“It’s true. But still, that’s sad.”—Janet Talbot
Thanks to the miracle of recording technology, “Unhinged” isn’t the first time we’ve heard Daniel Holden confess to the murder of Hanna Dean. His original, arguably coerced admission to the crime plays over the end of “The Great Destroyer,” piped into Jon’s ears while his client, miles away, reenacts that fateful evening. Could it be the confluence of those memories that Daniel conjures when he confesses in the presence of the former and current district attorney, fulfilling Senator Roland Foulkes’ wildest dreams? There in the courthouse, in tones that sound rehearsed, Daniel Holden allows history to repeat itself, saying he killed Hanna Dean just so he can go home. But that’s impossible now; even if he wasn’t banished from Paulie, the home he wants to return to no longer exists. And any notion of his guilt or innocence we might have had doesn’t exist, either.
Rectify heads into hiatus with a daring lack of closure. (At the very least, I don’t think Daniel’s ever going to get a chance to finish that remodeling project in the kitchen.) Creator Ray McKinnon speaks of season two’s conclusion in terms of characters being left unsatisfied, and he acknowledges that the viewer might wind up unsatisfied, too. (More on that in a finale postmortem posting tomorrow.) But storytelling isn’t only about getting to the end, and there’s too much built up behind “Unhinged” for Daniel’s plea deal to come off without a hitch. Rectify embraces messiness and imperfection, and none of these characters can make a clean break, no matter how badly they may want to. Teddy can’t quit caring about Tawney cold turkey—he’s seen sneaking some cash into her purse. Daniel acts like he can just bike away from the accusations and beliefs that have ensnared him for two decades—but doing so leaves Amantha, Jared, and his mother in the dust.
But narrative isn’t this show’s only priority, and however unsatisfying its loose threads may be, there’s so much more that satisfies. The finale of Rectify’s second season runs longer than the average episode, additional breathing room that Aden Young utilizes brilliantly in the presence of the defense, the prosecution, and the prosecution’s big brother who recently had his state championship revoked. Daniel proves to be every bit of the coward his sister accuses him of being, but Young comes alive in his righteous anger, his profound sorrow, and his heartbreaking resignation. This year, Rectify had to open up and learn to tell other people’s stories, but in this moment, it’s Aden Young’s show once more. Had the series not been picked up for a third season this week, “Unhinged” would be the ticket to Young’s next gig.
In that solo spotlight, the actor brings back the ever potent Rectify theme of isolation. It took Janet saying it to make me realize it, but what we’ve seen from Daniel this season has been some solidly juvenile behavior. (That’s not usually the mark of solid writing, but Rectify has earned its share of gimmes. Besides, it’s not like it’s the world’s most direct television program, either.) The bike riding, the meeting with Jon at the merry-go-round, and the impulsive indulgences aren’t signs of regression so much as the man behaving as he did when he was locked away. And the way he disregards the fact that Amantha’s entire adult life has been built around his exoneration? These are not the actions of an adult ready to face off with the challenges of adult life. There remains growing to be done.
It’s a very teenaged yearning to be left alone, which consequently strands the people around him. Stephen Gyllenhaal’s direction and Paul M. Sommers’ cinematography capture this sense marvelously this week, cordoning Janet off in a hallway mirror or emphasizing the fact that Jared’s breaking-and-entry at the Deans’ puts him in a house full of stuff (there’s that word again) that’s completely empty. And then there’s the last shot of the episode, of Daniel trapped in a doorframe at the courthouse, stooped as if in prayer, totally alone. (It can’t be coincidence that the hallway is death-row white.) To paraphrase Daniel’s mother, it’s true, but still, it’s sad.
Emptiness is everywhere in “Unhinged,” the better to show the many kinds of loss these characters have experienced. Teddy stands alone in a bedroom built for two. Before catching up with Daniel and Jon, the camera pans over a vacant courtroom. The lawnchair next to Daniel sits unoccupied, before Amantha decides she’s had enough of her brother’s bullshit and occupies the seat herself. The motif is especially relevant to Tawney and Ted Jr.: They feel one another’s physical absence, magnified by the pain of the miscarriage, which is just one of several items of Holden-Talbot scuttlebutt in “Unhinged”—and the only one in which Daniel has no direct involvement.
And that’s what makes the lack of resolution in “Unhinged” so promising for season three: Every member of the family, the core cast of Rectify, is left searching. And it’s a search that’s personal to them, people we’ve actually grown to know in the last 10 episodes. I’ve had my reservations about Teddy and his precious rims, but “Unhinged” gives that storyline a sense of purpose: He was made to feel powerless in “Drip, Drip,” and this get-rich-quick scheme was the first available option for regaining control. Jared’s farewell with Daniel has a similarly illuminating sense, demonstrating that his fascination with Hanna’s death is a way of getting to know his cagey brother (and getting to know whether or not he could’ve committed such a heinous act). Score another point for the penetrating insight of the Holden women: Amantha feels the same disconnect with Daniel. (“If you want me in your life, you’re going to have to reach out to me. And I won’t hold my breath.”) Though he comes to see her in the visiting-hours flashback, the hurt Abigail Spencer expresses in the finale’s backyard scene confirms that the courtesy hasn’t been extended during Daniel’s life outside. It’s like they’re still separated by a sheet of Plexiglass.
And beyond the glass, the delicate ballet of life carries on. Recitfy has a fluid notion of “truth,” so it shouldn’t be judged on its abilities to tell stories exactly how they would play out in real life. Yet the closing montage of “Unhinged”—the greatest in a season of great montages—is so affecting because it shows that this world keeps spinning even if the main characters are all spinning their wheels. And even with the increasing amount of space between them, the editing shows they’re not fully disconnecting: Teddy and Tawney are searching for something out on the road. Jared and sheriff Daggett are equally puzzled and enchanted by pieces of evidence. George’s body is discovered by three boys, and three boys plus a corpse is how this whole thing got started.
As the montage threads all of these characters together one last time for season two, the strings and the piano encircle one another, each darting in the other’s direction and occasionally making contact. But that contact is fleeting—like Daniel and Tawney holding hands in the motel bed—and the instruments wind up careening out into their own orbits once more. And who’s to say they even made contact in the first place? When people like Teddy or the senator jump to conclusions because of what they think they know about people like Daniel—as opposed to actually trying to know the man, like Jared or Amantha or Tawney—truth gets to be a slippery concept. Forwarding that idea is part of the reason Rectify remains one of the best shows on TV. It’s also why “Unhinged” is one fine ending to the second season, with or without resolution.
- And that’s that for season two of Rectify. As previously stated, I spoke with Ray McKinnon about the finale this week, so expect that interview to post sometime tomorrow morning. Thanks again for caring as much about this weird little show as I do; I’m grateful to every one of you who showed up each week to read and comment.
- Wanting to keep any sort of speculation out of the main review, I didn’t mention this up top, but: Is it possible that Daniel’s double debrief is a personal ploy to get Foulkes coercing a confession on record?
- When Janet admires the rim merchandising out loud, it occurred to me that maybe Teddy’s whole subplot this year was propaganda paid for by Big Rim. (And then I realized that the consequences of “Drip, Drip” became the driving force of season two, so I put that silly notion out of my head.)
- Anybody manage to figure out what Amantha’s Hangman word was? I wasn’t, but it’s 10 letters long, and it has a “t” and an “l.”