It’s been over a year since show creator Ray Mckinnon and co. left us with the shocking but inevitable conclusion to Rectify’s brooding first season. After five episodes full of menacing looks and a sense of impending danger lurking at every turn, the payoff finally came in the form of an old-fashioned redneck walloping that left the show’s stone-faced protagonist, Daniel Holden, bruised and battered in the season one finale.
Picking up just a few short hours after the graveyard ambush, season two finds Daniel in the brain trauma unit of an Atlanta hospital as the staff struggles to keep him in an induced coma to minimize brain damage. As in earlier episodes, Daniel’s death row past is interspersed throughout the episode in the form of flashbacks and dreams, but his precarious mental state allows the writers to infuse these memories with a surreal touch that blurs the line between memory and fantasy and gives us a window into Daniel’s fragile psyche in the days following his return to society.
In a thread that will be maintained throughout the episode, the first scene finds Daniel in a state of acute depression following the execution of his best friend, Kerwin, whose ghost incites Daniel to get out of bed amidst somber reflections on death and atonement. Meantime, the dramatic threads set in motion in the first season push forward at a steady clip: the family’s struggling tire business, the mysterious suicide and cover up at the hands of witness Trey Willis, Ted Jr.’s increasingly strained relationship with Tawney, Sen. Foulkes machiavellian ambition. In that sense, “Running With the Bull” feels very much like a transitional episode, revisiting these numerous plot elements without necessarily finding new depth or complexity within them. Indeed, one gets the feeling that this episode is more than anything a set up for more dramatic turns to come, and that innocent anecdotes like a hospital visit from the socially awkward real estate broker, Melvin, will hold much more weight as the season progresses.
The episode does present one new storyline that promises to further complicate life in little-old Paulie, Georgia: Sheriff Carl Dagget’s dutiful search for the Daniel’s assailants. With his sense of vocation and concern for truth in the face of resistance from his deputy and the cynical counsel of Senator Foulkes, it seems Dagget is poised to become a three-dimensional character with deep implications in the story’s future denouement.
Visually, the series seems to have finally hit its stride, with taught, atmospheric directing at the hands of industry veteran Stephen Gyllenhaal. While many times in season one it felt like the series’ transcendental pretensions weren’t in total harmony with its low-budget, run-and-gun production style, Gyllenhaal managed to effectively balance basic storytelling with a gloomy, melancholic mood that fit the episode’s dark undertones. As in previous installments, the minimalist score by Gabriel Mann tugs ever so elegantly on the heart strings, reaching its poignant climax in the episode’s closing dream sequence, where swelling strings accompany a touching heart-to-heart between Daniel and Kerwin. Set against the backdrop of the illusory pasture where the goat man first showed Daniel his beloved sculpture, it is here that we finally meet Daniel – a man whose deep fraternal love for Kerwin continues to push him forward despite his profound doubts and fears in the face of a hostile, unfamiliar world.