Judge Clark Douglas ain't had any supper yet, but he aims to rectify that.
Sentenced to die. Condemned to live.
"I know you didn't do it."
Facts of the Case
Daniel Holden (Aden Young, Killer Elite) has just been released from prison after spending nineteen years on death row. Back in the early '90s, Daniel had been convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl. However, recent DNA evidence has suggested that Daniel either wasn't responsible or wasn't the only person responsible. Daniel attempts to return to normal life in his small Georgia hometown, but that proves to be a more challenging process than he anticipated. In addition to the fact that Daniel has two decades of technological advances to cope with, a large portion of the town is still convinced that he's guilty—even some of his own family members.
Full disclosure: I may be a little bit biased when it comes to this show, as it was shot in my hometown of Griffin, Georgia. However, I like to think I know good television when I see it, and this is good television. It's hardly the first film or television production to be shot in our little town, but it's easily the best. Additionally, it's a show which takes full advantage of some of the city's signature locations, using them to create a show steeped in distinctive atmosphere. Spotting a number of familiar locations ("Hey, there's our little breakfast diner! Hey, there's my optometrist's office! Hey, there's the place where I get my oil changed!") felt a bit surreal at first, but it was remarkable how quickly I began to forget that I was seeing Griffin and begin to see the fictional town of Paulie, Georgia. Creator Ray McKinnon has played large supporting roles on two acclaimed cable dramas: Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy. Like both of those programs, Rectify works very hard to establish a real sense of place.
The program marks The Sundance Channel's first serious attempt to get into the scripted drama business, and the ad campaign heavily promoted the fact that the series was "from the producers of Breaking Bad." If you're expecting that sort of white-knuckle thrill ride, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Rectify feels like a more grounded, down-to-earth variation on Twin Peaks; a mystery-fueled drama which isn't as interested in who the real murderer is as it is in the lives of its characters and the world they inhabit. It moves at a slow, reflective pace, only allowing the central plot (to the degree that there is one) to unfold one tiny piece at a time. Those seeking sensationalistic thrills are better off looking elsewhere, but Rectify's commitment to delivering thoughtful, character-driven drama permits it to stand out amidst an increasingly large crowd of ambitious cable shows. It fits comfortably with the small, smart, ambitious independent films which populate The Sundance Channel.
The fact that the series is more grounded than Twin Peaks doesn't mean it avoids the surreal. The fifth episode begins with one of the strongest sequences of the season; a portrait of a long, strange night Aden spends with a colorful figure known only as "The Goat Man" (W. Earl Brown, Deadwood). We're never given much of a definitive explanation of who he is or what he's up to, but it doesn't matter, because A) Brown absolutely commands the screen for the duration of his appearance and B) it's clear that the character—who may or may not be real—is primarily intended to symbolize some of Daniel's most pressing inner conflicts. McKinnon trusts the viewer enough to let them figure things out for themselves, as the show never goes out of its way to hold the audience's hand or gracelessly over-accentuate a particular point. On certain occasions, the show is able to make certain moments linger with us by—ironically enough—refusing to linger on them. There's a shocking event which happens at the conclusion of the penultimate episode which is never directly commented on during the season finale, yet its reverberations can be felt everywhere.
The cast is exceptional from top to bottom, but it's primarily a showcase for Young. The role was initially intended for Walton Goggins, but the actor became unavailable when Justified turned his colorful guest appearance into something much larger. Young has a much lower profile, but proves a terrific fit for the role, managing to make us feel both great sympathy for this downtrodden character while still offering just enough menace to make us wonder if Daniel really is guilty. It's one of the quietest and most complex central performances currently on television. Elsewhere, I was particularly impressed with Abigail Spencer (Mad Men) as Daniel's intelligent, stressed-out sister and Clayne Crawford (The Perfect Host) as his suspicious step-brother. There's a potent guest appearance from Hal Holbrook (All the President's Men) as a retired attorney and a small-but-crucial supporting turn from Sean Bridgers (Deadwood) as a character who will likely be of even greater importance as the series progresses (and it will indeed progress: it's been renewed for a second season).
The DVD transfer is solid, though I'm quite disappointed that the series didn't merit a Blu-ray release. Still, props to the folks at Anchor Bay for delivering some nifty packaging (the DVD case includes a slipcover which places Daniel's face inside a prison cell window). Detail is strong throughout, blacks are deep and brighter colors have a lot of pop (though this is largely a show with a somewhat muted palette). The Dolby 5.1 Surround track gets the job done nicely, faring particularly well when the smartly-chosen soundtrack selections come into play (a Sharon Van Etten tune which concludes the first episode is particularly well-used). Supplements are limited to some clip-heavy EPK-style featurettes: "Sundance on Set: Rectify," "Meet the Cast," "Inside Job: Behind the Scenes," "Inside the Episode with Ray McKinnon" and "Behind the Screen."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Again, it's slow going. Not much happens plot-wise over the course of these six episodes, and very little has been resolved by the season finale. This will undoubtedly frustrate some viewers, but again, this isn't a plot-driven program. It's beautifully-crafted, but expect something closer to the films of Jeff Nichols or the early work of David Gordon Green than to The Killing or other murder mystery dramas.
Rectify is an understated, ambitious program which matches the quality level of other cable heavy hitters while simultaneously establishing its own distinctive voice. I can't wait to see what McKinnon cooks up next time around.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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