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.