I’ve been waiting four weeks for something along the lines of Rectify’s first 10 minutes tonight. Weird, muted, and momentarily inconsequential, Daniel Holden’s sojourn into the Paulie night is a beguilingly nonsensical way to work up to the climax of the show’s first season. Does it matter what W. Earl Brown is doing with those stolen goats? Not really: It’s all setup for examining the fundamental dysfunction within the show’s protagonist. And it’s not strangeness for strangeness’ sake: Like Agent Dale Cooper’s time in the Black Lodge, there’s a payoff. It’s just not immediately evident, and might not be fully evident until next week’s season finale.
Forget questions of guilt or innocence: As the series’ best episode to date demonstrates, the central mystery of Rectify plays out between Daniel Holden’s ears. “Drip, Drip” is the first hour of the series to deal seriously with why the show’s protagonist might’ve had difficulty relating to other people before he was imprisoned. His interactions with Amantha and Janet have hinted at this, but tonight’s episode really drives it home: The alienation he expresses and embodies goes beyond being off death row for only six days. This is more than just Daniel, the caged animal, suddenly released into the wild and finding himself alone and confused on a high-school campus. There are deeper issues at play here, the kind many modern institutions remain ill-equipped to deal with.
But the fifth episode of Rectify takes a look at Daniel’s mind through a lens of a much older vintage. It’s not immediately clear that this is what “Drip, Drip” is after; the logic of the protagonist’s trip into the night with a truck-drivin’, pot-smokin’, livestock-swipin’ W. Earl Brown is so skewed and nonlinear that it invites to be read as some sort of walking dream, a departure from the main road of Rectify where the old-time relijun connotations sneak in so slowly you just might miss them. Until there’s a reminder that Daniel told Tawny he’d get baptized last week, at which point the goats and the wrestling in the wilderness and the talk of swine going off a cliff and stray mentions of “temptation” start to take on greater metaphorical weight.
For once, there are no lawyers, no cops—just God, the devil, and Daniel Holden. Even without the scenes of Daniel’s baptism, “Drip, Drip” would be the most spiritually suffused episode of Rectify to date. The first 10 minutes are a bizarre, Southern Gothic telling of Jesus’ time in the desert with Satan; when Daniel can’t sleep during the cold open, he looks over to see the time on the clock is 3:14—two verses prior to the oft-cited John 3:16 that hinge on salvation. Everyone and their mother in Paulie wants to pass judgment on Daniel, but this episode wonders if they’re really the ones who’ll hand down the man’s sentence.
Just as it’s slippery in its religious imagery, “Drip, Drip” is slippery about offering answers about higher powers and Daniel’s absolution. He feels changed after emerging from the baptismal pool, but that might have just as much to do with the overwhelming sensation of the experience as anything else. The protagonist’s time with Brown’s character (credited as “The Stranger”—like the title of that Twain novel with the fucked-up Claymation adaptation) remains hallucinatory and enigmatic to the very end, when Daniel steps from the cab of The Stranger’s truck and asks “Are you real?” Rectify doesn’t deal with “real,” just as it doesn’t deal with hard facts. The only concrete details that exist on Daniel’s case are within the DNA evidence that garnered his release from prison, but even that’s not good enough for some people. That appears to be a fundamental difference between Tawny and her husband: She’s tied up in miracles and mysteries, he’s stuck on digging for the truth.
And in “Drip, Drip,” Ted Talbot Jr. digs and digs until he hits a geyser of confusion and repressed rage. The idiom goes “it’s better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”—but even though Daniel hasn’t had much of a chance to get acquainted with his stepbrother, Teddy certainly offers a formidable challenge to that old saw. Amantha, Jon, and Tawny have each had their turns to be fleshed out and have their roles in Daniel’s life, pre- and post-release, explained, but none have received the level of shading Teddy gets in “Drip, Drip.” The episode gives the viewer a tremendous sense of what motivates Ted, demonstrating in its final moments the lengths he’ll go to be proven correct.
With the exception of Aden Young, Clayne Crawford is the most perfectly cast face on Rectify. And I mean that literally: Crawford has a shit-eating grin that makes you want to choke-hold it off his face each time it flashes on the screen. And that happens an awful lot in “Drip, Drip,” as his character returns home from his business trip and sets about ridding his life of Daniel’s disruptive force. This is where that simpering mug of Crawford comes in handy again, as he plays the petulant “good” child, playing into another Biblical echo as he gnashes his teeth about the prodigal son swooping in, snatching his ceramic mechanic, and generally making life a mess for the guy who stuck around and got stuck with the tire shop. There’s a lot going on in the margins of the episode to reinforce that notion: Teddy’s tense conversations with his wife and Amantha being the most obvious, but all sorts of intrusive elements haunt Crawford’s shadow in the episode, like the big-box auto chain he has to pass on his way to Paulie Tire & Rim or the speedy little fella who beats him to every windshield in the grocery store parking lot. It’s enough to make an insecure and naturally suspicious man like Teddy become stupidly territorial—hence the tussle he and Daniel have in the symbolically rich setting of the tire store.
Here’s the thing about the shocking image of Daniel sneaking up from behind Ted and closing off his windpipe with those death-row forearms: “Drip, Drip” busies itself with positing Daniel as the aggressor, the one who, because of some misfiring synapse, ended a young woman’s life two decades ago. But in the final act, it’s Ted who looks like the dangerous one, Ted who gets in Daniel’s face, Ted who manifests all the rage, anger, and terror Daniel supposedly harbors. It’s an unsettling scene—only moreso because of what it leads to—but it truly clarifies what Daniel’s up against here. He might not be the picture of perfect mental health, but the people of Paulie, in their suspicion of anyone who may deviate from the norm, exacerbate that situation. Teddy makes things worse by acting like he’s the one who’s been imprisoned this whole time, behaving as if he’s chained to the tire store while dismissing the true pain and trauma from which Daniel could not escape for 19 years. And now that he’s out of prison and in the company of people like Teddy, it’s possible he might never be able to get away from that type of treatment.
At one point earlier in the episode, Amantha lies on Janet and Ted Sr.’s bed with her mother, contemplating Daniel’s fate. Amantha wonders if they’ll eventually have to call “the men in white coats” to escort Daniel to a safer place—before questioning if any mental-care facility still employees men wearing white coats. Then she moves onto more mythical figures: “What about the men in white hats?” “They never existed,” Janet replies. Teddy’s not aware of this. He fancies himself one of these Lone Ranger types; for his troubles, he falls prey to someone he’d expect to be wearing a Stetson black as night. There may have never been courageous figures like that, just as there may be no all-seeing, all-knowing force watching over Daniel just because he stuck his head underwater. All of these characters are searching for some sort of truth, but the responses they receive are open-ended: Did Daniel ask to be saved in order to get closer to Tawny? Is Daniel’s family aware of the emotional and mental trauma he’s undergoing? Is that chokehold in which Teddy ends up a result of the man’s prodding, or was Daniel bound to snap like that at some point? Why does Daniel love “the dancing man” so much? Any answers to those questions are offered up only as something to be taken on faith—Rectify is disinterested in the evidence sought by the Ted Jr.s of the world. It’s on a broader wavelength, the type that can accommodate 10 minutes of wondering pastures with W. Earl Brown. And thank God (or whomever) that the show gives itself that much elbow room.