Under the Big Blue Sky

[This review of Rectify Season 3: Episode 1 originally appeared at libraryofimpressions.com]

“The best show nobody’s watching” kicked off its third season this past Thursday on the Sundance Channel. I have been a faithful fan of the show since I first heard the first promo for it. There’s so much I love about the show – though it’s like being in high school and knowing all about an indie band that no one else has ever heard of. I don’t know many people who have seen the show, or are fans of it, but those who have, love it. And there is a kind of instant camaraderie that comes from finding someone else who watches the show, like finding that one other person who has heard of that obscure indie band you like.

I’ve always been a person who appreciates a good plot, but for a show to really stand out, I want to see deep characters and well-written, consistent character development. I want to know how they think and why they think it. Usually that means a slower paced show, but TV lends itself for that. It allows for a deeper connection to the characters, if the writers and actors are able to pull it off. No TV show that I can think of has really mastered the character development while still maintaining an interesting plotline as well as Rectify has. It also helps when you have a cast that really knows how to act and writers who can make awkward scenes and dialogue feel very real.

In “Hurrah,” season three picked up right where season two left off. And for a show that has one of the slowest timeline advances of any show (besides 24, I suppose) they really cut right to the chase. Daniel signed a confession and Ted Jr.’s decision to press charges against Daniel came just moments too late. It works out, though, because as Ted Jr. said, he didn’t really want to press charges in the first place.

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As soon as I saw Ted Jr. at the vending machine I just knew whatever he was buying would get stuck. Of course it would. That’s just Teddy’s luck, isn’t it? At the same time the scene really kind of fell flat for me. It was the weakest of all the scenes of this week’s episode. What, has Teddy never had anything get stuck in a vending machine before? I get it. Teddy has bad luck, and the sheriff does something he probably shouldn’t do. But it just didn’t really work for me.

The best part of the scene was when Sheriff Daggett mentions that Daniel will have thirty days “to get his affairs in order” and Teddy is shocked by the wording and exclaims, “affairs?!” – clearly thinking about Tawney.

The scene at the dinner table and the conversation between Teddy and Daniel afterwards really seemed to be the focal point of the episode. That scene was Rectify at its best, really. The pacing was about as slow as anyone can handle. The dialogue and overall feel of the scene was tense and awkward. The way that the whole scene was visually framed just off center seemed to be a good visual metaphor for what was going on. Then Teddy shows up unexpectedly, slowly proceeding through the uneasy darkness of the room to join the Daniel, Ted, and Janet while they’re having dinner.

The dialogue between Teddy and Daniel was great. Don’t you love how Aden Young handle’s Daniel’s responses to Teddy? Anytime that Daniel and Ted Jr. have interactions with each other, I generally think it’s the best part of the show. Both actors encapsulate their characters so well you can’t help but fall in love with the show, no matter how uncomfortable the dialogue may be.

I also love the set up surrounding the details about the BBQ place, Willy D’s. Janet specifically got this meal because it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. She told this to Ted Sr. before dinner, and even though he knew it was not true he didn’t say anything to Janet. Surprise, surprise. He probably figured it wouldn’t really be much good to upset Janet, and that it wasn’t really information that she needed to know. It was best to just let her think that she was doing something especially thoughtful for Daniel.

Daniel handles the situation in the most Daniel way possible when she tells him that she got this food for him because it was one of his favorite places to eat. “Maybe so. I just don’t remember.” That kind of response sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is it a foreshadowing of Daniel’s innocence of the crime that he’s just confessed to? Maybe I’m just reading too deeply into this scene.

But when Teddy shows up and gets excited that they are eating Willy D’s BBQ it adds that twist we weren’t exactly expecting, and it really makes us look a bit differently at Janet. Then later she rightfully gets upset at Ted Sr. for not telling her and letting her believe that it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. It was a neat moment in the show to see Teddy’s response and the boy-like cheeriness that was brought into the scene at the memory of going to Willy D’s for the first time, yet at the same time it makes you cringe because of Janet’s mistake. That story carried a lot of weight with it in how we are to view Janet and her feelings for Daniel and of Teddy. And it even snuck in some rare feelings of empathy for Teddy.

I love the scenes between Teddy and Daniel – and the scene after dinner is no exception. The way Daniel talks – is it honest to a fault? Is it a sneaky way of being patronizing towards Teddy? Is it just a lack of social aptitude because of his 18 or so years in prison? Perhaps is it a mixture of all three? I honestly don’t know.

Ted Jr.’s accusations usually seem a bit stretched. Though I’ve always found his suspicions generally warranted and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t really know what’s going on with his wife, and who has had coffee grounds poured down the back of his pants by a man who just moments before was baptized in a Christian ceremony. Teddy has built up a narrative of what has happened, though. And this narrative is full of projections and conjectures that’s he’s formed over the weeks that Daniel has been out of jail. He’s heard the confessions of his wife saying that she had inappropriate feelings for Daniel. He’s seen how Daniel acts around and looks at Tawney. Mix that with his own insecurities, especially about his masculinity, and I think the accusations just make sense, and they’re reasonably well thought out.

Side note: I find it fascinating that being choked out and having coffee grounds poured down the back of your pants is almost as shameful for Teddy as if he were raped or something. The way he’s reacted has always seemed a bit disproportionate with the offense. Which could be why those that he’s told assume that it was more than just coffee grounds down the pants. (But don’t suggest that! He get’s really upset when that happens.) He must be VERY insecure about his masculinity. He feels he is constantly having to prove himself to his wife, who has rejected him sexually a number of times (many men’s worst nightmare) and to his father, who just doesn’t seem to think he can be a successful businessman of his own right. And then there’s Janet, who clearly doesn’t really see him as her son, although now she seems to regret that. (“I wish I hadn’t asked you to call me Janet.”)

