Toward the end of “Act as If,” Rectify’s eleventh episode and the halfway point in a season that never quite seemed to get off the ground, Daniel Holden finds himself drunk and pointing a shotgun toward the sky, surrounded by strange faces urging him to fire. After a moment of catatonic reflection he smiles coyly and fires away, blowing apart a CD thrust into the air like a skeet by an aging Southern misfit. The diegetic sound fades away and we see a wide shot of Daniel alone amidst the distant uproar of the crowd. He looks around, stunned as tight shots of gleeful faces are intercut in contrast with his solitary contemplation. Suddenly, we are shown another angle. He is flanked by throngs of partygoers cheering him on. The gentle lens flares so central to the visual language of season one no longer emanate from the sun, but from a dozen headlights illuminating the pitch dark night. The lights fill the screen, leaving us with only a faint silhouette of Daniel before being blocked out by the agitated movement of the crowd like a lunar solstice.
It is a more than fitting visual metaphor for a show that has finally lowered itself from its ethereal plane, with all its transcendental spiritual ambitions, into the world of men. As the same aging Southern misfit – a mephistophelean figure known as “Lezlie with a Z” – had insisted only minutes before: to find enlightenment, “You’ve got to get in the world, you’ve got to get dirty.” Or better yet, “Who gives a shit!” It is a turning point both for Daniel and for the direction of the series as a whole. Rectify is no longer a show about God, time, memory and liberty; it is a show about place and relationships, about a world in which all “act as if” we belong in the face of an insuperable existential solitude.
On a smaller scale, “Act as If” is an episode about letting go. In Daniel’s case, about letting go of his solitude and entering the world once and for all. In Amantha’s case, it’s about giving up her endless struggle for justice and satisfaction. Her’s was a self-serving crusade that had defined the greater part of her life: a crusade against the justice system, against Paulie, against her family. Her sleepwalk through episode four was that of a woman bereft of meaning, and now she is left to piece together a life in a world she’s never taken the time to engage. A telling moment occurs when Jon Stern brazenly but lovingly accuses her of only caring about herself. Immediately, her face grimaces and her body takes on the defensive, ready-to-fight posture that has so characterized her attitude throughout throughout this first season-and-a-half. And then, unexpectedly, she softens, smiles and for the first time, concedes the point.
For his part, Ted Jr. has also given up his extended three-episode temper tantrum. Like a narcissistic adolescent Ted Jr. had perceived the whole world as conspiring against him since Daniel’s return. In his eyes, he had been betrayed on all fronts – his stepmother, his father and even his own wife had favored Daniel over him. Receding ever more into himself, he showed the world his discontent with brusque grunts and rude dismissals. Now at peace with himself, he timidly smiles and compliments Tawny as if to make good on the mistreatment and neglect he had dealt out so viciously in the weeks prior. Suddenly we see him more as a tender child than a moody teenager, and his eyes flicker in a display of innocent glee when Tawny informs him she might be pregnant.
In contrast, Janet’s process has only just begun. Brought closer to her son by the symbolic kitchen renovation that Daniel impetuously undertook after so many weeks floating aimlessly through his freedom, Janet gives a reluctant window into the depth of her suffering and suggests the long process of emotional reconciliation that both have ahead of them.
The episode’s closing shots of Trey Willis dredging the depths of the moonlit river where the infamous murder took place so many years ago serve as a masterful cliffhanger as we let go, if only for one week, of a series that has finally found its new identity.