Daniel Holden is back. After two episodes sucking oxygen through a plastic tube, the man whose childlike gaze led us through the sun-drenched, spiritually inclined first season has finally returned home, safe and sound.
Yet, as season two finally hits its stride following an extended two-episode preamble, it seems nothing in the land of Rectify is quite the same. As in previous episodes, the ever more dysfunctional Holden-Talbot family drama is front and center as Daniel shuffles in an out of the plot, seemingly relegated to the status of secondary character. Still bruised and aching, he quietly washes windows, clears tree branches and revs car engines as family ties continue to fray and unravel around him.
Indeed, with the exception of a surprising, mid-episode decision not to identify Bobby Dean as his attacker, Daniel seems to hold little in the way of dramatic weight these days – not to mention the poetic inclinations that lent the series its distinctive flavor throughout season one. Flashbacks to his time in prison are fewer and farther between, showing us what could be the beginning of a prescription drug dependency at the hands of a sympathetic prison doctor, but lacking the emotional punch sustained by his relationship with the recently-executed Kerwin.
Another unfortunate loss in episode three is the psychological complexity of Ted Jr, who has effectively transformed from classic antagonist to sympathetic everyman to grumpy asshole over the course of nine episodes. But, who could blame the guy? His bitterness and increasing emotional distance from Tawny has finally hardened into a lifeless shell of a relationship that Tawny struggles desperately to salvage, while his professional frustrations compound when he is denied a loan for his rent-to-own rim and tire scheme. Nevertheless, a brief, uncomfortable encounter between him and Daniel could finally be the seed of a future complicity that has been quietly brewing since last season.
Halfway across the country, John Stern finds himself picking up five orders of hash browns for his death row client’s last meal, looking pale and haggard and apparently uninitiated in the arts of rural diner etiquette. While last week this dramatic aside seemingly allowed Rectify’s writers to lay out an awkward, if well-meaning metaphor about sleeping giants (“They always wake up”), its persistence into episode three raises questions about its thematic function without giving much in the way of answers. Whether its an attempt to further explore the nature of America’s criminal justice system or deepen our sympathy for Stern, it does feel somewhat out of place in this small-town Southern melodrama. Meanwhile, back in Paulie, Amantha’s strong will and controlling tendencies bring her to the brink of hysteria.
Overall, season two’s stride seems more like a determined hobble as we draw ever closer to mid-season. Lacking a sense of wonder and transcendence, Rectify keeps its focus on increasingly played out plot points that taste more like a plate of boiled chicken than the wonderfully seasoned confections served up week after week by the writing staff last season.
Has Rectify run out of steam? Episode three’s closing images of Daniel cruising down the highway in a stolen car could be the dramatic Hail Mary that finally starts season two’s engines, but time is running short.
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