“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
– Mark Twain
Forgiveness and empathy seem in short supply in the big bad world if one is to observe the reactionary attitudes of social media and modern news reportage but the appalling injustices we witness on a global scale; our inhumanity, prejudice and indifference to each other often lead back to our own doorsteps. Narrow minded attitudes and hatred often sit alongside unconditional love and support in small communities here, there, everywhere, nowhere.
These community prejudices, explored and analyzed many times in the arts but most pointedly it seems within the American tradition of Southern Gothic across literature, film, theatre and television; from To KIll A Mockingbird to Sling Blade and recently to great effect in European works such as Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt and French horror serial The Returned.
Rectify, a drama series in its second season on the Sundance Channel in the US explores such notions of forgiveness, guilt, retribution, with a complexity uncommon to most television. It is no less than a sombre, subtle character study of Daniel Holden a man who has been – to civilized society at least – dead for 19 years, having been imprisoned at the age of 18 for the rape and murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend. This soft-spoken, reticent ghost of a man has been on Death Row during this time awaiting his end until DNA evidence leads to his release.
Resurfacing in his hometown of Paulie, Georgia, Daniel is welcomed and shunned in equal measure, both his family and the town locals as weary and uncomfortable with his presence as he is with theirs. For his family, there is some relief particularly for his crusading sister Amanthe ( Abigail Spencer) but the people of Paulie treat him with mostly suspicion and barely contained animosity, unconvinced of his innocence. In particular, Michael O’Neill’s venal Senator Foulkes, who had been the Prosecutor on Daniel’s case feels slighted by his reprieve and is seemingly driven to nail Daniel to the cross once more for reasons both personal and political.
What increases the fascination is Daniel’s ambiguity; Australian actor Aden Young plays him as a lost soul, an 18-year-old boy trapped in a 37-year-old mans body and for the most part he seems kind-hearted, apologetic, gentle and thoughtful but underneath we sense currents of darkness, unfathomable depths even he cannot deal with. These hints of spiritual disturbance are mostly submerged and revealed in subtle, oblique ways; never obvious. Daniel’s absolute innocence may not entirely be called into question by these actions but the hardened small-town opinions and his childlike estrangement keep us sufficiently cautious, aware of his flaws, eager to absolve him but never entirely sure where we stand yet curious to know more about what lies within.
* Rectify is currently airing on the Sundance Channel in the US and not currently airing in the UK, Ireland or Europe as far as I know. Could be wrong, I did some resaerch on this so it loks like probably not. You can prove me wrong here. This is your chance. Please prove me wrong. Or maybe not. I feel good about things right now, sure you know? Yeah, to be wrong about the international airing of an American television series would really send me into tailspin you know? Thanks for your support. I appreciate it., What’s that? You couldn’t forgive me if I’m wrong on this issue? That’s a bit harsh no? I know I claim to be right and sometime I’m wrong. I am human, okay? You’ve never made a mistake huh? You have never sinned? I thought so friend. I thought so. (smug smile)