The best show you probably didn’t watch comes to an emblematically understated, and beautiful, conclusion.
Way more people have helped me than harmed me. The harm just seems to leave a deeper mark.
At the end of “All I’m Sayin'”, Rectify’s super-sized series finale, justice has not quite been achieved for the Holden-Talbot clan. They’re on the way there, sure: there’s the DA on the television, newly converted Sheriff Daggett by her side, announcing the opening of an “official inquiry” into the murder of Hanna Dean. The entire town looks on in stunned silence (the corrupt Senator Foulkes, of course, couldn’t speak if he wanted to), and at least one guilty and/or complicit party realizes their days are numbered. But we never get to learn just what happened, or happens, or even if Daniel will have his record expunged. We can intimate, we can hope, but that’s all.
That’s the point, of course, and the only way Rectify could have ended. All we ever need is hope, and opportunity for our own personal redemption. Daniel, isolated all season in Nashville, has been chafing against the “low expectations” his new life has set for him; he doesn’t just want to load boxes and take home an $8/hr paycheck and deal with a parole officer for the rest of his life. Now that he’s not just off of Death Row, but away from his hometown and everything familiar, he’s realizing that for the first time, he has a shot at a future. That there might be a woman who loves him. His mother, Janet, thought he might become a writer; he still can.
But there’s still a depressing familiarity in this new cycle of meetings and partings; when Chloe packs up and leaves without a proper goodbye, Daniel ruefully remarks to Amantha: “Don’t get attached to people. There’s a downside.” Everyone you meet will eventually leave you, it goes. One day, you’ll hear the footsteps of the guards, and your only real friend in your bleak, otherwise solitary existence will be gone. It would be natural for Daniel to be cynical about the world, and the injustices he’s suffered, and keep himself closed off. But that’s not who he truly is, and that’s also not the kind of show Rectify is. His roommate, Mr. Pickle, sums it up thusly: “When was the last time you felt disappointed because you hoped for something?” Belief, even when it doesn’t come to pass, is a good thing, because it means you’re looking outside yourself. You’re taking the risk of being human.
Daniel’s release from prison didn’t break his family apart. He was just the hammer to the nail that was already working its way in, deep. Teddy and Tawney were already unhappy in their marriage. Ted and Janet had gone decades without addressing their issues. Amantha finally being freed of her own Sisyphean existence — her and Jon’s tireless work to get her brother out — just highlighted how aimless she was without it. Only Jared, sweet, “grew up way too fast for this show that all happens within a calendar year” Jared, was relatively secure, because he simply didn’t exist when it all first happened.
As recently as last week’s episode, the jury was still out as to whether they would get put back together again. But in “All I’m Sayin,” which unfolded as a series of two-handers, usually with one character giving a quiet soliloquy and another intently listening, we see the first strands of reunification. A look of genuine kindness between Ted and Tawney — their marriage may be over, but their friendship isn’t. Jon’s goodbye to Amantha. Janet’s unexpected reconciliation with Hanna’s mother, who is openly glad that Daniel now has a chance for a full life. They’re all looking backwards, reevaluating their lives and their choices.
But later, as we see the Holden-Talbots in the near-empty tire store (plus Billy and the well-meaning Melvin, who entered “at his own risk”), that shot of them staring at the television hits like a brick. “Nothing will rectify what happened,” Amantha had told her mother that morning. “It won’t bring back Hanna, or Dad, or my 18-year-old brother.” But watching the DA’s announcement, for one moment at least, and as a sign of many more to time, they all looked forward.
Creator Ray McKinnon, who earned both script and directing credit for the finale, doesn’t betray his show’s innate Rectify-ness by delivering an ending too saccharine or clear-cut. The additional length Sundance TV afforded him doesn’t go to more plot, or more surprise revelations — just to more small, raw moments of emotion. I loved Janet completing her great “Unburdening” by finally telling her daughter what she desperately needed to hear: “You’re my hero, young lady.” Amantha’s perfect response: “God, mom. I’m not that young.”
And perhaps no one has gone through a bigger transformation since Rectify’s beginning than Teddy, now matured enough not just to give empathy and an apology to his step-brother, but hand the phone over to Tawney unrequested. Tawney, like Daniel largely off on an island this season, is on the verge of her own transformative epilogue with Doctors Without Borders. But it’s her tumultuous journey to a more authentic faith that became its own reward, and any hint at reuniting her with Daniel would have felt like a cheat.
As for Daniel himself, so brilliantly played for four seasons by Aden Young (I could spend another thousand words singing the praises of the entire cast…Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford, J. Smith-Cameron, Adelaide Clemens, and on and on… but I’ve done it before), his own moment of clarity comes in recalling the final moments of his former “neighbor,” Kerwin. He had girded himself to be strong for his friend as Kerwin was led away, but he tells his therapist that in the end, too overcome to turn and face him, “he was the one who was strong for me.”
Until recently, Daniel had felt wholly unworthy of the faith people had in him. Kerwin knew Daniel was innocent because he knew Daniel as a person, but Daniel didn’t really know himself. Now, he’s beginning to. “Here I am still, for some reason. And me not knowing that reason doesn’t disprove it or invalidate it.” Instead of guilt, he now feels a responsibility to make a real life for himself, and show that all the work others have done to give him back that life wasn’t in vain. The past can’t be rewritten, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. And you don’t have to have shared Daniel’s experiences to take that lesson to heart.
I loved Rectify, in all its messy ambiguity. This wasn’t a typical recap, because Rectify wasn’t a typical show. From beginning to sun-dappled, dreamlike, beguiling end, I found it entrancing and deeply moving. I don’t know if there will ever be another series like it.