Rectify: Season 1
It would appear that every cable networks both premium tier and basic have entered the highly competitive realm of original series programming. With HBO and Showtime in the vanguard of the trend swiftly followed by Starz, AMC, F/X and SyFy both it is not over yet. The network devoted to the very best in independent film, the Sundance Channel has tossed their offering into the mix with exceptional results. ‘Rectify’. In keeping with the spirit of the independent film movement this series takes a premise that has been overdone in the mainstream but presented it reimagined, revised and reinvigorated as if it was an Indy film suitable to lead off the buzz of any Indy showcase festival. The title ‘Rectify’ is most carefully chosen reflecting not only the main theme of the series but is indicative of the myriad of subplots and nuances that are woven throughout this show. The textures to the writing and the stylistic flair of direction are capped off with performances worthy of the highest accolades possible. The Sundance Channel has arrived in weekly series and the other networks have some serious competition.
The story follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young) a man who has spent the last nineteen years, precisely have his age, not only in prison but on Death Row. His conviction back when he was still a teen was for the rape and murder by strangulation of his girlfriend Hanna. From that moment on he lived with the spectra of death looming darkly over him. We all know that final breath is out their but unlike most of us for Holden the time and place is hotly debated in the hollow halls of justice. The appeals and stays finally make headway and Holden’s conviction is set aside letting off Death Row alive, a most unusual circumstance. Folding in a popular motif to connect with the public and expertly generate a degree of controversy, it was new DNA evidence that made his liberation feasible. The death penalty is a matter of heated debate and one of the leading arguments to support their case is the number of times DNA evidence has proven the innocence of the person awaiting death.
So many television series and films have explored aspects of this particular set of circumstances. Some considered the fight to overturn the condemnation of an innocent man following the path of a courtroom drama and investigative mystery. Others exploit the unimaginable physical and psychological hardship of a lifetime waiting to die. This series eschews these frequently visited pathways and boldly endeavors to take the familiar ingredients and combine then in a novel way for a deliciously new experience. Like a finely constructed independent movie this series centers more on the humanity of the protagonist rather than what got him to that point. Certainly the situations leading up to the conviction and the nineteen years on death row are critical to the shaping of the character but as the title implies what is truly important here is how does a man that can of age in such a restrictive segment of the penal system adjust to the sudden proclamation of freedom. The mindset and self-image forged by half a lifetime waiting to die is lifted and Holden is forced to reevaluate every aspect of his being. Rectify, to make right what was wrong only begins with vacating the verdict; Holden has to correct an internal self-image forced on him; a rapist and murderer deserving to die. This is a psychological work that wills reexamine your own life and the freedom you take for granted with every one of the six episodes comprising the season. The one down side here is although the six episodes economically relate the first chapter of the story it is far too short. But then again id does what is was intended to accomplish; leave you craving more.
Throughout all those long years the only one that never gave up on Holden’s original claim of innocence, his sister Amanda (Abigail Spencer) who along with a doggedly persistent attorney, Stern (Luke Kirby). Holden returns to the only place he ever knew, the home of his mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), living in the small town of Paulie, Georgia. This is the first manifestation of contrasts that embody the spirit of this production. Holden is caught in a form of purgatory, a grey area between the light of his distance childhood and the extreme blackness of existence on death row. The juxtaposition of these two irreconcilable extremes sets the stage for the emotional turmoil thrust upon him. On some level Holden reconciled his fate but now that view of his future must be rectified, refit to a new playbook of life. This journey is the center of the drama presented here.
The town folk are not as accepting of change as would be hoped. To most Holden remain a rapist and killer of a fifteen year old girl, a child molester and murderer. They are not concerned in the least about court rulings or legal loop holes, Holden is guilty, was found guilty by jury of his peers and is deserving of the penalty he morally deserves. This expands the morality play by adding the complexity of issues that would natural surround this situation. The disdainful gaze of the town folk upon his return could kill if at all possible. There is no forgiveness to be found among the local population. The original prosecutor of the case, Roland Foulkes (Michael O'Neill), his personally vested in the reversal seeing it as a mark on his record, pushing him to reapply the conviction he obtained. Also markedly opposed to Holden’s new found freedom is step-brother, Ted Talbot Jr. (Clayne Crawford). The negative stigma associated with Holden, the seething hatred begins to rub off on him threatening his livelihood.
This is an exciting new development in series television, the blend of the experimental essence of independent movies with the scope afforded by the increased time of a season’s worth of television episodes. You can take it slow watching the episodes over the course of several weeks emulating its original presentation or approach it more as you would a film; experiencing the entirety of the season in one or two sittings. Whichever method you select it is certain that you will find yourself captivated by the quality of production and integrity of presentation that is the foundation of this work.