Rectify: “Charlie Darwin”
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Rectify: “Charlie Darwin”

“The world just screams and falls apart”

By necessity of its starting point and its longer episode order, the second season of Rectify had to expand the show’s scope. Six episodes of roiling tensions leading to one explosive release could be told within the confines of the Holden and Talbot houses, but “Running With The Bull,” “Sleeping Giants,” and “Charlie Darwin” find their storylines spooling out beyond the families’ property lines. Jon has a case that’s only thematically tied to Daniel; Ted Jr. is off on his own cockamamie quest, which tries ever so hard to make viewers care about the intricacies of applying for a business loan. What’s shifting between season one and season two becomes more apparent when “Charlie Darwin” zooms in on Daniel. In adjusting itself to accommodate for additional storytelling real estate, Rectify gets a little more generic, but what made those first six episodes so special is concentrated in the Daniel-centric sequences.

I’ll say this for the season’s first two episodes: They grant a huge sense of impact to the sight of a walking, talking Daniel Holden. Out of the hospital but nowhere near full strength, he’s more shellshocked than ever, a state captured in Aden Young’s clenched muscles and mumbled syllables. He’s understandably shaken: His world was so small for so long, and then it was overwhelmingly large for a short window of time—before it contracted even further. Standing in his mother’s living room, Daniel is trapped all over again (though less so than he was while comatose), and longs not only for escape, but to grant escape to others. Both times, he overreaches: First he tells Daggett that Bobby Dean wasn’t involved in the cemetery assault, and then he strains the injuries from that assault while trying to help a neighbor move a fallen tree limb.

The great mystery of “Charlie Darwin” involves Daniel telling Daggett that the Bobby Dean in the mugshot is not the Bobby Dean who helped break four of Daniel’s ribs before relieving himself on the gravely injured man. As usual, his actions are intended to speak louder than his words: In a righteous fury, he tells Amantha “I’m done with it. And you don’t have to be. Bobby, the sheriff, the town—you can all keep playing. I’m done with.” But he’d already shown this when he packed the attic into a garbage bag and wheeled it to the curb. The problem, then, and the internal struggle that’s bubbling to the surface (and not for the first time) is that he’s struggling to make these feelings and intentions known. He invests his energy in kitchen remodeling, window washing, and neighborhood cleanup, ways of figuratively erasing past mistakes, over which he has some semblance of control. Doggett, with his investigation into the attack, and Amantha, with her visit to the frozen-in-time donut shop, want to move backward—or maybe recover lost seconds. Daniel’s forcing himself to move ahead, hence the light auto theft that ends the episode.

It’s difficult to gauge whether he envies or pities the neighbor’s tree. In general, we don’t view loss of limb as a positive development, but the tree has shed something that’s dead, an individual piece that could’ve dragged down the whole. It’s a purge, it’s catharsis, it’s the cleansing Daniel has sought in several places but is yet to find. The limb becomes a visual motif for “Charlie Darwin,” framing establishing shots and seemingly haunting Daniel from across the street. It’s a very Rectify focal point, and it’s a reiteration of the climate in Paulie as season two begins. The tire store is struggling, “obesity’s the only thing still selling in this economy”: It’s fall in small town Georgia, with low autumn light washing out interior colors and the local fairways rendered a flat brown carpet. When Daniel races by the rural landscape in the family car, he passes a fallen tree with its roots still attached—and then the camera lets the auto pass from view while it holds on another set of bare branches.

The sense, echoed by the Low Anthem song on the soundtrack that gives the episode its name, is one of entropy, decay, and the people fighting against those quantities. It is, in these first three episodes of season two, a losing battle. Just take a look at poor Jon Stern, fulfilling the excessive culinary requests of a dying monster in a human suit. The attorney’s jailhouse scene is set up as one character seeking answers from another, but the deeper Jon digs, the more he and Hollis turn into archetypal representatives on the sides of wrong and right, grace and damnation. In a clever spot of writing, the answers Jon appears to be seeking are in Daniel’s responses to Sheriff Daggett. More than wanting to believe that the people he represents are innocent, he wants to believe that they’re capable of giving the benefit of the doubt to other people as well. Hollis wouldn’t step up to prevent Bobby Dean from going to prison; in Daniel’s place, he would’ve gladly kept playing the game Paulie wanted him to play. “It was fun to pretend” he tells Jon, words that I can hardly imagine coming out of Daniel’s mouth.

Despite flashes of brilliance like this, “Charlie Darwin” isn’t the knockout episode Rectify’s been threatening to debut the past few weeks. For all of its thematic weight, I can’t seem to get behind whatever shenanigans Ted Jr. is up to in the bank scene this week. Clayne Crawford plays the heel so naturally, but his character is stuck in a season-one Buddy Garrity gear right now, and his redemptive relationship with a troubled youth/triumphant falling out with Joe McCoy feels like it’s a long way off. But the actions that come of that behavior are feeding the season-two motif of things falling apart: Whatever he’s truly up to, whatever power play he’s making while his family is thinking about anything else besides the tire store, it’s eating away at his marriage. It brings Tawney and Daniel closer in spirit, because she’s suddenly trapped, too, in an increasingly loveless partnership where the house they’ve built together is now collateral against this rim-rental scheme.

All the while, the eye-of-God camera peers down on Amantha and Bobby Dean in separate scenes—albeit with less distance between the observer and its subject. The effect is a suggestion that the show’s not quite ready to completely open its lens all the way wide; the alternate hint is that these characters are increasingly hemmed in by emotion, by geography, or by circumstance. (When Amantha is seen from overhead, she’s reading The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s examination of random occurrences and our attempts to rationalize them.) But the character who feels this most intensely, Daniel, is no longer sitting in the driveway, revving the engine. He’s on the road. He’s blown town. Fighting through memories of self-inflicted injury and forced medication, he’s found his true escape—for now, at least.

Stray observations:

  • As part of the show’s admirable attempt to see multiple sides of every issue, Jon drives through a throng of protestors that includes signs for and against the death penalty.
  • Your Rectify Shot Of The Week is the pan across the driving range, which settles on Ted Jr. and his creeping lack of purpose, followed closely by bedraggled Jon Stern at the Huddle House counter—a man out of his element, ordering someone else’s last meal. Either way, you’re looking at somebody who’s lost. Because what I admire most of all about Rectify is its grasp on the fact that we’re all somewhat lost—and anyone who claims they aren’t is either dead wrong or full of shit.


Filed Under: TV, Rectify

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