What expands eventually contracts: it is a natural law codified in science, spirituality, and economics across cultures and continents. Now it seems we’ve found proof in episodic television. After three episodes slogging through the morass of excessive storylines and obscure metaphors, Rectify’s fourth episode is a succinct 45-minute unit that gets back to the series’ dramatic essence without grand gestures or radical transformations. It is simple, unpretentious, and exactly what Rectify needed to redefine its increasingly blurred narrative priorities.
While it must be said that season two is decidedly more generic in its format and less poetically inclined than the show’s first season, “Donald the Normal” does at least reconnect with some of the central themes laid out in Daniel’s first seven days of freedom. In fact, the mere presence of Daniel as a driving force in the plot breaths life back into a show that was beginning to flounder as it compensated his absence with the barely interesting lives of various secondary characters. And while season two’s more world-weary Daniel has apparently lost his sense of awe before the wonders of man and nature, the writers have done us a favor in addressing the thematic shifts that are being laid out before us.
Indeed, creator Ray Mckinnon seems to be reaching through the screen and speaking to us directly when Peggy, an empathetic Atlanta museum patron remarks, “I think the brain’s afraid of being in a constant state of wonder,” to which Daniel responds, “and then there’s the issue of great expectations.” This brief exchange goes to the thematic nucleus of Daniel’s struggle to readapt to life outside of death row: a dialectic of wonder and expectation. Wonder is tied to the immediacy of sensorial experience, while expectation is an idea projected into an abstract future. Through Daniel’s struggle, Rectify’s writers seems to suggest that the expectations of every day life are the antithesis of wonder, to which Peggy responds emphatically, “Reinstate wonder! Banish expectation!” suggesting a sort of roadmap for Daniel’s reintegration into the world of men.
For her part, Amantha finally relinquishes her own internal struggle with both Paulie and her mother, who in the third episode suggested Amantha leave town and – implicitly – Daniel, for her mental well-being. After moping through her day, half-heartedly packing up her life and binging on junk food, she experiences a reluctant epiphany when confronted with a “Help Wanted” sign at a local discount store. When her interviewer suggests that Amantha might grow bored with the job and leave, she responds with a Palin-esque flurry of verbal diarrhea before swallowing hard and confessing, “I need to be here now… in Paulie, for my brother.”
Meanwhile, tensions in the Talbot household reach a breaking point when Tawny confronts Ted Jr. about his continued silence. Unable to contain his mounting frustration stemming from the assault in season one’s “Drip Drip,” Ted Jr. finally seeks out Sheriff Dagget for a sympathetic ear, reopening the ambiguity about Daniel’s innocence that so was so effectively woven throughout season one.
While “Donald the Normal” isn’t a home run of an episode, it feels like a fresh start in many ways. If the writing staff can keep their focus on what’s truly strong narratively, and what’s truly worthwhile thematically, without losing sight of their characters, season two could potentially lay the groundwork for many seasons to come.