Season finale review: ‘Rectify’ – ‘Unhinged’

“Rectify” just wrapped up its second season, a couple of days after Sundance ordered a third. I spoke briefly with Ray McKinnon about the season, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as I hoard food under stress…

“It's not complicated. I just want it to be over, Jon. Don't you?” -Daniel

I watched “Unhinged” a few days before the renewal announcement, and instantly thought of how angry I would be if Sundance hadn't renewed it, not only because the show is so wonderful (and such a perfect example of what Sundance should be aspiring to make and promote), but because the episode doesn't remotely work as a series finale. Season 1's finale would have worked as an ending – albeit a very bleak one – to Daniel's story if Sundance had never ordered more. “Unhinged,” on the other hand, leaves so much up in the air – whether the judge will accept the plea deal, whether Carl will keep investigating Trey's role (especially now that George's body has been discovered), what impact Ted Jr.'s desire to press assault charges against Daniel will play in the other two matters – that it almost plays like McKinnon thumbing his nose at the idea of closure, and/or daring Sundance to cancel him.

McKinnon, though, said he wasn't thinking about anything but following the story where it went – and trying to stay true to the show's philosophy of defying convention. And “Unhinged” does play like an episode of “Rectify,” albeit on the plottier end of the show's spectrum.

The episode's magnificent, complicated centerpiece is Daniel providing the debrief to the current and former prosecutors. This is a role that Aden Young is so often asked to play in silence, or with brief, cryptic bursts of dialogue. Here, asked to deliver a pair of lengthy monologues about the events surrounding Hanna's death (interrupted only by a commercial break and occasional interjections from Foulkes and Jon), he is absolutely riveting, even as his performance and the scene continue to leave much ambiguity as to what actually happened. We know by now that Daniel simply wants this matter to be over with so he can free his loved ones from the burden of being hurt by his presence (if nothing else, he knows that what he did to Ted Jr. must be met with exile at a minimum), yet he spends a very long time building up to a version of events where he was not the killer. Then, after an argument with Jon, he continues in that vein before pivoting abruptly to give Foulkes exactly what he wants to hear. Is this the truth? Is the earlier version a cover so Daniel can feel disconnected from what he might have done to Hanna, or a way to let Foulkes dangle on the edge of a rope for a little bit as punishment for what he put the younger Daniel through? How much does he genuinely remember? I have no idea, and Young's performance and the construction of the scene allows for multiple interpretations. It may be that Trey is the only character on the show who genuinely knows what happens, and it's certainly not in his best interest to tell anyone, so I could imagine a scenario where the show ends without ever telling us, even as it perhaps brings the emotional story of Daniel (and of Amantha, Tawney, Janet, Ted Jr., etc.) to a more proper close than we got here.

The rest of the episode is pretty terrific in its own right, from Tawney letting Ted Jr. know that Daniel told her of the assault at the exact wrong moment(*), to Amantha having a final conversation with Daniel while she's still “this person one more time,” to Jared sneaking into Hanna's room to get some sense of what his half-brother might have been up to all those years ago. It demonstrates the same curiosity about its ensemble that the entire series has to date. Season 2 unexpectedly and marvelously turned out to be a big year for Ted Jr., and I can imagine Jared being pushed into the spotlight next year (or Janet even more than she was this year) and it being just as fascinating. Hell, I could even imagine a third season where Foulkes becomes less of a heavy.

(*) My favorite part of that scene is at the beginning, when Teddy slips some cash into Tawney's purse before she comes downstairs. Both there and when he offers to help her out in whatever she's doing next, we are reminded that while Ted is not the greatest human being alive (that would likely be his father), he is capable of generosity, and reflection. He knows he did many bad things in this marriage as well, and he also cares enough for Tawney to help her even as she's leaving him. And then all that empathy and introspection just gets crumpled up along with the letter when he realizes that Tawney spent the night with Daniel (even if he doesn't know, like we do, that no sex was involved).

What a great year. I wondered if the show had enough life in it for a second season, let alone a longer second season, and it absolutely did. With four extra episodes, we got the trip to Atlanta, we got an extended stay with Lezlie-with-a-Z, we got Amantha trying to figure out a life separate from her crusading for Daniel, we got Ted Sr. being a saint without being a cartoon, and we got so many spectacular moments with Daniel, with Tawney, with Ted Jr. and Janet and everyone else.

So go read the McKinnon interview, and then tell me: what did everybody else think?