One of the more devastating moments of Rectify’s third season comes early, not long after Daniel (Aden Young) agrees to take the not-so-great deal handed to him by Senator Foulkes (Michael O’Neill) and basically admits to the crime that got him sent to death row in the first place. While quietly reading on a park bench, the show’s unlikely hero is shaken by the arrival of a mother and her daughter at an adjacent playground, and feels the need to explain what a grown man is doing alone in a park, so close to where children play. His worry is that they’ll think he’s dangerous or perverse, but what Rectify has shown of Daniel thus far makes it clear that he’s only either of those things in extreme circumstances—as in a memorable altercation in the family tire store in season one that led to his stepbrother, Teddy (Clayne Crawford), waking up the next morning with coffee grounds stuffed up his backside. Daniel and the mother’s exchange at the park is a tense and awkward scene, but within its short breadth, there’s a jolting sense of the underrated show’s central motif: the clash between what humans know themselves to be and what the world tells them they are.
What continues to make Daniel such a riveting character, besides Young’s quiet, emotionally complex portrayal of the exonerated inmate once convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend, is his genuine uncertainty over who he was and who he’s become since his time on death row. Despite always declaring his innocence of those charges, he was found guilty, and the flashbacks to his days in prison give a stark, clear sense of how the incarceration made him not believe himself. In the season premiere, he’s faced with the fact that he’ll have to tell his mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), about his fight with Teddy, as Ted Sr. (Bruce McKinnon) refuses to be the one to give his wife the news. The deal Daniel strikes with Foulkes allows him his freedom, as long as he leaves the state of Georgia, but the trajectory of the episode suggests he’s still held back by, and in debt to his family for, the whirlwind damage his prison sentence and subsequent retrial caused.
The writers continue to focus Rectify’s narrative trajectory not so much on the unenviable tasks of being either a member of the justice system or a victim of that institution, but the personal repercussions on those effected by it. As in last season, Teddy’s troubles are highlighted as much as Daniel’s, especially following the former’s tumultuous separation from his wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemons). Though Crawford’s character was originally typified as nothing more than a pompous, greedy good ol’ boy, the actor’s subtly heartbreaking performance brings out more unsettling and regretful notes in Teddy, as he’s now attempting to take brother-in-law Jared (Jake Austin Walker), a confused teen, under his wing. In this, the series unassumingly conveys how guilt, regret, and indignation can spread easily, especially when the citizens of Paulie, Daniel’s hometown, reaffirm their belief in Daniel’s guilt.
The show’s overall view of small-town politics and community in the modern American South consistently teems with detail, from Ted and Teddy’s divergent business plans for the tire shop to Amantha (Abigail Spencer), Daniel’s crusading sister, weighing her choices over a managerial position at the local dollar store. More times than not, this loving obsession with the details of lower-middle-income life makes up for the show’s competent but overly plain production design and cinematography. Even more so, the show’s symbology is often breathtakingly simple yet resonant, the most prominent of them being the inflatable man outside Ted Sr.’s store, whipped around by the whims of the wind, and Janet’s rotted-out kitchen, which becomes a monument to Daniel’s inability to make himself useful, to his family and otherwise. Moments and images like this give Rectify a rousing thoughtfulness, and make the show’s portrait of men and women stuck between their tumultuous inner lives and the public personas erected by a reactionary public all the more enthralling and impossible to shake.