There’s something of the teen drama in Rectify, a show about two adult children returning to their parents and two others on the rocks because of the new boy in town. Considering Daniel never got to finish out his teen years like most of us, that makes a sort of sense. But it’s still funny to hear his mother has bought him a bunch of new clothes for his big trip, excuse me, his legal banishment. And it’s frustrating to see him act a fool when his probation officer comes to visit. On some level it’s pride preventing him from playing ball with her, like deep down he’s too embarrassed to even be in this situation, a grown man having to get his sister to sign a permission slip for him. But the stakes are way too high for Daniel to be this proud. If Jon were there he’d ask again: Does Daniel want to go back to prison?
The wheel lands on Tawney this week, hence the title, “Girl Jesus.” Not that there hasn’t been some plot development yet this season, but it’s almost like these past few episodes occur simultaneously, like time is stopped so we can examine how Teddy, Amantha, and now Tawney are responding to the new world order where Daniel’s on his way out after confessing to murder. At last there’s some semblance of direct causation behind Daniel’s moodiness. This is the episode both he and Tawney come to terms with what he and Tawney were and are to each other, each in their separate corners of Paulie.
By way of asking about Amantha and Jon, Daniel says he’s been in love once. But he’s not talking about Hanna. He thought this woman he was in love with would save him. She was his Girl Jesus. Clearly it’s his baptism friend Tawney he loved. But now he realizes how stupid that notion was. Maybe he’s just being moody, because love as a kind of salvation is one of the least stupid things people expect out of relationships (e.g. “You make me want to be a better man”), and Tawney is such a sweet person and believes so strongly in God’s grace that it’s easy to imagine Daniel finding comfort and redemption with her. But that, like everything else, has curdled, and now it’s only a reminder of that brief time in his life when he wasn’t on the hook for confessing to murder. It’s not that Daniel is too confounded by the world that he wants to go back to prison. It’s that his positive experiences are now all poisoned by the state.
Speaking of which, the cold open sheds some light on Foulkes since his stroke. He’s lying in a hospital bed, his face clearly partly paralyzed even before he tries to speak. Marcy the waitress has come for a visit, and he wants to say hello, but all he can get out is a couple consonant sounds—“Mah heh”—and a big, wet cough. The lack of facial movement hurts. There’s a parallel with Daniel that trades psychological trauma for physical, Foulkes being unable to communicate quite like everyone else and accordingly mistreated, but in itself it’s one of the most moving scenes on the show, a portrait of indignity at the hands of loved ones. For her part, Marcy clearly wasn’t expecting such a tragedy, but she treats him like a stranger. She physically picks up his hand like it’s a cold fish to free the one one of hers he inadvertently grabbed. Then, after approximately one minute, she explains that she’s leaving in not so many words: “I gotta…” is all she gets out. Despite the fact that no, she clearly doesn’t gotta anything, because she made time to visit him in the hospital. Foulkes is responding to the sight of her. He’s not out of it at all. He just can’t quite speak. But she doesn’t even feel the need to finish her excuse. He’s not even worth her pleasantries. As she walks out the door, we hear one last “Mah heh.”
Janet and Ted are struggling to communicate, too, but hearing things from Ted’s side does earn him some sympathy. Death Row Daniel assaulted his boy, and the fact that Teddy hasn’t said anything about it just goes to show how big a deal it was. Naturally he’s concerned about the safety of Teddy and Janet and Jared. If all of these characters could see what we see they’d know Daniel isn’t an incomprehensible lunatic. But they’re all so unwilling to try to transcend themselves.
All except for Tawney. “Girl Jesus” gets Teddy into couples counseling, but at one point it seems like Tawney is just doing this because she wanted Teddy to go to therapy. But the tables turn in a way when he goads her into admitting she’s not sure she wants to be in a relationship with him. Teddy understood her better than she understood him. He leans back in peace. Rebecca asks how he’s feeling, and he just takes a deep breath and exhales. She asks again. “Kind of great…At least all this time I know I wasn’t crazy.”
