The great Rectify has returned for its final season. I published overall thoughts on the early episodes yesterday, and I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I don't feel too good about having been in a sorority…
“I didn't think it would end this way.” -Daniel
Late in “A House Divided,” Daniel opens up as much as he ever has about Hannah's murder, and about the decades he spent on Death Row. With the former, he's emotionally crippled by his inability to remember what happened, and his fear that he really did kill her (whether solo or with help from Trey and the others). This isn't entirely new information, but it's articulated more clearly and forcefully than before. The Death Row talk, though, flips many of our preconceived notions based on the flashbacks from earlier seasons. Because so much of that time was devoted to Daniel's friendship with Kerwin, they created the sense that he wasn't entirely isolated for many of those years. But as he describes it here to Avery, being able to talk through the vents to people he liked (or hated), but could never see or touch, was still painfully far from the necessary levels of human contact. And it's clear that the isolation, as much as Daniel's feelings of guilt and surprise at being back in the world, explains why he's had such great difficulty being around people since his release.
With his family, at least, Daniel had some level of comfort. These were people he could feel safe around, or simply feel safe stepping away from, knowing that they would understand when he needed time alone. The New Canaan Project takes that buffer away. Its model is fundamentally built on the idea of its residents putting themselves out into the world again, and leaning on each other for as long as they're in the halfway house together. And Daniel has no idea how to do this. Those bits of wiring inside his being were long since disconnected, and even when a co-worker or housemate makes an effort to reach out to him, he can't respond. He's still in isolation, even though he's now surrounded by people he can see, touch, and interact with, if only he can get himself to do it.
New Canaan is such a drastic change for Daniel – or “Dan,” as others seem to have dubbed him (perhaps as a way for them to separate him from Daniel Holden, confessed murderer) – that it was a wise move from the creative team to devote the entire hour to it, rather than toggling back and forth between Daniel's struggles and what's happening back in Paulie. This was in many ways a dialing back of Daniel's behavior to the levels of earlier years – maybe not the borderline catatonia of season 1, but the guy in season 2 who still struggled to carry a conversation and unnerved others with his mere presence. He's out of what little comfort zone he had, and it's tough, and Aden Young played the hell out of that internal struggle.
And because the episode was so focused on this, and on the difference between Daniel and his more traditional ex-con housemates, it made the payoff where he joins in their game of Tonk incredibly powerful in that Rectify way where seemingly tiny things (a card game, a kitchen renovation) carry enormous weight. Joining the others for Tonk doesn't solve Daniel's problems. Maybe nothing can short of a time machine(*) that lets him return to that day in the woods with Hannah and at least see what happened, if not prevent it. But he needs people in order to survive, and he needs to be able to be around them first. He connects more with Chloe at the artists' cooperative than to anyone else in Nashville, and maybe between her and the guys in the house, he can start building a functional life for himself.
(*) Maybe Amantha can hook him up with the one she's using over on NBC?
At one point, he suggests to Chloe that this isn't real. On another show – a Star Trek: The Next Generation or a Buffy or a Mr. Robot – maybe we would get an hour that took place entirely inside Daniel's head. But Daniel's struggle to accept his new reality has been a part of the series from the start. His mind in many ways has never left Death Row, and until he can accept that he's not there, and that the people around him are real, matter, and perhaps can help, he can't move on. But the card game's at least a start.
Some other thoughts:
* That's Caitlin FitzGerald from Masters of Sex as Chloe. One of the advantages of short-season cable shows is that actors can find time to appear on more than one of them in a year, even if they're a cast regular in one.
* Hands up, everyone who saw Daniel sitting on the bus bench and briefly expected him to start talking about how life is like a box of chocolates?
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com