“Thrill Ride” does for Teddy what Rectify does for Daniel. It’s a close-up, attuned to all the little things that make him Teddy, the nickname, the history, the petty grievances. We see him through Tawney’s memory, we see the connections between Ted Sr. and his son, and the editing explicitly parallels Teddy with his new rival Daniel. Both of them are alone and idle, both wind up blasting the stereo, both pass the time by dancing. Daniel’s “What should I do?” dance montage is about the most entertaining thing that’s ever happened on Rectify until Teddy shows us all how it’s done, cutting a rug through his house to “Stomp And Holler.” But Daniel is in some ways at a distance. His personality has always been different, as they say, and his two decades on Death Row is almost incomprehensible for most of us. Teddy, on the other hand, is all too familiar.

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First we see him through the others. Ted Sr. and Janet talk somewhat nonchalantly about Teddy and Tawney in the bathroom that morning, a kind of family gossip we don’t often see on a show so defined by people talking around sensitive subjects. There’s something Teddy-like about the way Ted drops a polite lie, something self-satisfied and uncomfortable. And then we get to the real intimacy: Janet calls him out for lying to her, and he spills the beans about Daniel assaulting Teddy. “That’s the way you gain control or whatever.” There’s that phrase again. It’s not uncommon. I use it to mock silly plotting. My dad uses it to feign ignorance about a title he ought to know, say, “Star Wars or whatever.” Rectify uses it like he does. It’s a Talbot family defense mechanism. It’s mealy-mouthed, it softens the blow, it allows them to say these awful things they’re saying. Teddy’ll say it again at the end of the episode: “I didn’t…date-rape her or whatever.”

Teddy notices his dad made it to work that morning when he sees the airdancer doing his thing. To Ted, the unplugged airdancer is a sign that Teddy’s slacking and a chance to show some support, like the Thrifty Town manager saying, “It happens to the best of us,” when Amantha, her managerial candidate, oversleeps. So Ted walks in and lets his son off the hook for “forgetting.” You can tell how much is going on in the scene by how the dialogue is stripped down to essentials. There’s so much Ted wants to say to his son but can’t bring himself to put into words. Instead he evicts Daniel, he picks up the slack at work, he tries to engage Teddy on a subject he’s interested in, rims. The moment Teddy’s walking out the door and Ted reaches out to him is as freighted as it is by the by: “Janet says Daniel’s moved in with Amantha. Just thought you might wanna know.” That’s his way of telling his son that he’s putting things back the way they were. Soon Daniel will be gone for good and Tawney will return and Teddy can resume his happy, middle-class life. Ted loves his son and feels for him, but he just doesn’t know how to say those things. Consider: That’s how Teddy grew up. And while Ted thinks he’s helping his son by turning on the airdancer, it just reminds Teddy of Daniel, which reminds him of the assault, which reminds him of his marriage. That’s why he has to flee.

Tawney gets the opposite approach of her husband. First we see her independently, then we experience her absence, and finally we see her through Teddy’s eyes. She tells the marriage counselor about Miss Kathy, her foster mother, and eventually the counselor gets her to open up about Teddy, specifically his habit of broaching this gray area just south of physical violence. He would never hit her, she says, “but he can bear down on you sometimes…corner you, like you’re trapped, like there’s no way out.” Which sounds a bit like his version of what happened with Sweet Julie. Only Tawney isn’t trapped, so she’s running like the wind.

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Teddy shows up at Mitch and Beth’s to drop off a laundry basket of Tawney’s clothes, not unlike Daniel wandering around Amantha’s complex (not all that concerned about) looking for the laundry room. Nobody seems to be home, so he’s going through Tawney’s car when Mitch walks out. So now he’s embarrassed and talking to a man shielding his wife from him. And he’s at an information disadvantage, too: He doesn’t know how much Tawney has told Mitch, how many of his lowest points are now under outside scrutiny, how many things he’s said in private are now public. You can imagine Teddy thinks the worst. So here he is trying to replace all that dirty laundry with clean clothes. And the less forthcoming Mitch is, the worse Teddy feels. Only he could respond to a pleasantry like “Have a good day” with “You got a problem with me, Mitch?”

