Rectify owes us no answers. Yes, the last few episodes presented new evidence in the Hanna Dean murder case, boosting the procedural aspects of the show to previously unseen levels. But as the series finale, “All I’m Sayin’,” shows, that was only done to bring the show to its natural stopping point. Not Daniel Holden’s complete and utter absolution (or concrete proof of his guilt), but something more open-ended—something more Rectify. Pickens’ deposition, the guts Trey Willis has been spilling all over Paulie: They’ve been building to the finale’s climactic press conference, in which Sondra announces that the Dean case has been re-opened. The golden hues of Janet’s cold-open memory take us back to the less complicated place where the series began, and Sondra’s address brings Rectify full circle. It might not be as narratively satisfying as a “guilty” or “innocent” verdict, but it is immensely satisfying in the context of Rectify.
And I’ll shoot straight here: “All I’m Sayin’” has its flaws. With its crosstown montage and titular line—spoken by Amantha, relating her satellite-dish epiphany: “Nothing will rectify what’s happened”—it’s hokier than the average Rectify. Some of Jon’s dialogue in his scene at the Holden house sounds like Luke Kirby is merely rattling off a list of wrongful-conviction statistics. And whereas “Happy Unburdening” used its extra time to its advantage, the 90-minute “All I’m Sayin’” sports some padding, like the scene where Daniel and his supervisor discuss whether or not Daniel likes his supervisor.
But that 90-minute runtime (it’s about 68 minutes without commercials, so it’s “extended Sopranos” long, not “agonizingly stretched out Sons Of Anarchy long”) also makes room for so many little gems, and the sparkle of those gems ultimately outshines the dross. As the episode builds to Sondra’s address, “All I’m Sayin’” stages touching moments of forgiveness and letting go, like Janet and Jared’s visit to the Deans’ (preceded by a clever switcheroo that makes it seem like they’re heading to the Paulie Tire & Rims closing ceremonies) or Daniel and Teddy apologizing over the phone. Season-four MVP J. Smith-Cameron gets the hankies out early when Janet tells Amantha, “You’re my hero, young lady.” The new investigation might dredge up a whole new load of burdens and impediments for these folks, but in the brief window of time that holds “All I’m Sayin’,” it’s nice to see them with empty garages and a mostly empty showroom.
It’s also mighty nice to see Kerwin. In my interview with Ray McKinnon, we discussed the show’s diminished use of flashbacks in later seasons, and how that ties to Daniel’s tentative steps into the world outside of prison. But with his exposure therapy underway, it only makes sense to dive back into the cells, to a time when Daniel’s mind was a means of escape, not a locker full of trauma. This week’s therapy scene is another Aden Young showcase, a vocal reenactment of the Kerwin flashback from Rectify’s first finale. Kerwin’s farewell to Daniel—“Because I know you”—sounds just as spine-tingling coming out of Young’s mouth as it did coming out of Johnny Ray Gill’s, but there’s something greater at play in this session. When Daniel’s “I”s change to “we”s, the therapist reminds him to stay in the first-person. But this isn’t something Daniel experienced alone. He experienced it with every other prisoner on death row. If they didn’t know one another, their experiences there all ended the same way. An individual leaves, and a community stays behind—irrevocably wounded. Perhaps it’s experiences like this that prevented Daniel from readily opening himself up to the men of New Canaan. Daniel’s been down this road before, and he walks it once more when he enters Chloe’s empty loft.
