It’s an easily overlooked detail that the Holden-Talbot family hasn’t been together in the same room since Daniel’s traumatic beating at the hands of a beer-bellied lynch mob in the closing moments of season one. Over five episodes, the clan has dispersed and retreated ever more deeply into themselves, yearning for the equilibrium that was so abruptly shattered upon Daniel’s return from prison. Perhaps only Momma Talbot, played with unending tenderness and empathy by J. Smith-Cameron, has found something like peace in her son’s homecoming after emotionally fumbling her way through his confusing first days back.
Yet episode five began to suggest a new, tenuous equilibrium in the Holden-Talbot household. Ted Jr. made his sheepish but sincere effort to patch things up with Tawny, who for several episodes had played the spurned wife, increasingly confused and isolated from the world around her. Amantha picked herself up by the bootstraps, so to speak, and began to undertake a personal quest for balance after a downward spiral of anger and resentment that had been playing out over several episodes. Tawny is pregnant, Amantha and Jon Stern have finally made their relationship public. The pieces begin to fall once again into place. But all is not forgotten.
The centerpiece of “Mazel Tov” is a family gathering convened to celebrate Mama Talbot’s birthday. The stakes are made clear several times throughout the episode – this is her first birthday with the whole family present and everything must be perfect. As the family members buzz about in nervous excitement preparing for their feast, one piece is still missing: Daniel. Indeed, spurred on by the prophet/charlatan “Lezlie, with a Z,” Daniel has ventured forth timidly into the world of man and increasingly distanced himself from his home. The episode’s opening sequence finds Daniel waking up somewhat confused in the bed of a strange woman, apparently after a three day bender at Lezlie’s never-ending party.
When he abruptly arrives to the party after leaving the family waiting for several hours, bearing a well-intentioned but poorly thought out give for his mother, what plays out is an appropriate metaphor for the Holden-Talbot dilemma. The family eats and carries on in animated conversation, happily filling their previous roles within the family dynamic when suddenly a jarring horn blast cuts through the serenity. Daniel stumbles awkwardly into the house with Lezlie in tow and meets disappointed grimaces and awkward silence.
After sharing parting wisdom with Lezlie, who exhorts Daniel to find his place within the family, Daniel unveils his gift in a masterfully directed scene of discomfort and disconnection that is drawn out to the very limit of unease before Ted Sr. finally steps in to re-establish harmony. What’s clear both in this scene and the ensuing family time is that despite his entente with Tawny, Ted Jr. is more vindictive than ever. It’s a detail that wasn’t lost on the director, who takes his time to study the subtle glares and nuanced expressions of the family even as all seems to be peaceful on the surface.
It is also the connection between Rectify’s family drama and the subplot relating to Daniel’s upcoming trial, to which the writers are dedicating more and more screen time as we move closer to the season finale. The pseudo-sexual assault in last season’s “Drip Drip” episode has now emerged as a key point in the otherwise weak case the DA is building against Daniel, and his fate will be entirely in the hands of Ted Jr. as the trial approaches.
Meanwhile, Daniel continues his complex internal process of reintegration into family and society, and the psychedelic closing sequence of his mushroom trip on the banks of the infamous river suggests that he may also have to come terms with what really happened on that fateful night nineteen years ago.