TV Review: ‘Rectify,’ Season 3

'Rectify' Begins Another Hypnotic Season on
Courtesy of Sundance TV

Again plodding along at a near-hypnotic pace, “Rectify” begins its third season almost exactly where the second left off, and that’s a good thing. Awash in critical acclaim, this deeply rich and provocative drama remains a standout for its little-seen home SundanceTV, even warranting a pre-return marathon on big brother AMC. While that’s unlikely to translate into much of a ratings boost for a series so steeped in pain and sadness, it’s a welcome endorsement of a show that offers further proof great dramas are coming from an extremely wide variety of sources.

Just to recap, season two ended with Daniel Holden (Aden Young), the walking embodiment of coiled feelings and cordoned-off emotions, agreeing to a plea deal in the case that had put him on death row for 19 years, despite his apparent innocence. Weary from the struggle, he’s hoping to spare his family and perhaps find a fresh start elsewhere, although the motivations of the bureaucrats with whom he’s dealing aren’t necessarily to be trusted.

At the same time, Daniel’s act of aggression against Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), the son of Daniel’s stepfather, risks coming back to haunt him and unsettle the family. And there’s the little matter of the strained relationship between Ted and his wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), to whom Daniel was inexorably drawn almost as soon as he was released from prison.

Finally, there’s Daniel’s long-suffering mother (J. Smith-Cameron) and sister (Abigail Spencer), who have labored to defend and free him, and now face the deflating prospect of having him admit his guilt — or really, in his own mixed-up mind, culpability. Those long-ago events surrounding the murder haven’t entirely remained buried, despite Daniel’s riveting account of what happened at the close of season two.

Anchoring everything is Young’s remarkable work in the lead role, playing a man whose impassive demeanor only occasionally hints at his inner turmoil, illustrated in part through the judicious use of flashbacks to his time in prison. When he says to a mother and child on a playground, “I’m nobody to be worried about,” you believe him, but could hardly blame the woman for taking the kid and leaving nevertheless.

Created by Ray McKinnon (who wrote the Stephen Gyllenhaal-directed premiere), “Rectify” remains a master class in nuance — in small looks and long pauses that say more than pages of dialogue, where even a trip to the local convenience store fosters a sense of unease. In that respect, the series is frequently deceptive in terms of how much the story advances from week to week, since it regularly feels like not much is happening.

Sundance has delivered some admirable limited series, but its attempts to follow this show with additional dramas have been uneven, reflecting just how difficult it is to approximate this indie-film niche in episodic form.

After seeking to adjust to life on the outside, Daniel’s journey has taken turns that could hardly have been anticipated, and it’s frankly tough to foresee where the show goes from here, or for how long. Still, “Rectify” has established itself as a trip worth taking, and for a discriminating few, at least, the protagonist’s slow road to redemption remains an utterly absorbing one.

TV Review: 'Rectify,' Season 3

(Series; SundanceTV, Thurs. July 9, 10 p.m.)


Filmed in Georgia by Gran Via Prods. and Sundance TV Studios.


Executive producers, Ray McKinnon, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein; co-executive producer, Marshall Persinger; producer, Colin Walsh; director, Stephen Gyllenhaal; writer, McKinnon; camera, Patrick Cady; production designer, Hugh D.G. Moody II; editor, Christopher Cibelli; music, Gabriel Mann; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. 60 MIN.


Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith Cameron, Luke Kirby, Clayne Crawford, Adelaide Clemens, Bruce McKinnon, Jake Austin Walker, Michael O’Neill

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  1. chuck bower says:

    I happened on the show by accident in season one and am so glad I did. I can’t wait for season 4 to begin, if there is going to be one.

  2. portlandmike says:

    I love this series. I would never call it “plodding.” To me it stands alone. If ever there was a series that proclaimed the this is The Golden Age of made for TV dramas, then this is it. I have watched every episode at least twice… I marvel at the density, the complexity, the wonderful acting and directing.

    • eightiesbaby says:

      Rectify truly does stand alone. I love many shows currently airing but this one is in a whole different class. It’s never “plodding”. Hypnotic, languid, meditative? Yes, yes and yes. But plodding?

      Can’t wait to slip back into Rectify’s world tomorrow.

  3. loboloco says:

    One of the best series on television today, if not of all time. It is steeped in pain and sadness but it’s not a relentless misery fest where terrible events are piled onto even more terrible events (like the latest seasons of GoT and True Detective). That’s only part of what makes the series so good. Those moments of sadness and those of joy and hope cut so deeply.

    I feel like I know these characters. Can’t think of a single 2D, stock character in the bunch. There’s an amazing sense of history and meaning between everyone and the town as a whole that the writing pulls off in such brief, subtle scenes. It’s a true testament to the awesome writing, acting, directing, etc.

    Still don’t understand those who feel the series is “plodding”, “slow” or feel that “nothing happens”. I suppose because it’s a true character driven piece. IMO, most shows need to slow the hell down and just breathe. On Rectify, so much happens within, and between, the characters every episode. It packs so many existential, philosophical, religious and sociological questions into every episode. I find myself pondering all the themes for the entire week and beyond – chatting with the few people who watch it about everything from redemption to the concept of time to the judicial system and the treatment of juveniles within it.

    Rectify is absolutely grade-A, fantastic TV and frequently a transcendent experience. Glad it seems to maintain the same quality in the upcoming season. I’d apologize for the length of this comment expect I want to shout from the rooftops “WATCH THIS SHOW”!

  4. 1bmwdrvr1 says:

    This is not a review of season 3. It is damming with faint praise, by a blowhard.

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