Notice the episode never talks about the actuality of Tawney and Daniel as a couple. The one time someone brings up that pairing by name, it’s Tawney saying it’s not going to happen. Daniel and Tawney are both past that excitement of finding someone new and are now seeing their relationship through new eyes. Meanwhile Teddy is taking her back to the good old days, as if they could actually get back there. He’s her rock when Carl calls to interview her about picking Daniel up in Florida. Teddy sees the advantage, but he doesn’t pounce, and actually his goals overlap with Daniel’s, so we’re kind of rooting for him: Tell the truth, he says not too forcefully. Lie and Carl will see right through you or catch you in it, and then it looks like Daniel’s guilty of something. Telling the truth is best for Daniel, and if it happens to get him in trouble, so be it. Tawney’s answers to Carl’s questions generally balance the suspicion—she contradicts Trey about Daniel wearing a jacket, but she also says she and Daniel talked about sin and redemption on the way back—but she tries to convey that a perpetual state of burden is just how Daniel is. God’s testing him. And then she walks out of that meeting and tells her husband that she doesn’t have a crush on Daniel and doesn’t want to be with him and kind of can’t anyway, and Teddy needs to accept that. They’re not going to happen. Maybe she thinks God was testing her. At the very least she doesn’t see the need to reject Daniel as a friend and family member in order to assuage Teddy. She does a better job capturing who Daniel is than anyone, and she paints that portrait with a loving smile. She’s not disappointed in Daniel the way he is in her because she saw him more clearly than he did her, but she’s also not interested in a romantic relationship.
What really seals the deal in an almost metaphysical way is she winds up making out with Teddy in his truck. It’s like she needed to confess to straying from Teddy in order to see it clearly, to dispense with Daniel, and to rekindle with her husband. But first there’s a moment that goes from wistful to beautiful. The drive is all isolated shots, and they don’t even match up, with Tawney’s oblique and Teddy’s just about straight on, him unnaturally crammed between the frame and the side of the truck. He’s dropping her off and it reminds him of the first time he took her bowling. Teddy’s trying to go back before things went wrong, back when they were young again. Then in a two-shot that unites them, she starts sobbing, both of them facing left in the parked truck across the yard to the house. So he reaches over and puts a hand on her shoulder, and she reaches back and grabs it. It reminds me of one of the most powerful gestures I’ve seen in movies, when in Ingmar Bergman’s Shame Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow are crouched against a wall as bombs drop all around them. They’re fighting because he’s too weak (not manly enough) and she’s too strong, but in this moment she instinctively reaches back and grabs his wrist. The Rectify scene isn’t an homage, but it captures that same feeling of matrimonial support through thick and thin. Tawney needs to feel her husband’s support, and without looking she keeps feeling him, his face, his neck.
After that scene, or again, almost simultaneously with it, Daniel kicks the bucket of primer on the just about finished pool. Why? What explains this? He’s acting out because in that moment he and Tawney are finally over. Close-ups capture the tears streaming down the steps, and then the wide shot shows the portrait, white streaks stretch out below him like roots of the Daniel tree in an empty pool. Time to uproot.
- “Girl Jesus” is written and directed by Scott Teems, who made That Evening Sun.
- I reiterate: I’m sympathetic to Foulkes’ hospital scene, but that man is an absolute bastard who knowingly or ignorantly wrapped up a case, or more likely several of them, without actually solving it, and it resulted in a man being trapped in a traumatic situation for 20 years. (Correction: At first I assumed it was his daughter who came to visit, not Marcy.)
- Trey’s truck is painted “desert sand micah.” Carl responds with a Daniel-ism: “Amazing. It’s somebody’s job thinking up names for colors.”
- Carl also tells Trey they found George’s semen on Hanna’s underwear, but I’m not sure if that’s true or just some sort of trap.
- Daniel’s probation officer reminds him, “They can lock you up for jay-walking.” “I’ll watch my step then.” Heh. But then: “Is that a joke?” She’s not amused, and thankfully so. That kid needs to take this seriously.
- New Thrifty Town associate manager Amantha Holden says George’s testimony against Daniel was a lie, and Jon agrees. So maybe she’s not really considering the possibility of his guilt, or maybe that’s just the party line for the lawyer.
- Tawney is the second person in two episodes to criticize the state of Georgia. “I feel any sin he has committed is far surpassed by the sins committed against him…Because those sins were carefully considered, Sheriff. I don’t think Daniel ever carefully considered committing a sin and then actually committed it.”
- Carl still needs some kind of evidence, but right now he’s thinking Daniel’s too honest for his own good and Trey’s trying too hard to pin it on him.
- Daniel asks, “Who will I be when they put me back together again?” Amantha’s voice jumps an octave when she says, “My brother.”
- “So what are you gonna do, Ted?” “Right now, I’m gonna finish this kitchen.” “Can’t wait.” Janet is definitely her daughter’s mother.