Binge screening Sundance's new series, 'Rectify': What we learned

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Image Credit: Sundance Channel

Rectify, the Sundance Channel’s first original scripted series, is a heavy order on paper: It follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who spent 20 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl before his conviction is vacated with the appearance of new DNA evidence. This means Daniel’s freedom as well as the possibility of another trial — two things that equal a week’s worth of small-town Georgia strife for Daniel and his family, including his younger sister/biggest defender Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and parents. Jessica Shaw wrote in this week’s Entertainment Weekly, “There’s no shortage of cinematically shot and finely acted moments … Rectify’s many stories are strung together with a wonderful, airy pacing.”

In advance of the show’s premiere on April 22, Sundance partnered with BuzzFeed for a special binge screening of the entire first season (a six-hour affair) as well as a cast Q&A. The result is a specific appreciation for Rectify, which is full of flavor but wanting for balance, as well as some illuminating dish from the actors:

Rectify is slow — like, really slow. But that’s by design: Each episode is roughly one day, meaning the entire first season barely covers Daniel’s first week out of prison. That means that, yes, the series joins other very pretty, very thoughtful cable shows like Mad Men and Treme that move with a pre-planned purpose. In this case, it’s to help the audience live inside each moment of each new day just as Daniel and his family must. “It’s certainly a unique thing to spend a whole summer shooting one week,” said J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Daniel’s mother Janet. “So we were all going through trying to imagine what his first few steps into the world after death row were like. It was a lot of work, to keep coming back to ‘point zero’ and not assume more things had been digested.”

Rectify won’t give you all the answers. As Shaw noted in the magazine, the series can seem “resolution free,” which is true for its driving questions — Is Daniel really guilty; and if not, who is? — and also not. Creator Ray McKinnon, who wrote the majority of the season in addition to directing the finale, has woven those questions into the show’s skeleton, and they are rarely far from the focus of each episode. That doesn’t mean, however, that the season’s end will come down on side or the other of its main character’s innocence, despite some satisfyingly tricky foreshadowing. A crucial twist at the end of the pilot doesn’t come to full fruition until nearly the end of the season. As Smith-Cameron explained it, “I think that Daniel’s not sure what happened, so therefore it’s impossible to know.”

Rectify, ultimately, is about love. Smith-Cameron called it “deep feeling.” Daniel’s re-entry into the world causes many hairline fractures in his family, including with Amantha’s convictions about his post-prison life as well as with his stepbrother, Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and Teddy’s wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), who gets some of the most open-hearted material. And indeed the show embraces a broad, if inscrutable, emotional palette: Characters often break down in tears or withhold themselves, just outside a scene. Bruce McKinnon, who plays Daniel’s forgiving stepfather Ted, said the trick is in finding your own “sense of truth” in the world — good advice for viewers, too. “How does it happen?” he said. “I think it’s just a path I chose to follow and have my own sense of faith.”

A second season is definitely on the radar. Sundance Channel President Sarah Barnett was on hand to introduce the binge screening and she said that Sundance would very much like to see a second season, which will (no spoilers) presumably continue untangling the fallout from Daniel’s freedom. When asked to “wildly speculate” about what might go down in another season of Rectify — Would they want more information about the court case? More exploration into Daniel’s soul? — Smith-Cameron answered, “All of the above!”

Read more:
‘Rectify': First look at new drama from the producers of ‘Breaking Bad’ — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO
Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight breaks down who survived and who died in the ‘Spartacus’ series finale and why
‘Friday Night Lights’ creator Peter Berg to direct, produce HBO pilot penned by Damon Lindelof

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