The little series that could, “Rectify” is such a wispy construct, where events unfold so languidly, it’s a puzzle why the hours fly by and prove consistently compelling. Much of it has to do with the casting — which is dead-on from top to bottom, and indeed, gives the supporting players more work through the early stages of season two. Whatever the reasons, this SundanceTV drama, anchored by Aden Young’s out-of-body calm in the lead role, was one of 2013’s most pleasant surprises, and continues in that vein in this new 10-episode run.
Young plays Daniel Holden, whose imprisonment on death row for murder was overturned, and whose release back into the world, after 19 years, set all sorts of unexpected events into motion. That included the brutal assault on him that closed the first season, with the aftermath of that violence dominating the early stages here, as Daniel initially lays in a coma, while others in the small town grapple with what happened.
That’s not to say Young gets a vacation. Instead, viewers relive aspects of his prison stay through a mix of flashbacks and dream sequences, cutting between the stark white cell he occupied and the real world. The latter setting includes his concerned and angry sister (Abigail Spencer); their mother (J. Smith-Cameron); stepbrother Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), who works with dad (Bruce McKinnon) running the family business; and Ted Jr.’s wife (Adelaide Clemens), to whom Daniel is drawn, and vice versa.
Series creator Ray McKinnon manages to incorporate various elements associated with serialized drama into the narrative (such as the local sheriff, played by J.D. Evermore, investigating the beating), while infusing the show with poetic qualities, aided immeasurably by Young’s exquisite, tightly coiled performance. And it all unfolds so assiduously, sprinkling out story with an eye dropper, that the series might as well be subtitled “The Recapper’s Nightmare.”
“Everything out here is so complicated,” Daniel muses at one point, suggesting he remains bottled up, only in a different and more confusing sort of confinement.
Thanks to its tone, “Rectify” perfectly encapsulates a cable environment that makes this sort of niche offering possible. Indeed, the mind boggles at the thought of a broadcast-length season.
Sundance will eventually have to judge just how viable that model really is from a business perspective, but for now, the channel has a series that puts it on the map with the big boys, quality-wise. And in TV terms, that alone represents its own kind of breakout.