You wonder what Tawney ever saw in Teddy, and then he cranks up some country and scoots his boots like a champ. Was Teddy fun once? You can almost picture it. Good ole boy, married a sweetheart, inherited his father’s business—Teddy’s been coasting on inertia his whole life. Separation might force him to remember who he was on his own and figure out what he actively wants. Because at this point I’d say Tawney is better off without him. What’s the truly happy ending for Teddy? He wants his wife back, but what kind of family does he want? What kind of father does he imagine he’d be?

He doesn’t get long to think about all that, because Jared shows up. Jared has one perfectly observed moment, calling bullshit on the way the family talks around things, and one somewhat less credible moment, playing hostage to his drunk older brother. No way does that kid grow up in that family and not have a fine-tuned radar for Drunk Teddy getting surly and disappointing. But skip ahead to the thrill ride itself, and the finale is a wrenching short film all on its own. Jared’s driving, but Teddy’s navigating, so they wind up at Beth and Mitch’s house. Clayne Crawford’s sure done his homework on acting drunk: He gets slurred, lazy, and serious. His brother’s learner’s permit, the kid’s new squeeze, and probably deep down his own assault all conspire to send Teddy off on this memory that simulates the emotional experience of listening to your uncle drunkenly overshare. At first it’s just Teddy rambling about his good old days. Then warning signs start going off, and ultimately it crosses the line into uncomfortable. The story Teddy’s telling isn’t about the excitement of getting a license or his high school girlfriend. It’s about Teddy possibly raping this girl. He protests to the contrary, but by his own admission, he wore her down. Tawney might say he made her feel like she had no way out. He keeps spitting that phrase, “Pretty pretty please, Julie,” and it perverts something sweet, like the airdancer becoming a symbol of trauma. “I didn’t make her do it, force her, date-rape her or whatever.” But: “Finally she just let out a big ole sigh and gave in.” Is this confession?

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Yes, but it’s also something else. “Don’t ever do that to Claire, Jared. Or any other girl. Because those guys who make you feel like a pussy because you ain’t got your cherry popped, they’re just a bunch of assholes, and in 10 years you ain’t gonna know most of em.” It’s a lesson. He wants Jared to learn from his mistakes, and they were mistakes, and he knows they were mistakes. It reminds me of Ray McKinnon’s thoughts on Daniel’s guilt: “I think he did it, but I think he feels real bad about it.” Then Teddy goes even further: “You’re not like me…And that’s a good thing.” Sure, he’s drunk and depressed, but this isn’t just cheap self-pity. It’s also a sincere accounting of his own sins. Teddy of all people has the wisdom and experience to say he made the wrong choice even though it was popular, to see exactly why he made the wrong choice, and to pass on that lesson. He doesn’t like who he is, and he may not be able to change, he may not be willing to change, but at least he’s learned enough to warn Jared away from his footsteps.

Jared regretted taking this journey probably before it began, but finally he asks, “About ready to go back?” Teddy looks across the yard through the dining room window at Tawney eating dinner and says, “Let’s just stay here a little while longer.” It’s a moving pivot from standing in judgment of Teddy to wrapping your arms around him, from a tidy wrap-up to what’s left unfinished, from the tawdry to the sublime. And it’s the most honest thing he’s ever said.

Stray observations

  • “Thrill Ride” is written by Ray McKinnon and directed by Lawrence Trilling.
  • Tawney says, “When I had my miscarriage, part of me was relieved.” And her therapist tells her, “You’re not the first woman to have had that experience, and you won’t be the last.”
  • Peanut of all people: “Amantha, that’s such an unusual name…Bet you get called Amanda a lot.”
  • Now that the core has stopped spinning, everyone’s flying off in different directions. For Jon and Daniel, that means leaving town. But also this is two episodes in a row where Miss Kathy comes up, and now Teddy’s thinking about his mother Margaret. The characters are branching out away from one another.
  • Daniel’s thoughts on the old classical radio station curator: “When you think of a person who has dedicated their life to sharing the talents of others with the world with no rancor or envy…is that beautiful?”
  • “I took her to the Pizza Barn, which was a big deal back then. It was before Pizza Hut showed up and blew em out of the water, which I still don’t get.” Even in that story, Rectify takes the time to shed light on Teddy “Rim Rental” Talbot’s business savvy.

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