‘Rectify’ Goes Long In Its Powerful Penultimate Episode, ‘Happy Unburdening’

A review of tonight’s penultimate episode of Rectify coming up just as soon as I’m the weird uncle…

“I’d like to spend some time with you before it all changes.” -Teddy

“Happy Unburdening” begins and ends with the story Daniel being raped in prison: the first time as he tells it to the therapist he has finally agreed to see(*), the second as he listens to the recording of that earlier session as therapeutic homework. In the opening scene, the therapist has to keep reminding Daniel to stay in the present tense — to recount the story as if it is happening to him right in that moment, rather than something he endured decades ago — so that he can more easily relive it each time he listens, and the episode as a whole turns out to be the story of how much all the characters try to keep living in the past while they still can.

(*) This is your periodic reminder that Aden Young, like the rest of this incredible cast, has never gotten an Emmy nomination. That scene would be a career highlight for many of TV’s best actors; for Young, it’s another day at the office.

When Paulie’s former sheriff CJ Pickens finally comes in to give a deposition about the interviews he conducted the day after Hanna’s murder, he frequently responds to Sandra’s questions by asking if she wants to know how he feels now or how he felt on that day. The scene is less graphic than Daniel’s rape story, but quietly horrifying in its own way as Pickens reveals the many ways that Roland Foulkes nudged the investigation he wanted it to go, all because he had locked in on Daniel as the most obvious suspect (and because he didn’t want to hurt the son of his friend Roger).

Other moments in the episode are also tear-inducing in their connection of past to present, but less tragic overall, like Teddy saying that Ted Sr. no longer has to feel responsible for his son’s happiness, and later confessing that he’s divorcing Tawney. (Ted Sr’s response is the man in a nutshell: on the one hand giving Teddy permission to come by the house as much as needed to help get through this period, but on the other doesn’t hug his son or even put a reassuring hand on his shoulder — no doubt because he’s filthy from gardening and is more worried about damaging Teddy’s clothes.) One Ted says goodbye to his marriage — but first invites Tawney to linger in their time together a bit more over pizza — while the other remains justifiably concerned he’ll have to do the same shortly, seeming very sad and afraid even as Janet scrubs his back in the bath and tells him that she loves him. For the moment, they seem on solid ground, but so did Ted Jr. and Tawney at one point.

Perhaps the most reassuring trip back into the past comes when Amantha’s old friend Jenny stops by Thrifty Town to try to reconnect after Amantha pushed her away in the wake of Daniel’s arrest. This late in the series could seem an odd time to introduce a brand new character (even Chloe turned up with a bunch of episodes remaining), but Jenny serves nicely as a stand-in for the many ways Amantha’s life changed almost instantly in the wake of Hanna’s murder, and suggests her relationship with Billy isn’t an isolated case of her making peace with the past. Working at that store, in her hometown, isn’t what Amantha Holden wanted out of life, but she’s making do.

This was easily the series’ longest episode to date (56 minutes without commercials), and I understand the finale will be even longer. Sons of Anarchy, Walking Dead, and some other recent series have made me incredibly wary of super-sized drama episodes, but the languorous nature of Rectify and the way the show fixates on both time itself and tiny moments makes it ideally suited to this kind of expansion right at the end. In this case, the bonus time allowed for scenes to play out to their full emotional potential, like the gorgeous scene where Daniel and Chloe slow dance to the bulk of Harry Nilsson’s cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross.” Where I often find myself getting impatient with drama episodes that feel padded just because they can be, I’d have gladly lived in that moment, and many others throughout “Happy Unburdening,” for much longer — and not just because I know I have so little time left with Rectify as a whole.

Some other thoughts:

* After her tentative prayers on behalf of Mr. Zeke’s soul last week, we learn here that Tawney has fully recaptured her faith, which is why she’s considering a path that would have her tending to the sick in other countries. Tawney’s spirituality was one of the most important and resonant parts of the show in its early days, and it feels good to learn that she’s regained it before the story ends.

* Janet’s purge of items from the attic and garage inspires Amantha to utter the episode’s titular phrase, and it’s good to hear Amantha point out that Jared at the moment is getting to enjoy a version of their mother that Amantha herself hasn’t been exposed to in a very long time. Even when the past comes back, it doesn’t necessarily come back all the way, for everyone.

* Daniel tells Chloe he’s been in Nashville for four months. There was definitely a gap of time in between seasons, but it feels like there was also some kind of small jump between last week’s episode and this one, since Teddy is not only ambulatory (albeit with a limp) after his “hunting accident,” but he and Ted Sr. have had time to look at several potential new tire store locations before this one. In general, it’s probably best not to think too much about the series’ timespan — Teddy in particular has gone through an enormous amount of emotional growth in under a year, and Daniel also recovered very quickly from the savage beating Bobby Dean’s crew laid on him — but time is passing a bit more speedily now than it once did, back when season 1 took place over less than a week.

One episode to go. Sigh…

What did everybody else think? And what are your hopes for the finale?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com