The incredible Rectify — aka the best drama almost nobody watched while it was on — has come to an end. I spoke with creator Ray McKinnon, and I have a review of the series finale coming up just as soon as we go to the Village circa 1965…
“I’m cautiously optimistic.” -Daniel
This great show could have ended in so many different ways. A few could have been unequivocally happy, where we race ahead to Daniel’s exoneration and conclude with him either returning to Paulie from his exile as a sympathetic victim rather than an outcast, or see him off in Ohio enjoying a happy life with Chloe and the baby. Most would have been pretty dark: the system refuses to do anything about a case with very strong evidence that someone else killed Hanna Dean, or Daniel simply proves unable to cope in the real world after two decades of torture and isolation. McKinnon acknowledged to me that the last outcome would be the most likely one for a real man in Daniel’s tragic set of circumstances, and it wouldn’t have felt cruel or unfair had he ended the show there.
But audiences form attachments to the characters they spend years watching, just as creators feel the same about the ones they’re writing, and it’s hard to blame either group from wanting things to work out mostly okay for the heroes — nor even perhaps expecting it from a show with a title like Rectify.
So the end result of “All I’m Sayin'” felt warm, satisfying, and true to the spirit of the series without ever tipping over into something too saccharine to fit this cast of characters and their stories. We get to end, as Daniel suggests, cautiously optimistic, while still understanding how much more work there is to do, and how far short of their dreams the characters are likely to fall even if everything goes exactly right from here on out. It’s hopeful, but a realistic form of hope, which in many ways feels more powerful than if the show ended with a real version of Daniel rushing to be with Chloe and the baby(*), rather than the daydream he enjoys while sitting in bed at New Canaan.
(*) Or, for that matter, an ending where the newly-single Tawney turns up on his doorstep and announces she has taken a job at a local nursing home. So much time had passed — for us and for Daniel and Tawney — that a reunion and attempt at true romance never seemed particularly likely, though given how important their friendship was at the start, I can understand any viewers who wanted to see it happen. I was just glad they got to talk on the phone.
That final scene is a fantasy — and one that very much evokes early imagery from the series of Daniel being in a similarly sun-dappled field — but it’s not a wholly implausible one, not anymore. Daniel has stability now: a job that disappoints him, to be sure, but friends whose company he genuinely enjoys, and safe places to both live and work through his profound emotional damage. If the guilty plea gets undone, he’s free to travel as he pleases, and without the stigma he had upon his return to Paulie, and if it doesn’t, there are still ways he could see Chloe if he can work his probation officer effectively. This new life isn’t really the one he wanted, and it certainly doesn’t undo the trauma of the past 20 years, but it’s a far better one than he could have expected when he was living in a cell next to Kerwin — and, as Pickle notes, the fact that he now wants even more is actually a good thing, because he’s in a healthy enough place to have those tricky expectations.
Similarly, things end decently for almost everyone else, save the story’s true villains like Roland Foulkes, who has to watch powerless as the work on which he built his career is so publicly repudiated. Janet and Ted’s marriage seems likely to survive the recent storm. Teddy and Tawney’s won’t, but she is still a part of the family, and he’s come to recognize that they shouldn’t be married, and that most of his adult life choices could stand re-examining. Being a manager at Thrifty Town and dating Billy Harris isn’t what the younger Amantha would have wanted for her future, but it’s turning out to be okay in the present. Jon doesn’t get Amantha, but he does get this enormous, improbable legal victory, and perhaps a reminder that he is well-suited to this field of law. Even lonely Melvin gets absorbed into this weird blended family — Janet: “Welcome to whatever this is.” Teddy: “Enter at your own risk.” — though he has to put in some manual labor at the tire store to seal the deal. None of it’s perfect, but all of it is good enough.
As a whole, “All I’m Sayin'” is a finale that’s very conscious of being a finale, where the characters all realize they are coming to an end of something — not their own personal stories, but this particular difficult time in their lives that began with Daniel’s return — and reach out to one another to acknowledge that end, and all they endured before it arrived. Appropriately for a show whose main character was consumed with the idea of bending time, this was an extra-long episode all about coming to grips with the end of its own time among us.
The finale opens with a flashback to the hours before the events of the pilot, and it features a long sequence where Daniel stares at something(*), but everything is different now — again, not perfect, but appreciably better. They have suffered, they have endured, and they have all somehow made it out to the other side, in a way that feels not like a sop to the audience, but a series of hard-won emotional victories that we got to experience step by step.
(*) Perhaps as a nod to the way Daniel’s return has changed the lives of everyone around him, he’s no longer the only one who stares, as Teddy and Carl spend a long time gazing at the wall of tires as they discuss various Holden/Talbot family matters. Not to be left out of his own schtick, of course, Daniel also spends many hours staring at the painting Chloe left for him when she skipped town without saying a formal goodbye.
The finale was stacked with so many overwhelming moments — the sort of dramatic miracles that Rectify almost made feel routine with how easily it seemed to produce them over the years, and especially here at the end. The one that broke me into a useless puddle of goo was the shot of the family at the tire store watching the news conference (accented perfectly with the glimpse of Daniel having such a good time celebrating Pickle’s new job that he doesn’t even bother answering Janet’s call about what’s just happened), but there were so many stunners, most of them recalling big moments from the life of the series, or the events we know that took place before: Daniel returning to the day of Kerwin’s execution, and later remembering yet another time where Kerwin saved him from his own darkest thoughts; Janet and Judy Dean reconciling in Hanna’s bedroom (like Kerwin, Hanna’s presence is felt at the end even though her death was so long in everyone’s past); Teddy making a point to put Tawney on the phone with Daniel, despite him having every reason to resent the bond between his stepbrother and his soon-to-be-ex-wife. All the characters on the show have been changed through knowing this post-prison Daniel, but Rectify surprisingly turned out to be nearly as much Teddy’s story as Daniel’s. Of the family, he had the farthest to travel to achieve true self-awareness and humility, and he somehow made it there.
The future’s an unknown for Teddy, and for Daniel, and for everyone else we’ve come to know and love over these four amazing seasons. You could view the final images as just another fantasy of incarceration, like when Daniel and Kerwin imagined themselves driving through New York, but you could just as easily treat it as the concrete ending: the man who wanted to bend time getting to see his actual future, and share it with us. That ending is ultimately whatever we want it to be.
And just having options can be pretty damn wonderful.
Some other thoughts:
* The matter of who exactly was involved with Hanna’s murder was left somewhat ambiguous by the end, but not really. It’s clear that Chris was the main actor, but not whether George and Trey were involved beyond covering for him with the cops, and there doesn’t seem much question at this point that Daniel wasn’t involved, and was merely the victim of Foulkes’ single-minded approach to the investigation.
* Daniel and Amantha’s phone call was lovely all around, but particularly the moment where he abruptly shifts gears from discussing the good news about his case to trying to tell her about Harry Nilsson’s John Lennon-produced album “Pussy Cats,” from whence came his great “Many Rivers to Cross” cover from last week’s episode. Once upon a time, Daniel changing the subject from a huge moment for himself and his family would have driven Amantha around the bend; these days, she’s come to accept that this is just how her brother’s mind works, and goes with it.
* Similarly, it’s a nice growth moment for Amantha when she seems genuinely pleased to hear Tawney describe this as “a blessed day,” where once upon a time talk of her stepsister-in-law’s spirituality only led her to roll her eyes.
So that’s it for Rectify. Goodbye, farewell, and amen. Go read the McKinnon interview, and then tell me: what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com