Daniel doesn’t help dissuade Teddy’s narrative or projections. Daniel really doesn’t stick up for himself beyond, “No…that’s impossible.” The narrative that Teddy has built up continues to be strengthened because Daniel really seems to allow for himself to take the blame for things that he isn’t truly guilty of. Maybe to a fault.

At the same time, we do know that Daniel has feelings for Tawney. He isn’t just an innocent friend. He has feelings for Tawney, and Tawney has had feelings for Daniel. This isn’t simply an innocent friendship. And Ted Jr. has picked up on that and amplified and projected all of his insecurities into the situation.

The scene of the jail workers prepping Daniel for execution wasn’t a flashback, but rather a fantasy. That’s something I don’t think we’ve experienced in this show as of yet. And this fantasy had some great underlying emotions attached with it. Was it anger? Grief? I’m not really sure exactly what it was – but it was good. This isn’t a memory like in the scenes of the jail that we’ve seen before. This was more of a projection of how he is feeling right now. His punishment was the result of his confession of the crime – and that punishment was the killing off of his life from the rest of his family. Perhaps most significantly to his mother, who seems desperate to believe that Daniel is indeed innocent.

Daniel’s scene in the park continues to show his ineptitude in social interactions. This time amplified because it’s a mother with her child at a merry-go-round. (Do they still have those? I haven’t seen one for years…) Daniel is a gentle giant in many ways, but boy is he awkward. But this show can pull off awkward like few shows can, and that’s almost purely due to both the writing of Daniel’s character and Aden Young’s ability to pull it off in such a remarkable way.

I kept figuring since this is such a small town the young mom would be able to connect the dots about who this creepy over-sharing dude was and figure out that this was that killer that was released from prison just weeks ago. But no, she was very patient and kind in her interaction with Daniel and instead of scampering off with her daughter in fear (which I think most shows would do) Daniel is the one who eventually walks away. I loved that scene.

There was a glimmer of hope that maybe Teddy would become a decent man, and be willing to do whatever it took to reconcile with his wife. But…of course not. He’s too stubborn and insecure (although Tawney really did try to phrase things the best she could for him to consider therapy of some kind).

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Also, Teddy only admitted earlier to Janet that he and Tawney were having marital issues out of necessity. She was standing on his front doorstep asking where Tawney was. So add that to the shame wagon that Teddy is carting around with him all the time. But when Tawney told him that Beth, the woman whom she has found refuge with during this time (btw, why did Tawney tell Teddy where she was?!), has had two miscarriages of her own, Teddy responded with a cold “Good for her!” It’s such a despicable response that even Tawney failed to believe her ears. “What?!”

So much for any hopes of therapy or reconciliation. At least for now.

And then there’s Amantha. She needs to make a decision. Should she stay in Paulie? Should she take a managerial position at Thrifty Town?

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She seems so lost. What is she going to do? She devoted herself to her brother and his case and now she feels betrayed by him that he took the plea deal. But, at the end of the day, when Daniel says needs a place to sleep, she says “of course” he can stay with her.

Amantha seems so downtrodden now. She was a fiery defender of Daniel. Her devotion to Daniel, and by association her own family and name, has waned a bit since he’s gotten out of jail. That was her entire purpose of living for years it seems, and then he got out, and now she’s sort of aimless. She’s also frustrated and angry with Daniel that after all that she has done for him to get him out of jail, he takes the easy route and says he “did the deed.” She gave her life to clear his name based on the belief that he didn’t do it. But the fact that he admitted he did it, even if only to stay out of prison, I think nags at that deep feeling of doubt that everyone is carrying with them – Did he do it?

Perhaps we’ll find out for sure this season whether he “did the deed.” We the viewers know a lot about the characters in this show, but at the end of the day we don’t really know if Daniel did the crime that he confessed to. (Although I am still haunted by that scene where he chokes that rag-doll in his bedroom.) And honestly, we don’t even know if Daniel knows if he did it or not. How much longer can this show carry that tension so successfully? Is there a breaking point? I guess we’ll find out together.

Stray Thoughts:

  • In AV Club fashion I thought I’d include some meandering thoughts or observations I had while I watched.
  • It’s come to be that I’m shocked when Amantha isn’t smoking during a scene. She’s got to have lung cancer by now, right? Someone should count how many cigarettes she’s smoked since season one. I know people did that for alcoholic drinks andMad Men.
  • The last scene with Senator Foulkes was definitely interesting. Is it a way for the show to point to an overarching sense of “justice will prevail”? When I was watching this with my wife she noted that many people fear a stroke over death itself, and interesting contrast to Daniel’s fantasy of his own execution.
  • Am I wrong about my reaction to the whole Twix getting stuck thing? I mean, they have vending machines at their tire store. Surely this is not an uncommon occurrence. I’m pretty sure Teddy would know how to get the Twix unstuck “due to its ridges” or whatever.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Amantha’s (ex?)boyfriend/Daniel’s (ex?)lawyer constantly looks like an extremely exhausted Mark Ruffalo?
  • I didn’t talk about anything related to Jared in this review, but something tells me there will be plenty of opportunity later this season, even though his appearances up to this point have been quite sparse.
  • I didn’t mention anything about the DA, but it seems clear to me that she’s very conflicted about this whole thing. She doesn’t seem to believe that this case is closed. And Senator Faulkes can see it, and he suggests that she not go down any of the paths of doubt. The whole dead body and the details surrounding the stuff being dug up at the river just goes to show that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than is apparent right now. We already somewhat knew that because of very short snippets of scenes that has made us aware, but it seems that maybe those storylines will finally be developed this season. And I’m looking forward to finally putting some of those puzzle pieces together.

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