REVIEW: Rectify Season 1

Rectify, which premiered this past April, was the Sundance Channel's first original series, and it bowed with a 6 episode season before being renewed for ten next spring. From creator Ray McKinnon, it follows the life of Daniel Holden, a man who'd spent 19 years on Death Row for being convicted of the rape and murder of his girlfriend Hanna as a teenager. Now, new DNA evidence has come to light which voids his original trial and he's released back into the arms of his extended family as he returns to his hometown of Paulie, Georgia.

That's the premise, but this show does not explicitly promise to solve the original case and find out who Hanna's real killer was- although there are some developments in that direction as the season progresses. No, this show is entirely about the character of Daniel Holden, played by newcomer Aden Young, as he re-adjusts to life on the outside after spending two decades behind bars. Young gives a mesmerizing performance as a man who's grown so insular he cannot function any other way, speaking in a slow, mannered pattern and slowly observing every detail of the world as he now sees it. He's almost otherworldly, and it's alluded to that he may have been a bit of an odd duck even before he was imprisoned. Young commands your attention whatever he's doing, whether it's playing his old video games, giving long, impassioned soliloquies as he reasons out loud, or figuring out how best to communicate in everyday settings like restaurants and stores. Flashbacks to his time in prison are equally riveting, as we see how our experiences shape us and Daniel's only life experience cannot be usefully informed to dictate his behavior in the outside world.

The series establishes a sense of place and the characters who inhabit this setting better than anything I've seen since Friday Night Lights (which is very high praise, believe me). Aden Young is the focus, but every actor in the cast is giving a detailed and sensitive performance with characters who are particular, complex, and troubled their own ways, right down to the smallest supporting turn. Abigail Spencer is perhaps the other standout as Daniel's sister Amantha, who believes 100% in his innocence and has his back against the vitriolic attacks of the town's inhabitants, but i also think Adelaide Clemons as his stepsister-in-law Tawney, deserves mention. She plays a naive and repressed born again Christian who reaches out to Daniel with what she thinks is a forcefulness of purpose, yet occasionally betrays confused intentions.

The show does not claim Daniel was completely uninvolved in Hanna's death, and the mystery remains as to his guilt or innocence, but the little bit of detail that we are gradually let in on over the course of these episodes promises to play out further in Season 2. This is a southern gothic story with a spiritual bent, and it may not be for everyone, as the lyrical pace and contemplative tone might not incorporate enough plot or action for some to grab onto. But I was completely transfixed and for me these hours flew by. It's stuck with me ever since, and I can't wait to delve back in.

Grade: A