The title of “Happy Unburdening” is spoken sarcastically: It’s a loaded barb from Amantha to Janet expressing frustration, jealousy, and incredulity in the space of two words. She’s frustrated with her family and the people of Paulie, jealous of the bonding occurring between her mother and her step-brother (and the closure it represents), and incredulous that she just went to a roller rink to accept an apology from the guy who nearly beat her biological brother to death—a meeting that ends with her playing courier between Judy Dean and Janet Talbot. All things considered, I think she’s earned the right to get a little snippy.
But like many of the scenes that make up “Happy Unburdening,” Amantha’s insult has a shadow elsewhere in the episode. Read “happy unburdening” at face value and it still has a ring of irony to it, but it can also apply directly to what’s happening with Daniel, Pickens, Bobby, Tawney, Chloe, Ted, and Teddy: A discharge of one psychic stress or another that could, at some point, lead to bliss. As Rectify moves toward its final chapter, it’s getting these characters to a place where they can unload the weight they’ve carried with them for 20 years.
And the most important load-carrier is Daniel. In a powerful cold open, we see Rectify’s protagonist in session with the PTSD specialist. Talking about being raped in prison is just one step in a regimen of unburdening: As we see in the episode’s closing moments, that process includes reliving the incident outside of the therapist’s office, with Daniel listening to a recording of the session. (“Homework,” he calls it.) It’s an echo within an echo, the voices in Daniel’s earbuds connecting the scene to both the beginning of the episode and CJ Pickens’ deposition. Rectify is rarely so meticulous about the structure of its episodes, but “Happy Unburdening” wants us to make these connections.
But before we do, we witness the new peak of Aden Young’s portrayal of Daniel Holden. There’s guidance from the therapist, but the scene is all about Young giving words to the unspeakable. It’s an engrossing reverse of the “show, don’t tell” philosophy: Daniel’s memories so vivid, and Young’s performance so suffused with release, that the scene made me forget I was just watching a guy tell a story. It’s theatrical in the best sense of the word, a moment boiled down to actor, character, and emotion. And light: With Young silhouetted against the window, it’s a while before we can see that the experience has brought Daniel to tears. To that point, we don’t need the easy visual signifier that this is a trying experience. When one of the tears catches the light, that’s just the diamond (falling from the sky) in this crowning achievement of a scene.
Daniel getting himself to this point feels climactic, doesn’t it? Rectify doesn’t appear to be saving all of its breakthroughs and farewells for the finale. There’s a whiff of finality to Tawney and Teddy’s conversation on the couch—maybe we’ll see them signing paperwork next week, but this came across like “goodbye” to me—and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Chloe doesn’t show up following the “Many Rivers To Cross” slow dance. As I understand it, a lot of viewers wouldn’t object to that; not to be contrarian, but I’ve mostly enjoyed what Caitlin FitzGerald brought to the final season. The character verges on Manic Pixie Dream Girl—she may as well have said “This song will change your life” before dropping the needle on Pussy Cats—but FitzGerald brings a welcome spark to the show’s conclusion. Much of that is in service of Daniel, so Chloe doesn’t always come across as her own, full person—but the shades that she brings out of Aden Young add to the overall richness of Rectify. She connects with him in ways Tawney could not, even if she remains a fundamentally unideal partner for someone who, by his own admission, isn’t fully prepared to have a partner.
“Unburdening” is just another way to say “letting go,” and that’s another source of the conclusive vibe of this week’s episode. There’s one topic left hanging—and it’s the biggest one Rectify has—but so many of these characters appear like they’re ready to move on to what’s next. Jared’s helping Janet sort through old things; in her conversation with Teddy, Tawney lays out her next phase. Teddy won’t be spending the rest of his life with Tawney or at a tire store, and he delivers that heavy news to his father in two more of “Happy Unburdening”’s carefully calibrated admissions. Ted and Janet’s recent troubles lend additional meaning to that second exchange, and the way it’s blocked—with all three actors isolated in separate shots—“Happy Unburdening” creates some ambiguity about whom Ted’s words of support and love are directed at.
The pivotal point in the scene is one that’s so subtle, you might miss it—I did, because I had to rewind the scene twice to make sense of why Ted heads into the house saying “I meant Janet.” The editing telegraphs it just enough: Talking to Teddy, Ted refers to Janet as “Your mother,” and the shot cuts to J. Smith-Cameron’s surprised face. The slip of the tongue is a statement of unity, true feelings soothing the burn of “I blame you for never thanking me.” It breaks through the wall of eBay sales and Goodwill donations Janet built around herself the past two weeks, leading to the tender moment in the bathroom that could be the send-off for Ted and Janet’s story together: “I love you, Ted.” “I love you, too, Janet.”
But there remains unfinished business—and unresolved resentments for Amantha, no matter how many old friends she makes amends with. George Milton helped define this show in spite of appearing in only one episode, and it appears he’ll have a parallel in the powerful-and-influential Roger Nelms. (I guess that answer’s Jon’s question: “Who’s Roger?”) Will Pickens’ deposition lead Daggett and Sondra to the truth about Hanna’s death? And if it does, will it have any bearing on Daniel’s lot in life?
Whatever the impact, we know from the first 28 episodes that this whole experience has left Daniel weighted down with immeasurable baggage. And we know from the 29th, “Happy Unburdening,” that he can choose to sell that baggage, store it in the cedar chest, and simply give it away. I can’t imagine things are going to wrap up that neatly for these characters—but I can’t wait to see what happens next week.
- In the screener cut (and hopefully the broadcast version, too), Teddy and Ted’s divorce talk is scored to “Truth” by Balmorhea, who also provide Rectify’s theme song, “Bowsprit.” If you enjoy the way Rectify seems to make your heart swell with warmth, then I highly recommend checking out Balmorhea’s 2009 LP, All Is Wild, All Is Silent. It contains “Truth” and eight other largely wordless compositions that feel like the truth.
- In addition to a review of the finale, “All I’m Sayin’,” we’ll post a quick postmortem with Ray McKinnon immediately following the episode. “All I’m Sayin’,” like “Happy Unburdening,” is airing in a supersized timeslot, so look for the review and the interview around 11:30/10:30 Central next Wednesday.