Rectify Prepares To Cross Over

Images of purgatory and death as new beginning in the show's penultimate episode.

I didn't grow up Catholic, so I don't have the best background for a discussion of purgatory, but it occurs to me after watching "Happy Unburdening" that its many God's-eye camera set-ups, and references to moving on and crossing over -- from eBay to Jimmy Cliff to Daniel's PTSD counseling -- and to figurative deaths, might want us to experience the penultimate episode as a purgatory. Not in the negative sense (you may insert a snide Chloe joke here; assume I too rolled my eyes at her vinyl collection), but the disorienting time-has-a-different-meaning sense...and that of preparing for the "real" end. Purgatory is a way station, I think, an opportunity to "achieve the holiness necessary" to ascend to heaven (or for a contrary judgment to cast down the soul in question), and though "Happy Unburdening" literally comes from Amantha's sarcastic comment to Janet as she passes along Judy Dean's note, if we think of the episode as a ritual before the final disposition of these souls, the actions of the characters do seem like happy unburdenings -- of sins, guilt, unwelcome secrets, known hearts.

The first of the shots that seems to judge from on high, oppressing the mere mortals in the frame, is of Janet and Jared cleaning house in all senses: a cleansing before the next phase.


Later, when Amantha comes upon them in the attic, the reference is to 1 Corinthians; as the family grows up, it puts away childish things (Amantha's Legos; her father's army jacket that seems to hold more meaning than itself).


Jon and Amantha before they meet with Bobby, barely visible near the bottom of the frame. (Ditto the bunting, but I clocked it, as is my wont.) The the disco ball and the ring of lights around it suggests Saturn, a complicated tangle of associations at best, but in his Greek iteration he's Cronos, the god of time. The composition itself implies the insignificance of man's affairs.


The formidable and precisely named D.A. Person, in a shot whose judgmental angle reduces her in stature in the institutional glare of the hallway, shorter than the framed patches and medals that idolize law enforcement. Note also that she's going toward a light of sorts -- an image of death, crossing over.


The former sheriff appears to have come to a felt understanding that, as the warden's wife's cross stitch reminded us in Shawshank, "His judgment cometh, and that right soon." It's not entirely realistic to me that Pickens would not only reverse himself on sharing what he recalls of the investigation at this point, but would speak quite this cogently about it without notes decades after the fact. And it's interesting that the show to date had contented itself, and us, with a "God's mysteries aren't yours to know and neither are some earthly ones" attitude towards the catalytic crime that brought us all here...but now is reversing it-self to try to tell us more. Opening a book of Revelation, if you will, which of course comes at the end.

But here, too, is the preparation for the next phase, the releasing of burdens and moving on to heaven or hell, but judgment nonetheless. And the condemnation of Roland Foulkes for playing God back in the day.


Teddy has regressed to smoking; he's also playing with a childish thing (a baseball). The shot could suggest death, a coffin; the purgatorial reference is made explicit in the scene following, as he and Tawney ruefully agree to hang out "before it all changes."


Behold, the change beginning. A gorgeous, painful scene between father and son as Teddy confesses to his father that his marriage has died...but is left in limbo, without the hug that's so clearly indicated, and desired.

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Amantha reunites with an old friend she stopped speaking to years ago, because...Amantha reasons. Jenny absolves Amantha of that sin: another transition.


So much in the way this shot is built: the mirror, as Ted and Janet reflect on their relationship and Ted wonders if Teddy's marital woes might double his own; the angle, not quite as pitched as some but still at a judgment height. And of course the ritual of bathing, washing away the day and its misdeeds. The declaration of love they share, halting though it is, may represent a step forward out of limbo.


Another coffin shot that could be the mikveh, or the bathing of the corpse of the marriage. Or neither.


And finally, our hero, seen from above and arrayed on his bed in a more traditional coffin pose. He's listening to his own words from the beginning of the episode, his recorded account of his rape in prison, in a ritual that is an inversion of prayer. This ritual is designed to release him from purgatory -- Daniel, who in the Bible was kidnapped by a tyrant; Daniel, who wound up in the lions' den thanks to a trick pulled by his rivals; Daniel, a fallen archangel whose name is translated "God has judged."



And that right soon.

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