You know that feeling when you’ve just read a brilliant book that has changed you and fed you and revealed the world to you? That feeling of sadness and wonder? The feeling of longing– longing to call or write the author, explaining what this book meant to you, how it saw into your brain and heart, and how their words gave you new skin and new experience and new eyes? And that even though you don’t know him/her as a person, their work made you feel known, and thus not alone. That’s how Ray McKinnon’s season finale of Rectify‘s season three made me feel. Like I wanted to call him up and thank him for his brilliance and beauty.
I intended to write about these episodes two days ago, but I wasn’t ready. I am still turning them over and I was thinking of them as my family went about our Saturday morning cleaning, listening to NPR. And then, there was the voice of Damien Echols telling his story on The Moth Radio Hour. He spent 18 years on death row for murders he didn’t commit, and while McKinnon didn’t base Daniel Holden on Echols, he was familiar with the case and his belated wife was active in working for Echols’ release. Y’all should listen to Echols tell his own story, which he later said helped release him from the trauma he had experienced. Echols reviewed season one of Rectify and since citing it in a paper I presented, I have thought of him often. Rectify is fiction, but for Echols, it rang too painfully true to continue watching.
Season 3, episode 5 has Daniel walking to the pool supply store to rectify his poor impulse control. Look at Daniel’s face–so set, but with what? I see determination and disdain. Disdain for himself?
On his way back, Melvin breaks the news to Amantha that Daniel has to move out by midnight. He’s not on the lease and other residents want him gone. Melvin wants to fight for him, but Amantha, rightly so, explains that Daniel would hate for him to lose his job. It’d be more for Daniel to carry. Dear Melvin. He is so inherently decent to Daniel. Melvin still sees the person who took care of his turtles so long ago. One of my favorite moments in episode 5 is when Daniel confesses to Melvin, and acknowledges he tipped the paint over. Melvin absorbs this fact with understanding, not judgement and it broke my heart. Because I am so not always like Melvin, but I want to be more like Melvin.
And while Marcy fled the post-stroke Senator (she gets points for visiting), she gives Janet what she needs most when Janet visits Murphy’s, deep in the missing of her first husband (whom she clearly adored) and mired in a situation in which she must choose between Daniel and Teddy. Marcy shows kindness. Concern. And we see how Marcy has grown in the short seven weeks since Daniel’s release. We also see why Janet had to stop visiting Daniel, why she had to let him go. It was too much, especially after her husband died of a heart attack and the business nearly folded. To move into “The Future” she had to stop looking back. We also see that Daniel is the product of this man she describes to Marcy and who Janet was with him–imaginative, creative, and curious. We understand that both Daniel and Janet and Amantha still morn this man that we, as viewers, will never know.
Teddy Jr. is also growing. Seriously, I was extremely proud of him in offering not only the house to Tawny, who clearly needs a home, but to change the locks at her request. And Tawny is breaking wide open too. That dream. Well, I’m just gonna be honest and say that the tears came. Because I have certainly felt what Tawny articulates, but I was so gladdened by what Daniel tells her. As Quakers will say, “It spoke to the condition of my heart.”
As a viewer, I was a little taken aback by my glee in Creepy Trey behind hauled in, and finally arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. I’m ecstatic that Daniel isn’t on the hook for George’s death, but as viewers with superior knowledge we know that George did commit suicide. And so there is this reversal, this implication it seems from behind the camera showing us how easily a case snowballs, and how sometimes guilt seems the inevitable conclusion and innocence that hardest thing to prove. I saw the hair scrunchie in the lock box though and I was screaming at the screen. Because while he didn’t kill George, well he did rape Hannah Dean and rape murders a part of a person. And maybe he killed Hannah Dean. The DA and the sheriff think Trey didn’t know she was dead the morning after the rape, but Trey is devious and methodical and one to plan ahead. I’m a bit shocked at my lack of sympathy for both Trey and the Senator. I was rooting for John as he stood, looking down at the once powerful, imposing man of power now wheelchair bound, telling the senator how he plans to poison his political and personal legacy. These characters, even the senator, are compelling because we understand them. Trey, I simply do not understand well enough to empathize with, but I will tell you all of it conspired to make me consider the frailty of our humanity and how quickly life can change.
Of course, I thought the road trip was brilliant and joyful and here I am crying as I write this. Because this road trip is a journey too of mother and son finding one another, connecting deeply, being present for one another in the deep love that is so evident especially when contrasted by Tawny and Teddy Jr., both abandoned by their moms. And when Daniel comes back from kneeling in the field, taking in the prison that housed him for two decades, he tells his mom he thought about returning to that cacoon. But then he offers her a precious gift. He wants to drive, he says, and he wants to tell her about his friend Kerwin. For Daniel, as he enters the crashing waves, the “ecstasy” as Ray McKinnon put it of simply existing in the world again, it’s also a journey of becoming and emerging and finding his place in the world. A place of belonging. This is also a journey of trust and letting go. Janet hands him his first check book and debit card. I know, I know, as a mom how hard she wants to clutch at him, and yet she respects his wishes to enter the New Canaan House alone. Perhaps, he tells his mother, the professionals there will help him in becoming more normal. I hate the word normal but that’s a whole other blog post. And of course, Daniel attempts to free his mother, making it clear that he has long since forgiven her, but that she must now forgive herself. Isn’t that the hardest thing to do? And yet, as tears stream down her face, she turns to humor and returns his own words to him about trying her best.
In the wake of the final episode, I thought of Janet, driving home, alone, to Teddy Sr.,to address the deep fissures within their relationship, and yet I felt hopeful thinking of Amantha and Teddy Jr., drinking beer together, playing Gin Rummy, somehow closer it seems than ever before. Stronger too. More truly themselves it seems than a mere seven weeks before.