Aden Young didn’t garner an Emmy nomination for “Rectify,” but after Thursday’s second-season finale, is it too late to put knighthood on the table? The SundanceTV series has already been renewed for a third season, and thank the Lord for that, given the untidy nature of how the latest cliffhanger wrapped up. But after its fleeting six-episode introduction, the second has made clear that series creator Ray McKinnon’s tightly constructed drama was no fluke, but rather deserving of a seat alongside TV’s best.
The central moment in the finale (and SPOILER ALERT, by all means, if you haven’t watched) involved Aden’s Daniel meeting with authorities, ostensibly to offer a plea agreement that would finally put to rest the murder that placed him on death row for 19 tortured years, before his belated liberation. Yet as “Rectify” has made clear time and again, there are all kinds of prisons, and Daniel remains housed in one, even if he’s ostensibly free to move about.
Daniel’s non-confession, finally relating his version of what transpired on that fateful day, was absolutely riveting, inducing a kind of paralysis. His interaction with the dead girl, and abuse at the hands of an ambitious prosecutor (between this show and “Extant,” Michael O’Neill has had a busy summer playing A-holes), only made his situation more tragic and poignant, and in Young’s performance one could practically see the character’s younger self pleading – if he just gave the answer his interrogators wanted – to go home and see his father.
Frankly, that scene alone would have been worth the price of admission, or at least Sundance’s part of a monthly cable bill. But there were several other terrific exchanges within the extended episode, starting with Daniel’s revelations to Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), his stepbrother’s wife; and his interaction (both past and present) with his sister (Abigail Spencer), whose steadfast advocacy on her brother’s behalf has understandably left her at her wit’s end.
“Rectify’s” quiet power, in some respects, mirrors “Breaking Bad,” with which it shares producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein. But while both possess a bracing strain of serialized unpredictability, this show’s deliberate pacing makes its ability to hold an audience (at least, the small audience it has) especially impressive, since — despite moving at what’s actually a pretty rapid clip in terms of story — it can feel like so little is happening. Hence my nickname for the series, “The Recapper’s Nightmare.”
“Breaking Bad” was a late bloomer ratings-wise, but even with rhapsodic word of mouth, it’s hard to envision “Rectify” ever approaching that level; still, McKinnon’s creation has solidify SundanceTV’s profile, investing the AMC sibling with the enhanced credibility a celebrated original series can bring. Put another way, if you religiously watch the program, could you find the channel number for Sundance on your cable or satellite provider before you began?
That might not be the precise definition of “rectify,” but in TV terms, it’s pretty close.