The prime subject of chatter in “The Future,” mini banishments and self-exiles, taps into the dominant mood of the episode: flux. For all the talk of who’s moving where, nothing is quite settled until the end, and really, not even then. It’s hard to get too comfortable.

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Amantha sets the stage with a joke. She’s on her way to work, and Melvin’s just sitting at her table. She tries to politely usher him out, then she almost forgets and leaves before her guest, and finally she just blurts out, “Why don’t you leave first? Then I’ll go.” This isn’t Daniel’s situation etched onto a grain of rice, but the scene does lay out some of the ideas of the episode, like the value of work, and it’s the scene that starts the chain reaction that flings Daniel and his mother to the edge of the continent.

Next, Miss Kathy offers Tawney a place to stay with a sort of ticking clock, hoping to motivate Tawney to make a decision. She’s impressing upon Tawney the idea that, while she’s playing musical houses, the situation at Miss Kathy’s is temporary. And she’s doing so with Tawney’s best interest at heart. Rectify is always exploring specific characters’ perspectives, but it especially sticks out in “The Future,” in the scenes with Miss Kathy and Rose sharing their own angles on Tawney and the world, the scene with Jared finally getting some acknowledgment, and the scene with Trey’s wife where Carl and Trey are the active characters but she’s the one doing all the talking.

Teddy, remarkably at peace after his solo visit with their counselor—and notice the rhythm, the way first Tawney went solo, then their schedules lined up, and now it’s only Teddy, like they’re just not in sync—has his own proposition for Tawney. “I want you to come back.” Then he takes an enormous pause, which Tawney breaks. “Teddy, I don’t—,” she begins, but then he’s all, “You didn’t let me finish.” It plays like a writing cheat, like in Arrested Development when Gob’s wife says, “I’m in love with your brother…” and takes a good half a scene to finish, “…-in-law.” But, another way to look at that is Teddy hoping she’d accept the first part, moving back home, without him having to sweeten the pot by moving out. Tawney turns down the full offer anyway. Again, a new housing plan is all for naught.

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During that scene, Teddy’s dressed in his construction clothes, because like Daniel, he’s trying to go to work. In his case, that means helping repair Janet’s torn-apart home, if you catch Rectify’s drift. Daniel’s adamant about fixing the pool on his own dime. He’s atoning. Melvin tells him that when he’s done, he’ll have accomplished something. And Daniel sticks with it, even after Amantha tells him the bad news about how the residents want him out of the complex. He’ll have something to be proud of. Contrast that with Tawney doing chores around the foster home. Miss Kathy preaches education as salvation, an avenue to self-sufficiency, and she ends her chat with Tawney by telling her to let the kids pick up their own toys. It’ll build discipline and maybe integrity. An honest day’s work is vital to “The Future.”

Carl’s day’s work is one of the most traditionally entertaining parts of the season, now more than ever. He lays out his suspicions about what happened to George (and Hanna) in a conspiratorial way with our man Daniel, and he grills Chris, Columbo-style (a little Andy Griffith, too), popping phone records and a DNA test on his mark like a pro. There are a couple of important things to keep in mind, though. The first is that Carl is wrong. He has an idea about what happened to George, but that idea is wrong, and pursuit of that wrong idea, as opposed to just the facts, might lead him to repeat history. The second is that, for all Rectify valorizes certain old-fashioned, Southern, or small-town values, Carl’s approach here might not help him much in the long run. That is, after Chris clams up, he tries to appeal to his conscience and his piety, but it doesn’t work. The conversation fizzles out until he gets back to the deceptive DNA test bit, which had me on the edge of my seat. The DNA convicted George, he says. Daniel was not convicted of rape. Surprisingly, he continues, Trey was cleared by the DNA, too. “I’d like to go ahead and clear you, too, Chris,” he says, peeling back a DNA test, “while I’m in the neighborhood.”

To that, Chris wisely hides behind a lawyer. Daniel probably ought to have, too, but even Jon agrees his one-on-one with the sheriff is a good thing. Really, though? Jon doesn’t have any misgivings about his unpredictable client meeting with the sheriff on his own and spilling all kinds of details about his whereabouts? It plays like the show valorizing old-fashioned directness, as if the justice system is bogged down in lawyers. But back to the subject of work, notice how Chris and Trey, the “bad guys,” are represented. Chris is at home in the middle of the day, and Trey’s sitting in his chair watching a cartoon that his kids hate. It’s Adult Swim’s Squidbillies, and it’s hard not to pick up on the characterization. Jared reads books. Daniel reads and listens to classical music. When he’s not sure what to do, he takes a nap instead of turning on the tube. Has anyone in the Holden-Talbot clan ever had time for such filth as television? But weaselly Trey gets his kicks watching a cartoon. That’s some serious ambivalence, Rectify.

