Rectify – Always There (Pilot)
Top of the Lake (Reviewed Here) was a brave, bizarre and rather brilliant show that despite its seemingly formulaic plot stood apart from near anything I had seen before on the small screen. It was also new in another way; for the Sundance network it was their first original drama series and thus is set a tone for them in the same way that Mad Men once did at AMC. It was their debut, their mission statement, their standard and now it’s time to see their follow up – their Breaking Bad, to follow the rather fitting metaphor, fitting since ‘From the producers of Breaking Bad‘ is that show’s tagline.
Rectify is that second show and like Breaking Bad it suffers not from the dreaded sophomore slump. It is both as safe and as strange as its forebear but in very different ways, it is set almost on the other side of the world but plays similarly and so it does for Sundance what AMC couldn’t (given just how disparate its two dramas were) and establishes them as a Network with both strong vision and a consistent voice. The Kid is now a real contender in the future of the cable network business, but enough business banter, what of the show itself?
Strangely both this and Lake are built around a rather sick similarity, the rape of a teenage girl, with both attacks at least seeming to take place under very similar circumstances (Does this mean that Daniel, the protagonist, was actually in the dog cage all along?). The difference comes from the fact that instead of the investigating officer Rectify decides to follow the man convicted of the crime when he is, twenty years later, let out of prison with a vacated sentence and forced to reintegrate himself into southern, small-town society and rectify for his past behaviors. Think of it as a dirty-mirror’s inverted image of Justified –hell, even their titles suggest some correlation – or maybe a diluted version of The Woodsman, by which I mean his crime isn’t so socially repellant nor his guilt quite so certain.
This is where one of my few issues with the show arose. For the most part this pilot plays as a peculiar sort of family drama as protagonist Daniel Holden moves back in with his family, showcasing the small frictions and social frustrations that such a situation invokes. These more intimate scenes are quite interesting, so too is what they say about the character of Daniel: he is cold, distant and constantly dazed by his new life which is dramatically fascinating. We never see him before the crime but he explains early on that he is this way because while he was in prison he reprogrammed himself to survive the time there by removing much of his consciousness and character, only this new code doesn’t gel well with outside life.
One of the things that he forgot was time and sequence, fitting since the show is so loose with them; flowing from one episode to the next mid-scene and flashing back at will. Thematically this time material is also interesting in what it has to say about the South and about civilisation, about the constant progress of one and the stubborn static ness of the other. During a family dinner Daniel’s sister remarks that it is the women doing all the work and her mother responds by saying, “It’s the nineteen-fifties, you just don’t know it.” Where the show will eventually go with this is still uncertain but I am intrigued.
The problem though is that So much of the shows’s time is taken up by the crime subplot going on beneath this kitchen-sink surface, a subplot that suggests a conspiracy of sorts, that Daniel was set-up. Though I understand that selling people on a show about a non-charismatic rapist and murderer is going to be tough this revelation compromised things a little for me, especially when the final scene stacked the odds so strongly in one direction. Although i empathised with him i strangely found myself hoping that the hero of the show was actually guilty because that makes things so much more interesting, and makes the show worthy of being on a network as strong Sundance.
Making it an even harder sell is the fact that the show has no real ‘stars’ although it was once set to; originally pitched to and purchased by AMC a few years back (see, I kept mentioning them for a reason) Rectify was planned as a star vehicle for a name of the same caliber as Moss’, Walton Goggins, but he had to miss out on this second swing at the show due to a full schedule. Though uncredited he is still something of a force in the show, as he has been on all of partner Ray McKinnon’s projects, just not in such an obvious manner. McKinnon, now credited as the show’s sole creator, may not be an auteur on the same level as Campion, critically or commercially, but he is still its real star: he has here an intriguing story, a solid style, a stunning-looking setting and seemingly something to say with them, just as she did with hers and I’m very interested in seeing just what that is as the show progresses.
So although Rectify is not as easy a sell on the surface as Sundance’s first show, I think its story will prove the much more sustainable one provided that people are able to look past their obvious hatreds and down their persecutory stances. Drama’s of relationships are often catagorised together with soap-opera’s but this isn’t necessarily always the case; there are shows out there like Rectify that take those tropes, take family dynamics and treat them with reality and respect. Though it is built around a dark crime hook the drama actually stems from seeing these real seeming characters interact with their new situation and these kind of slow, faceted character stories are a rare breed in serialized storytelling so I hope that this one can live up to the promise hinted at here and that Sundance can deliver many more examples in the future.