The fourth and final season of Ray McKinnon’s Sundance series RECTIFY, perhaps the most universally acclaimed television program of the post-Sopranos era, was its most conventional. There were few surreal stretches of memory and fantasy, the plot for the most part moved forward straightforwardly, and there were even bits of humor along the way, as well as a sort of magic pixie dream girl for glum ex-convict Daniel Holden (Aden Young), in the person of free-spirited pregnant artist Chloe (Caitlin FitzGerald).
Tonight’s series finale, written and directed by McKinnon, further accented the redemptive arc of the season with a send-off that was practically heartwarming. Although technically the mystery of who actually killed Hanna Dean was still in the process of being solved, and Daniel was still bound by the terms of his plea bargain that had exiled him from his smalltown home in Georgia to a new life in Nashville, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had reopened the case, and all indications were strong that he was on the road to being exonerated. He was also working through the PTSD caused by the trauma of his time in prison, and forming friendships with the fellow residents of his halfway house. The final sequence showing Daniel reunited with Chloe and her infant child was his daydream, but given that she’d left Nashville for Ohio with a message leaving the door open for him to call her, and that he’d probably soon be free to travel, it was a perfectly plausible one.
Back in Georgia, things were similarly at peace among Daniel’s troubled family, all of whom had made their way through their own varieties of stress. Daniel’s mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) and stepfather Ted (Bruce McKinnon) sold the family tire dealership, and she cleared out the barely-metaphoric clutter of her attic and garage. Daniel’s resentful stepbrother Teddy (Clayne Crawford) accepted the ending of both his marriage to Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) and his job with his father, and made peace with Daniel, while Tawney for her part rediscovered her faith through her job at a nursing home. Daniel’s sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) came to terms with the lower stakes of her job and new romance.
For a Rectify skeptic, there was a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes quality to all this, not because the series was revealed as being empty, but in the sense that it was more clearly defined than ever before. Rectify had a strong and original narrative voice, especially in its willingness to express Christianity in a non-doctrinal form as part of its storytelling, and it provided endless opportunities for its fine cast to shine, but it was also self-indulgently paced, painstakingly earnest and less remarkable than it got credit for being, with writing that all too often embraced dated forms of dramaturgy. These were all part of the reasons that the series, even by the standards of small cable networks, never commanded more than a tiny audience despite years of extravagant critical praise.
Rectify will be missed by some more than others, but no one can doubt its integrity, and at a moment when TV dramas like This Is Us and Westworld are built around their narrative gimmicks, it had a commitment to fundamentals that remained resolute to the end.