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It’s during the workday that Daniel finds out he’s been evicted yet again and Janet agrees to take him back. Janet’s thinking about the past, just like Tawney and Teddy, when we first see her. Jared’s right: Janet’s so freaked out all the time. “The Future” is her coming to terms with everything. After she addresses Jared’s concerns and makes plans to talk with him once Daniel’s all squared away—but why wait?—she gets the big speech this week. Jared demands an explanation and gets none, but at least he inspires Janet to explain herself to the grown-ups. Finding the Teds in the kitchen, their backs to her, she takes a moment and begins, telling the boys what’s what. “You can stay at Teddy’s if you don’t wanna be here, but Daniel’s coming home.” Ted agrees, and I don’t think he considers moving out for one second, but it’s on the table. Then Janet takes a step toward Teddy and continues:

“I’m so sorry for what happened to you, Teddy. My heart breaks every time I think about it. For you. My heart breaks for you, Teddy. But my heart breaks for my other son, too. Because no matter what you or your dad or anybody else thinks, Daniel’s not a bad person. He’s a sick person. He’s a damaged person. But he’s not bad. And he’s had such a raw deal in his life. So I’m gonna help him. As much as I can. As much as he’ll let me. So he’ll have a chance. That’s all. Just like the rest of us. If we’re lucky.”

You can tell from the script she’s working it out as she goes, and J. Smith-Cameron plays it naturally, changing her strategy throughout, one moment basically apologizing to Teddy and the next justifying to herself. At her openly discussing the assault, the men react in silence. Ted turns to his son to give him a contrite look, and Teddy looks upset. From there, Janet’s speech gradually disarms Teddy. The composition prioritizes his reactions, he’s the subject of her primary appeal, and Clayne Crawford slowly opens his arms until they’re hanging by his sides, helpless. But there’s also a sense of Janet finding solid ground herself, like she didn’t exactly understand her behavior toward them all until she said it out loud. Daniel being a good but damaged person has always been there in the background of her mind, but now she’s given it shape. She doesn’t wait for any reply beyond tacit acceptance. When she leaves, Ted moves toward Teddy to do something, to say something, anything, but Teddy turns away and goes back to work, back in himself.

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It was an overcast morning, but the night sky is clear. Leaving the Teds behind, Janet and Jared show up at Amantha’s for prisoner exchange. They’re actually the last surprise guests at the party, after Jon shows up and after the camera reveals Amantha lying on a pool chair. It’s a funny episode, but this scene is a celebration, from the punchlines (Daniel calls watching paint dry a “big sport in Finland”) to humorous deliveries (Janet asking if they should toast to the sheriff for believing Daniel and Amantha ruling, “No”). Once the pool is done, Janet slumps onto a chair next to Daniel, staring up at the stars. “Could we leave in the morning, Mother?” he asks. Her instinct is to keep him close, so she asks if that’s even allowed with two weeks left on the clock. “Well, I’ve been banished, Mother, so I think it’s allowed.” And then the clincher: “It’s over, Mother.” She lies back and takes it in, her face a picture of acceptance. Daniel wants to take a road trip with Janet to Tennessee. “I wouldn’t mind seeing the ocean again, Mother.” He’s ready to get out of that empty pool and get a Don Draper rebirth. Everyone in “The Future” has a plan, but nothing comes to fruition until Daniel takes responsibility. At last, something is settled. Janet exhales, partly as sigh and partly as a turning of the page. It’s over.

Stray observations

  • “The Future” is written by Ray McKinnon and Kate Powers and directed by Nicole Kassell, who directed The Woodsman, about a child molester going home after a decade in prison.
  • Teddy tells the counselor his fears. “I’m afraid I’m never gonna kiss her again. Never gonna hold her. Sleep next to her.” His syntax gets more clipped as he goes on, like it gets more unbearable each time, and then he sums it up. “I’m afraid I’m gonna lose her for good.” “And what would happen if you did?” “I’ll die a long, slow death.” “I’m not sure about that.”
  • For Tawney, the country reminds her of the future, because it’s where she used to dream about the great life she was going to have. Rose, a foster girl, tells her, “I already know that’s bullshit.” Not with any hostility or aggression. She’s just being matter-of-fact. But then when Tawney tells her that’s probably smart, Rose reveals how shallow that cynicism is: She thinks she’s not gonna be there long, because her mom’s probably going to get her shit together and come back for her.
  • Miss Kathy tells Tawney, “You always did feel things hard. It’s your cross to bear.”
  • “So he goes outside, gets the duffle bag, and brings it inside?” “That’s leading, Sheriff.” “Well, you tell me, then.” “He goes outside, gets the duffle bag, and brings it inside.”
  • There’s a lot of attention paid to Daniel freely walking through halls of justice this season. In “The Future,” he’s not even on the passing cops’ radar. He’s just some civilian.
  • Amantha finds Daniel painting the pool when she comes to tell him the residents want him gone. “They don’t like the color?” “Guess not.”
  • Trey’s little girl: “I don’t like Squidbillies, Daddy.” “Hush your mouth, girl. That’s sacrilegious.” Okay, maybe Rectify’s perspective on television is more complicated than it seems, but would it kill them to let a Holden scroll through the guide? What would Daniel watch? You know Teddy never missed a Breaking Bad.
  • I don’t know or remember what any of this means, but while Trey’s awfully confident the sheriff won’t find anything incriminating at his place, some officers find a toolbox containing a couple rings of keys, a matchbox car, and a scrunchie.
  • Daniel: “I’m not sure I want to live in a state that’ll have me.”

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