'Rectify' TV Show Review: Show Has Everything We Love About Prison Movies


Daniel Holden must start over. Locked in a windowless cell for almost 20 years, he knows little of the outside world. He was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl and his conviction was overturned due to inconclusive DNA testing. Almost twenty years have flown by and he has no concept of what life is like outside prison walls.

In one of the more poignant moments of the pilot episode of Rectify, Daniel is about to be released and is trying to remember how to tie a neck tie. It seems so simple, but he hasn't needed one in two decades. He has completely forgotten how to make the knot. Poignant and endearing, Aden Young is a perfection playing Daniel Holden, the man caught between a cell and freedom, without a clue how to proceed.

Upon his release, his family is waiting for him. His mother and sister Amantha, played delightfully by Abigail Spencer, await his release with a mixture of joy and hesitation. The utter confusion of the event is aching for the audience, as you see a man who has no idea how to interact with people.

Twenty years of isolation makes a person completely afraid of human contact, like a feral cat. This is Rectify, slow and smoldering, never moving quickly, just at an even tempo. The two hour premiere is a study in human complexity seen through the eyes of Daniel Holden.

Even though he was released, the Georgia townspeople still think he's guilty. The case isn't over by a long shot. Amantha is the one most aware of the fact, the most ferociously protective sibling I've seen on television in a long time. She wants to draw near to her brother, but she doesn't know how. What's worse, he doesn't yet know how to receive her.

Family members are also skeptical of his intentions and his guilt. His step brother Teddy believes he's guilty, but mostly for personal reasons. If Daniel goes back to work in the family business, he'll lose all he has worked for. This sets the stage for a conflict between the two that is sure to ensure for the rest of the season.

Two decades feels like an eternity to a young person. Daniel was convicted when he was a teenager. He tells his mother that he "can't get the concept of time." In his mind, he's still in high school. But the outside world is like a foreign land, with computers, and all the things he never had growing up.

The most beautiful scene in the pilot is when Daniel goes to an empty baseball park, takes his shoes off, and basks in the sunshine. He hasn't felt grass on his feet or laid in the sun in twenty years. It's joy, peace, and optimism. All things he lost in prison. Rectify has all the makings of a compelling drama, a bit of Dead Man Walking mixed with The Shawshank Redemption. It's everything we love about prison movies, at a slower, series pace.