeed by degrees more than others. Some people just get stuck and stay stuck."
Daniel's mom Janet has a hard time letting go of the past with tangible memories remaining in the attic. Her relationship with Ted Sr. is still strained. Teddy Jr. (who has gone through perhaps the biggest transformation of them all) and Tawney struggle to figure out if their coupling is worth uncoupling - or not.
"They’re continuing to grow individually if not together," McKinnon said.
And Daniel's sister Amantha remains adrift without purpose, managing Thrifty Town and smoking copious amounts of pot. But maybe that's not a bad thing. "It's the first time since Amantha was 12 that she hasn't been on high alert," he said. "She's enjoying not being on point all the time."
In the end, the name of the show fits the thematics throughout its 30 episodes. "That word 'rectify' is to make things right," McKinnon said. "We have a human need to do that, which is not a bad impulse. It also leads to misue. You try to make things right the first time even if it isn't. I read statistics. Fifty percent of murders go unsolved. Things don't always get rectified. That's sad but true."
Despite the pain and agony of creating "Rectify," McKinnon has no regrets.
"It's been the most gratifying creative endeavor I've ever taken on," he said. "By far. I'm mentally gratified by the creative process. It's been very difficult. It's been very challenging. You feel the pressure of trying to make it work and feeling totally unqualified that someone was willing to invest money in you. I felt like, 'Holy s***!" I better give it my best shot!' It's beyond my expectations on a creative level when I can separate myself from the anxiety of trying to pull it off."
And the actors themselves felt transformed. "I don't know if anything will come close to the experience I had here," said Bruce McKinnon, a veteran actor who played Ted Sr.
For McKinnon, he is keeping his slate clean right now for the future.
"There's nothing really in front of me," he said. "I can just go off and see how the wind blows. Read a book. Listen to birds. I like the idea of not knowing and just being still and listening. Maybe where I'm going to be led to next will reveal itself maybe on its own or I'll start panicking and go find a job!"
Esteemed TV critic Maureen Ryan in Variety wrote a lovely piece about the show, summarizing it thusly:
By being so careful about how it depicts the characters’ emotional states, and by giving each important moment and connection room to reverberate, “Rectify” also allows the audience to go on an exceptional journey. It may be the least manipulative show on the air, but when its characters feel something — whether it’s relief, sadness, wonder or despair — that mental and spiritual energy almost bleeds right through the screen. It’s not just a show that depicts Southerners with dignity; it’s not just a show that inhabits small-town life without an ounce of condescension; and it’s not just a show that examines the effects of violence and incarceration with realism and compassion. Those are just a few of the rare and admirable aspects of the Sundance drama, but its biggest accomplishment may be that it remains so grounded and clear-eyed while being, at times, more a state of mind than a TV show.
"Rectify," 10 p.m. Wednesdays, starting October 26 on Sundance