Sundance Channel's "Rectify" Is The Most Captivating, Unsettling, and Profoundly Brilliant New Drama Of the Year
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Sundance Channel's "Rectify" Is The Most Captivating, Unsettling, and Profoundly Brilliant New Drama Of the Year

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | April 24, 2013 | Comments ()


I said this about "The Americans" a few months ago, but it's even more true of the Sundance channel's six-episode mini-series, "Rectify": It boasts the best pilot of the year. Or of last year. Or of any year, maybe, since the opening episode of "Game of Thrones." The series comes from actor Ray McKinnon, who you may recognize from "Sons of Anarchy" or as "Deadwood's" Reverend H.W. Smith. In the series' lead, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), McKinnon has found the perfect, younger surrogate: A contemplative, slow-talking Southern man who straddles the line perfectly between warm-hearted and potentially sociopathic. It is one of the most engrossing performances I've witnessed outside of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" in a very long time.

The series follows Holden, who has just been released from prison after 20 years on death row, as he attempts to reintegrate into civilian life. The catch is that he's let out on something of a technicality, and there's still the question of his guilt in the rape and murder of his girlfriend that lingers, that hangs over all of his interactions. Holden's sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer, "Mad Men's" Suzanne Farrell) -- who is sleeping with the lawyer (Luke Kirby) who freed Daniel -- has absolutely no doubts about her brother's innocence, but most of the rest of the family is more conflicted. Daniel's step-father and step-brother, who joined Daniel's family after he was imprisoned, have taken over the family business that was meant to be Daniel's inheritance, and they're struggling with the fact that a potentially guilty former death-row inmate would ruin the business. Meanwhile, the step-brother (Clayne Crawford) is convinced that Daniel committed the crime and feels threatened by him, for good reason since his religious wife (Adelaide Clemens) seems to be drawn to Daniels' simple kindness.

Elsewhere, the politicians and law enforcements officials in the small Georgia town are also weighing whether to re-try Holden for the crime. A philandering Senator and the small-town sheriff are pushing hard for a retrial, and there seems to be something sinister in their motivations and their willingness to revisit one of the town's deep, dark secrets. Meanwhile, there's an additional search for the real killer of the 20-year-old case (if in fact Daniel is not the murderer), that is threatening to destroy the lives of two men who were involved in the crime.

There's a lot going on in "Recttfy" -- which comes from the producers of "Breaking Bad" -- but it moves like melting butter. It is a quiet, elegiac and hypnotic show. The beats creep along, but it's so transfixing that time, somehow, flies by, as Daniel struggles with the haunting memories of prison life and a new world before him that he doesn't recognize. It is profoundly unsettling, sexually charged, and completely captivating. It's not quite like anything I've seen on television, but it has a mood and tone that will seep into you and cling to your soul like a warm blanket with viper teeth.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Oh, Aden Young. Big time teen crush material. He was in lots of local movies in Australia in the 90s. Swoon.

    There is this particularly great film called Exile that I've never been able to get a copy of.

  • So good, and not quite what I expected, but that's a good thing. It would've been so easy for them to make it about a quest for justice (and that still may be a part of it), but it's a much more interesting and thoughtful take on what it would be like to enter jail at a time when only the super wealthy had cell phones and dvds were luxury items, and re-enter society when everyone has a cell phone and video stores don't even exist any longer - and those aren't even the truly significant changes. I thought Top of the Lake was the new show of the spring. I was wrong, it's definitely Rectify. And, for those of you considering adding Sundance to your package, it's a great mix of quirky and independent movies with every thing from Barton Fink to The Professional to A Clockwork Orange to Being John Malkovich, along with uh-maaaz-ing original programming. Seriously, it's worth it.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I didn't really think Top of the Lake was that amazingly, wonderfully fantastic like the rest of Pajibaland apparently does, in fact I thought The Killing (first season of course, although I enjoyed season 2 as well) was better. But THIS show, this one is worthy of the rather florid praise bestowed upon it here.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Thanks @Lucas for the AMC tip, since I don't have Sundance.

    Btw - Suzanne Farrell? who is she? I went to imdb, excited that the former prima ballerina had an acting career, but I don't see her name on the series at all. (I do see J. Smith Cameron though, and she's always a plus.)

  • birdgal

    I think that 'Suzanne Farrell' was the character's name; the actresses' name is Abigail Spencer.

  • the_wakeful

    What's the low-down on the availability of this to those of us that don't have fancy ultra-cable?

  • Scootsa1000

    Season 1 is available on iTunes and amazon instant. I just bought all 6 episodes.

  • Lucas

    My DVR says AMC is going to show repeats a week late, so the first ep of Rectify looks like it might follow this Sundays Mad Men. Dont know how trustworthy my DVR is though, but worth checking out.

  • Lucas

    The second episode, Sexual Peeling, is one of the best hours of drama I've probably ever seen. The golf scene was astounding in every single way. The treatment of sexuality, power, and shame was deep and meaningful. I hope the last 4 episodes live up to the second one. It's a truly remarkable show. Glad to see you're giving it some space.

  • lowercase_ryan

    But I think I'm going to have to add Sundance now. I'm missing too much.

  • Yeah, I haven't checked out Rectify yet, but Top of the Lake was amazing.

  • Guest

    Huge +1 for Rectify. I've only watched the first two episodes and I already can tell I'm going to love/hate it for giving me feelings.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Not to nitpick, but the name of the show doesn't appear until the last paragraph.


  • Django

    Was it not in the title or the second line of the first paragraph originally?

  • cruzzercruz

    Yeah, I had no idea what the show was until I reread this twice.

  • Tim

    And it's spelled wrong there.

  • JoannaRobinson

    Oh Dustin. Ever my TV soulmate.

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