Sundance Channel’s “Rectify” ended Wednesday after four seasons, and — in the interest of those who have yet to see the finale — it’s probably best to let discretion be the better part of valor here. What you can surmise is that the end was perfectly consistent with all that went before. Steady, compassionate, deeply felt, it affirmed that the moral nature of the universe (to borrow another famous quote) may not always bend toward justice, but it does zig-zag in that general direction.
We always knew wrongly imprisoned ex-con Daniel Holden (Aden Young) was innocent. We also assumed the guilty would be brought to justice.
What we never knew was the cost of that miscarriage. Over four relatively brief seasons, Young played Holden as an enigma: Without affect, or bearings, he was a stranger in a strange land. His moorings were his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and sister-in-law Tawney (Adelaide Clemens). But moorings are moorings, and 19 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit (the murder of his teenage girlfriend, Hanna) was another matter entirely.
Holden’s journey following the days and months of his release was also the fan’s: Always uncertain, its outcome was unknown. The title “Rectify” did not just address the necessity of justice, but the necessity of re-birth, or whether either was even possible. Could Daniel be rectified, too?
Without giving much away, Wednesday’s fine conclusion did provide emotional closure along with release. If thoughts and words can determine the emotion, then Daniel’s halfway-house friend, Pickle — played by veteran actor John Marshall Jones, and one of just many standouts on this show — seemed to offer the most optimistic one. Responding to Daniel — who’s wondering if all he can expect for the rest of his life is stacking boxes for fifteen-cents-an-hour raises — Pickle observes: “Expectation is the trickier cousin of hope (and) that’s not a bad thing, When (was) the last time you felt disappointment? Because you HOPE for something. You no different than any man in this room. You in good company, Daniel. Welcome...”
Meanwhile, the final mystery of “Rectify” does remain unsolved. Why has a show this good remained in such relative anonymity? A few critics have championed it, a small number of viewers are passionate about it, and the series — as best as I can superficially judge — never once wavered in its determination to say something meaningful and important about capital punishment, and the wrongly convicted. There was a Peabody awarded a couple years back, but not a single Golden Globe or Emmy nomination.
I think the answer to that mystery is this: “Rectify” was occasionally a meditation as opposed to a “series,” with cerebral beats instead of visceral wallops. You were asked to enter Daniel’s head, then forced to confront the central question of his own life: What if this were you...?
But Emmys or not, “Rectify” was a critical success, perhaps an enduring one. There is still time to discover this series. Wednesday’s closure proves the effort won’t be wasted. (It’s available On Demand, and streaming at Sundance.tv)