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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rectify: Sheer and Shattering Poetry

My wife and I saw the first four episodes of Rectify on the Sundance Channel last night, and found it one of the most extraordinary reels of television to come down the pike in years.

The basic story is about the release of Daniel Holden from death row after 19 years.  His release, based on DNA evidence, is a "vacated" verdict, which means he can be brought up on the same murder charges again (double jeopardy does not apply for vacated verdicts).  This would be a powerful story in itself, as Holden's lawyer Jon Stern (played by Luke Kirby of Tell Me You Love Me) and his sister Amantha (played by Abigail Spencer of Mad Men fame) square off against law enforcement who are still convinced that Holden is guilty, and intent on putting him on death row again.

But the real payoff in Rectify is the care it takes and the depth it offers in showing the impact on Holden of being locked out of the real world for 19 years.  This ranges to obvious things like not being confortable with smartphones to subtler but even more profound losses like not being aware of seasons and the pleasures of rain on a hot summer's day when you're locked away.   The dialog and acting in these scenes are sheer poetry, and Aden Young as Holden gives a quietly tour-de-force performance.

He's highly intelligent, and, due to time in prison with nothing else to do, incredibly well read.  His explanation of St. Thomas Aquinas and his attempt to reconcile - or rectify - the material and the spiritual worlds was as spot-on as you'd find in any philosophy class.   The writers deserve kudos for this level of erudition rarely if ever seen on television.

Holden is also a fascinating disquisition for anyone interested in the likely psychological impact of being frozen in prison for 19 years - locked away when was just a senior in high school.   He's most comfortable riding a bicycle and listening to music 19 years or more older, on cassettes.   He has to learn how to feel about being touched - after gravitating from the revulsion he felt for that in prison to a part of him even wanting that, because he was only human, and yet he nonetheless felt guilty about.   The dialog and the acting for these scenes are as also sheer poetry and philosophy, but on a scaldingly personal level that will touch your soul.

In a television world of cops and spies and villains and heros, Rectify is a series which transcends and shatters these genres and tells a kind of a story you've never seen before.


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