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A superb Rectify depicts a “hell of a day”

Clayne Crawford (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/Sundance TV)
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It’s looking like Rectify’s going to go out at the top of its game—even if its characters are at the end of their ropes. That collision of clichés is brought to you by the show’s second superlative episode in two weeks, a day-in-the-life tragicomedy in which the principals set aside pleasantries, get brutally direct, and ram into each other with the force and intensity of a bullet flying at an inflatable tube man. Some of the bullets pass through with no major damage; some wind up striking the very people who fired them. They know a little something about physics, but not enough to dodge the ricochet.


One of those shooters in Daniel Holden, who says something in “Physics” that Rectify has always implied, but never fully articulated: Daniel doesn’t really know who he is. He knew who he was when he went to prison, and so did Janet, as she tells Chloe in a crackling exchange between J. Smith-Cameron and Caitlin FitzGerald. But in prison, he played a part, and in the time since his release, he’s struggled to find the real guy underneath the “Death Row Daniel” armor. That’s why he found it so easy to slip into the role of Donald during his visit to Atlanta—he was camouflaging himself there, too, trying on another identity as easily as he would a new pair of pants in a department-store dressing room.

Screenshot: Sundance TV

This sort of searching deepens the significance that season four has given the artifacts and personal effects that collect around the characters of Rectify. These things define these people when they themselves cannot. (Remember Daniel’s words in “Act As If”: “We are what we don’t throw away: Teddy bears and barbells.”) After Mr. Zeke dies, Tawney goes to his house to recover his plaque, and director Stephen Gyllenhaal guides Adelaide Clemens through a biography told through possessions: Arrowheads, taxidermy, a wedding-day portrait of his late wife. It’s an imperfect way of getting to know someone—the housekeeper, Bonnie, has been looking after Zeke’s things but didn’t know he was childless—but it tells a story that’s in line with the words Tawney says about her biological mother. She never knew the woman, but she has a memory of her, though it’s “a feeling or an experience more than a full-on person.” It’s a lovely line of dialogue; I feel like Daniel might say something similar about his sense of identity.

In order to feel like his own man, to be free and accumulate a new collection of what he doesn’t throw away, Daniel must share some harsh words with his mother, whose visit to Nashville isn’t going as expected. And when Jon stops beating around the bush, it just might free Daniel from the bondage of his plea deal. (The emotional bondage of his prison experience, however, is something Daniel’s still not prepared to face head on—which just might be the final straw with Chloe.) The case against Daniel is a legal labyrinth, and this is the most recently discovered chamber: If Jon enters an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, he might be able to invalidate Daniel’s plea and banishment. It’s a sacrificial move, offering up a career and a reputation in service of a truth that, as Sondra reminds us, might never be proven true. New evidence has come to light—though Jon can never say where he gained access to Chris’ affidavit—but it’s still a gesture of faith, Jon believing in his client just as Tawney believes that Zeke will be reunited with his wife.

Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/Sundance TV

By divulging his relationship with Amantha, Jon’s shooting straight—though the straightest shooter in Paulie, the aforementioned Amantha, sees right through this. (“Why are you in Paulie?” she prods, so sure she already knows the answer that she hardly pauses from breakfast preparations.) And before he harms himself with a literal straight shot, this sort of strategy pays off for Teddy: After more than a few hairs of the dog that bit him, Teddy cuts through the bullshit with a customer and sells a new set of tires. His dad might be seeking a way out of the business, but Ted Talbot Jr. has a gift for selling. A new store with Teddy at the helm might just be a successful venture—assuming he doesn’t shoot himself in the foot (or knee, as the case may be) first.

Screenshot: Sundance TV

“Physics” does indeed depict a “hell of a day.” Its title suggests random movements and clashes happening by chance, hurried on by rash decision-making driven by emotion and/or alcohol. But, as ever, the bird’s-eye-view shots suggest some larger force overseeing these actions, the universe setting the path for the characters in an attempt to course correct for something that went wrong 20 years ago. The “Physics” lesson of the episode might be that of the “equal and opposite reaction” sort: Daniel’s ordeal followed by similar trials and tribulations for Trey; Daniel and Teddy experiencing an identity crisis, and each getting wounded in the process. It can’t be coincidental that each ends the episode bathed in the same shade of traffic-signal green. Though for Teddy, there’s another prominent color: Red, like the dancing man, blood, ambulance lights, and a stop light. What is it they say about objects in motion?


Stray observations

  • Apologies for the brevity of this review—we’re starting to assemble year-end content, so I was a little pressed for time today. But that just leaves more ground for y’all to cover in the comments—like Ted Sr.’s Patsy Cline pilgrimage, for instance.
  • Rich symbolism: Teddy didn’t know he and Tawney had termites. There’s something eating away at the foundation of his home, but it takes someone else to point this out.
  • Nice touch in the scene at Zeke’s house: We don’t see Tawney and Bonnie introducing themselves, but by the time Bonnie leaves, they know one another’s names.
  • Amantha reacts to the Bobby Dean news with a summation of Rectify’s empathetic approach to character: “Who’s going to be left to hate?”

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