The scope of season four was increasingly personal, but “All I’m Sayin’” reminds us that this is also a story about community. It’s on Daniel’s mind as he visits with Jon, thinking about all the people who sacrificed their time, their energy, their lives for his. The whole speech is a marvel, but this jumps out: “Way more people have tried to help me than harm me, Jon,” he says. “The harm just seems to leave the deeper mark.” The idea of a town that Rectify puts forth is one that harms people for their perceived transgressions—backs turned on the Holdens or the Willises due to the sins of an individual within their ranks. But the idea of a community, that’s what’s helped Daniel through the rough patches, and that’s something he’s starting to come to terms with. All of the people we see in the montage are connected to one another just as Daniel was connected to the rest of death row, and while the methods are a little clumsy (“You hearing this, Mr. Milton?” is just a degree removed from, “What do you think, George Harrison of The Beatles?”), it’s an effective way of showing how this latest development ripples through people who aren’t the Holdens and the Talbots. When one is lost, they all feel it; when one is shielded from the law because of who his dad is, or how much money he has to spend on standing-in-front-of-the-TV whiskey, they feel it, too.
And for a long time, one of the hubs of this town and this community was Paulie Tire & Rim, which closes up shop just in time for Rectify to do the same. But the closing of this chapter isn’t for everyone—the only people who stay behind after-hours to clean out the inventory (and the vending machine) are blood relations or significant others (ex or otherwise) and landlords thereof. Like the pool and season three, season four derived a lot of significance from this seemingly mundane of developments, Rectify seeking the emotional resonance and sense of responsibility tied up in what’s otherwise a mere setting. I love the ways this scene finds to show the relationships the characters had with the store and with one another. It doesn’t matter that Amantha has never referenced “the magic keys” before—as soon as she heads toward the vending machine, I could imagine a history between prop and character, the associations of visiting her late father at work, maybe a darker link to her binge eating. (The place has its own language and its own totems: The magic keys, the dancing man, the ceramic mechanic.) Tawney returns, proving that these are people who don’t cut one another off; Jake Austin Walker keeps up the illusion that Jared isn’t a 20something adolescent in the extremely teenaged way he forgoes hugs and hellos in favor of baked goods.
“All I’m Sayin’” isn’t the perfect episode of Rectify, but its final scene is the series’ perfect coda. Comfortable once more with reaching inside his head and pulling out a memory or a fantasy, Daniel lays in bed and pictures himself in a field of pure Malick majesty. The image of Daniel in the sun—that’s what this show is at its best. It’s a spot of sunlight on a tile floor, a warm comforting respite from the coldness that surrounds.
With this sequence, “All I’m Sayin’” closes Rectify in a way that doesn’t require closure. It’s gripping, it’s moving, and it’s exactly the right note to end on. Is it a forecast? Is it a fantasy? The rural solitude of the pecan grove provided Daniel with a respite from real life, but with things changing as rapidly as they are, this is a dream he could make come true. These are just more questions that Rectify won’t answer—not, as many characters say tonight, that it matters. What’s done is done. Rectify belongs to the past now.
- For more on “All I’m Sayin’,” including some additional thoughts on the show’s unanswered questions, read my interview with Rectify creator Ray McKinnon.
- Rectify isn’t in the business of pointing fingers, but the case against Chris Nelms looks incredibly damning from the perspective of “All I’m Sayin’.” His reaction to the press conference, the latest in Trey’s incredibly detailed memories of the night Hanna died: Guy looks pretty guilty. But that could also be Rectify playing with our perceptions and our loyalties. I (and I suspect a lot of viewers feel this way) don’t want Daniel to be guilty, so I see Chris and Trey in a more negative light. If you don’t think Daniel’s innocent, maybe the montage and the “All you son of a bitches playing God” read differently to you. Then again, Daniel immediately changes the subject to Pussy Cats when Amantha says that the truth might be finding the light, so maybe that truth is a little more complicated than we think it is.
- The finale can’t resist a few callbacks: Teddy mentions getting out of the rim-rental business; in their phone call, Daniel and Amantha joke about making up for the lack of a car by borrowing Jared’s bike.
- And finally, some words of gratitude: To everyone involved in making this show, who provided so much to unpack over these past four years. To Brandon Nowalk, who filled in dutifully and wrote about Rectify beautifully last summer, while I stupidly chased Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn through the desert of True Detective’s second season. And, finally, to you the readers, whose passion for Rectify always compensated for the show’s low ratings and these reviews’ low traffic numbers. Thanks, y’all!