Sundance Channel's Rectify continued its second season in the same, haunting, mesmerizing fashion that encompassed its first. Back when the first season premiered with just six episodes in 2013, I wondered whether this slow, meditative, existential drama would be able to maintain itself into another year, but I needn't have worried. Rectify, if anything, came back stronger than ever, this time striking the perfect balance between investigating the mystery of Daniel Holden's past and holding onto that languorous, dreamlike storytelling that brings us inside the elusive ex-convict's head so deeply that we feel at times almost as lost as he is. Which for me, makes it one of the most compelling and gripping shows on TV, far more powerful in its effect than something like Hannibal, which may actually be its closest comparison believe it or not, in terms of portraying arthouse instinct on television.
We started off the second season with Daniel in a coma for three episodes, after his savage beating at the hands of Bobby Dean in last season's finale. But even though Daniel is unconscious, he is not off screen, because of course we're taken inside his head to his dream state, where we get what may be real or possibly imagined flashbacks to his time in prison and conversations with a fellow inmate, his friend Kerwin, who was executed some time before Daniel's release. These scenes are powerful on their own, but the thing I love so much about Rectify is its lack of structure. Daniel's time in prison is occasionally flashed back on, but other times not- it's not hampered by having to do it every episode; rather, it seems to show up only when necessary for the character. And it's the same for every single character on the show, not just Daniel. He's played again in a powerful, commanding performance from Aden Young, who gets plenty to do as Daniel recovers from his beating, tries to pick up on the time he missed out on, re-discovers his predilection for heavy drinking and drug use, and finally begins trying to put the pieces back together of the night of Hannah's murder.
But the characters that make up Daniel's immediate family and acquaintances are never given the short shrift. We get to intimately know his sister Amantha, his mother Janet, and his sister-in-law Tawney, who are all fully developed, interesting and three dimensional women, probably the most important characters on the show besides Daniel actually. All three have a different relationship to him and different internal goals, with Tawney especially, as his in-law and love interest, the most heartbreaking, as she continues to struggle this season with her undeniable, forcible attraction to Daniel completely overwhelming her interest in her own husband (if she ever really had any, which is questionable). Speaking of which, Clayne Crawford has a much bigger role this year as Teddy the annoying stepbrother, which I wasn't thrilled about at first, since he was my least favorite person on the show last year, but even he's given more dimension and if he doesn't quite garner sympathy, there is at least some understanding now from the audience, as we follow the aftermath of Daniel's assault on him last year. That actually plays a surprisingly big role in the development of the plot this time, as Teddy grows more and more jealous of Daniel, resentment taking over all his emotions and driving his actions.
Finally, the development of the police investigation also grew, led by the refreshingly professional sheriff, who wants to find out the truth and is continually stumped by the efforts of the evil Senator Foulkes, but it always at progresses at a completely natural and realistic pace. Just when we're tired of Daniel's wallowing in a haze of psychedelic drugs and ambiguous philosophical pondering, we get treated to a visit from Trey (the guy who murdered George last year), who immediately rouses our suspicions as he seems to plant theories in Daniel's head over what really happened, which actually has the effect of making us think that Daniel could very plausibly have been guilty as charged, or completely set up on the night in question. The suspense level in some of these scenes later in the season, as the show digs into the night of the murder, is almost unbearable, reminding me of Breaking Bad's ability to raise heart-tugging suspense out of fairly banal moments where nothing is actually happening.
Some might criticize the pace of a show like Rectify, which relishes its atmosphere (beautiful Georgia marshes again, which is both appropriately appealing and suffocating) and Southern Gothic storytelling, but I'm utterly enthralled by it. I love the setting, I'm mesmerized by the characters, I'm addicted to the mystery and the backstory...I really can't praise it enough. Happily, it's been renewed for a third season, which I'm already counting the days for (especially after a finale which left just about everything up in the air) because for me it's quite easily the best show of the year. It may not be for everyone, but it's the only show I watch that I just want to lose myself in by re-watching the episodes after they come out (which is something I never do). I just can't get enough of it. And I can say with certainty that there's nothing else on TV quite like it.