Rectify Makes Us Sad, But It Comforts Us Too
Sarah D. Bunting isn't a crackpot; she just isn't sure the final season of this uniquely great show added to its legend.
The fourth season of Rectify is a strange case; it never quite seemed to go, to fit in with its predecessors. The dialogue clanked more often than before. New characters seemed to exist primarily as foils for Daniel in abstracted exchanges, and Chloe in particular didn't make up in serving that purpose for the irritation she caused elsewhere (though at least she's consistent; her outgoing voicemail message is trying exactly as too hard as you'd expect). The plotting turned into the conventional version of itself, more interested in conventional narrative ideas about closure and "growth" than in remaining true to the tone and characters to date. This isn't to say that Rectify sucked in Season 4, or that the finale didn't have anything worthwhile in it. It didn't, and it did.
But the show ought to have ended after Season 3. I am not a crackpot.
Granted, never quite knowing what happened that night back in 1994 would have given me a little itch, and the series finale lays out in fairly definitive detail who's responsible and how it almost certainly went down. It's not dis-pleasing to see everyone adjusting to their new realities -- Amantha and Billy, coupled up and helping to pack the store; Ted Sr. and Janet renewing their commitment to each other; Daniel, out to dinner with his housemates, daydreaming (or perhaps flashing forward) to a reunion with Chloe, which: whatever, it's what he wants so let's get behind it.
But what drove Rectify was never the central mystery; creator Ray McKinnon always seemed much more interested in the central mysteries of justice and forgiveness that proceeded from the murder of Hanna Dean, and how human beings cope with grief, upheaval, and ambiguity. By contrast, the series finale gives us a somewhat stagey speech from Trey about Chris Nelms's injured hand better suited to minute 54 of a Law & Order. Amantha is obliged to say in so many words, after three seasons of communicating it so beautifully through her maddening and utterly human rageful pain, that she believed "that if we got him out -- we could live happily ever after." Janet responds to Jon Stern's briefing by saying that hearing the details of that day at the police station, "it's somehow even more tragic." Nobody's saying anything that isn't true -- but nobody's saying anything Rectify hadn't already said, without words, or with words people really use to try to get their mental arms around building-sized emotional situations. Why do we have to hear Judy Dean tell Janet, "I thought if they killed your son, it would help me move on"? Why do we have to see their meeting at all?
Did we need a montage of every single person in the story listening to Person's press conference, including the possibly insensible Foulkes, and George Melton's father -- whom the waitress has to make sure we can identify with a labored, "You hearing this, Mr. Melton?" And as happy, hopeful, and beautiful as the last image of the show is, Daniel creating his own joy, redefining family for himself, bathed in the setting sun...her?
"All I'm Sayin'" has its lovely, "classic Rectify" moments. The faint smile of the boy riding the bus, looking at Daniel's painting, is a sweet grace note. The apparent need to put a button on every character is not great, but it's nice to see Melvin again, and under a grammatically correct sign on Paulie Tire's last day.
Watching such a talented corps work is never a waste of time, and in some of the scenes, seeing the actors saying goodbye to the show as much as the characters were to one another made me misty, and made me smile. What a treat, too, to spend one last segment with Johnny Ray Gill's Kerwin, and his wonderful friendship with Daniel that saved them both.
The last season brought us Pickle, after all, and the investigatory redemption of Sheriff Carl. Hell, this last episode brought us Teddy using one of my very favorite expressions, "hitch in my giddy-up." But it also brought a lame, if flawlessly acted, rapprochement between Daniel and Teddy, and Tawney wishing Daniel a life "filled with wonder." And I...don't get it. The show didn't need to take that turn toward the workmanlike, the literal, the solution-oriented. It didn't need to tie up loose ends or account for everything; its beauty often lay in just those loose threads, heavy silences, questions. On balance, I'd prefer that it have ended with the third-season finale instead of this literal sunset. A little less neat, a little more interesting.
Still a hell of a run, though. So long, Rectify. We'll leave the light on for you.