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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rectify: “The Great Destroyer”

Illustration for article titled Rectify: “The Great Destroyer”

Daniel: “Does it matter if I am guilty or not?”

Amantha: “What are you doing, Daniel?”

Daniel: “Clarifying.”

A year ago, I would’ve offered a definitive “No” to that question. The first season of Rectify has no dog in the fight between Daniel Holden’s guilt or innocence—at least in the eyes of the law. But the eyes of the law are frequently the eyes of Rectify’s second season, with the scope of Sheriff Daggett’s ongoing, overlapping investigations now expanding to include the original police work that landed Daniel in the clink. Still, even if the case was to go back to trial, and even if the DNA evidence that commuted Daniel’s sentence wound up clearing him of all charges, he’d never be fully, truly cleared. The people in Paulie have known Daniel to be a guilty man for so long, they’ll never be able to see innocence in him.


And that’s the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” of the plea deal Jon brings to the Holdens and the Talbots in “The Great Destroyer.” The quickest route to assure that Daniel isn’t killed involves saying, once more, that Daniel has killed. There’s a sliver of a chance that the collective efforts of Jon and Amantha can lead to an exoneration, but it’s far more likely that Daniel will either die convicted of homicide or live out the rest of his days as having confessed to homicide. It’s just another one of those Rectify distinctions, like the thin line between guilt and innocence: Daniel might not be a killer, but there are people out there with the political might and the public support to brand him a murderer.

As with last week’s installment, it’s interesting and thrilling to watch Rectify dance around these answers while also delving into the mechanics of a traditional TV show. Ray McKinnon (credited with the “Great Destroyer” teleplay alongside Scott Teems) appears to be setting up a third season that depicts The Second Trial of Daniel Holden. All of the forces are being marshaled, at least: Senator Foulkes is a more looming presence this year, holding a private meeting with Ted Sr. in “The Great Destroyer.” (Depicted in the montage that finds the Talbot-Holdens at their most isolated, we don’t hear what the meeting’s about, but judging by Ted’s reaction it’s an easy guess: Drip, drip.) Balancing these narrative concerns with Rectify’s tendency to ask the big questions made for a wobbly start to season two, but the training wheels are off now and the show can produce an episode in which an overarching mystery fits nicely within larger mysteries like “What is truth?”

The best participants in that particular debate get their meatiest season-two scenes in “The Great Destroyer,” as Daniel’s overnight trip to Florida requires a rescue effort by Tawney. Never has the collect-call preamble “Will you accept the charges?” sounded so loaded; rarely does TV small talk do such an elegant dance around unspoken feelings. (Leave it to man-out-of-time Daniel to seek out the last payphone in the Sunshine State.) Tawney shows up in the family Mustang at just the right time, with the sun low enough for director Billy Gierhart to work some callbacks to the magic-hour photography of his last Rectify, “Sexual Peeling.” That episode set these characters up on the slippery slope that leads to “The Great Destroyer,” to the Floridian silence filled so gently by Gabriel Mann’s score and the heartbreak of Tawney’s parting words: Not only “I don’t regret coming to get you today, but I can’t do it again—and I won’t,” but also the damning and damaging “That’s a greater sin than anything you might’ve done in the past.” If Tawney thinks Daniel killed Hanna, then what chance does he have in court?

Ted Jr. and Tawney have lived so separately from the rest of season two that the Heathcliff-and-Catherine tragedy of this parting doesn’t land exactly as it should. The voyeuristic shots of their dinner with Jared almost go too far toward the sense the we’re outsiders peering in on this family moment—it feels like Jared has passed through a portal between TV worlds in order to end up on his big brother’s doorstep. The scenes earlier in “The Great Destroyer” do a better job of establishing the distance between Daniel and Tawney: In order for the pair to share the screen, she has travel across state lines.

These gulfs, “The Great Destroy” argues, are wider than they might first seem. It only takes a second to go from guilt to innocence, from free man to prisoner, from ally to adversary, from friend to love interest. And yet it requires tremendous effort to get back the other way—the kinds of efforts to which Amantha has devoted years of her life, the kind of mental anguish Ted Jr. is just beginning to get over. These are not lines to be crossed lightly, as the look on Daniel’s face implies at the end of the episode. He’s so convinced he’s not a good man, expressing grief at not being able to live up to Ted Sr.’s positive example, that to hear his younger self “confessing” to something that he’d regret shakes the character to his very core. (And Aden Young’s eyes register that shaken state to a chilling degree.) Does it matter if Daniel is guilty or innocent? Increasingly, yes. But what will always matter more is the truth of the matter—no matter how the people around Daniel define and find their truth—and it seems like we’re getting closer to discovering that truth all the time.

Stray observations:

  • In contrast to the autumnal pall of season two Paulie, Florida (or what’s standing in for Florida) looks vibrantly humid.
  • As Daggett dug into his meta-investigation, questioning the former sheriff about the original case against Daniel, a thought occurred to me: Have we ever seen Carl in his civvies? If not, I think this says a lot about the show’s setting and its dogged search for the Paulie definition of justice.
  • And there, for a brief shining moment, Jared discovered a place with people just like him—a refuge for characters who’d seemingly been shot out of Rectify’s orbit, where he too could find a minor story and thematic substance regarding male role models. But then the gods shoved him out the door and forced him to spy on Bobby Dean.
  • Daniel Holden, payphone enthusiast: “It felt good to use a telephone that wasn’t smarter than me.”
  • “The Great Destroyer” is a veritable charm offensive mounted by the men of Paulie. First, Trey asks his daughter if she ever wants to get married, then offers the suggestion “Never ask a man where he’s been.” Later, the town’s pride-and-sleazy-joy, Ted Jr., offers this frat-boy koan: “First you hate it, then you love it. It’s called beer.” In less than a fictional year, both of these men will be fathers.