Rectify October 9, 2014

With a single line, Matt Zoller Seitz captures the quiet power of the Sundance TV series, Rectify, recently renewed for a third season: The show “never shouts when it can whisper.” The show’s principal character is Daniel Holden, recently released from 19 years on death row after the discovery of new DNA evidence. He may be guilty after all; no one in town knows for sure, and neither do we. The characters and relationships are realistically complex, the conversations layered, the pace as slow as life in rural Georgia.

Seitz also makes a convincing case that the program is an example of “truly Christian art.” It’s partly the small town, Bible-belt setting. But the Bible-beltness seems as natural as the local diner: “Rectify is a straightforwardly spiritually minded drama in which Southerners weave talk of the presence or absence of God into everyday conversation, along with allusions to prayer and doubt, heaven and hell, sin and redemption. Daniel’s deeply devout sister-in-law, Tawney Talbot (Adelaide Clemens), has casual conversations about God, sin, and afterlife with Daniel, and much pricklier ones with his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), who isn’t too big on the whole ‘God has a plan’ thing, given all that’s happened to Daniel and their extended family. Tawney knows her husband Ted Talbot Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is growing apart from her because “we don’t pray together anymore.” This is a world that a lot of Americans live in, and yet you rarely see it depicted on TV. Here it’s portrayed without hype, and with zero condescension.” A couple of episodes in Season 1 focus on Tawney’s efforts to convince Daniel to get baptized.

More: “Old and New Testament imagery are built right into the story. The first season consisted of six episodes that unfolded over six consecutive days. The season ended with Young’s character, the former death row inmate and autodidact Daniel Holden, comatose after being attacked by vigilantes; somehow McKinnon has turned ‘He is risen’ upside down (‘He has fallen’) and fused it with ‘On the seventh day, He rested.’ Add that to all the different variations of death/birth already depicted on the series (Daniel was reborn intellectually through his studies in prison, reborn again upon his release, and then reborn yet again when evangelicals baptized him; his presence in town forces many citizens to grapple with un-Christlike revenge fantasies) and you’ve got more Christ imagery than you’d think any TV show could handle. Somehow Rectify handles it. It’s all part of the texture.”

Browse Our Archives