‘Rectify’ Finale: So Good, It Hurt

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Photo: SundanceTV
Photo: SundanceTV

It’s a good thing you weren’t with me as I watched the series finale of Rectify on Wednesday night. Let’s just say I went through a couple of handkerchiefs. Couldn’t help it: This is one of the most beautifully conceived and executed TV shows I’ve ever watched, and its last episode fully lived up to everything that had preceded it. The saga of Daniel Holden, accused of murdering his girlfriend, Hanna, when they were both teenagers, came to a highly satisfying conclusion. WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FINAL EPISODE OF RECTIFY.

“Nothing will rectify what happened,” said Amantha (Abigail Spencer). In using the word that gave this show its title, she was talking about the miscarriage of justice that sent her brother Daniel (Aden Young) to prison for almost two decades. She was also talking about the deep fissures that the conviction sent through her family. During the course of four seasons, we’ve been witness to many moments of heartache, hostility, despair, and regret that each member has experienced.

In the end, the district attorney decided to launch a new murder investigation based on facts we’ve learned over the course of the series. One of the many things Rectify did was work a fresh change on the murder-mystery did-he-do-it? plot, demonstrating how combinations of lies, faulty memories, and prejudiced feelings could result in the ruination of a man’s life. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that the show managed to sustain the idea that we couldn’t know whether Daniel actually committed the crime or not in part because Daniel wasn’t sure if he had or not.

If you were telling someone what Rectify was about, you’d probably start with the Daniel-Hanna murder and conviction, but really, the nuts-and-bolts of the case were probably the least important elements of the series. Creator Ray McKinnon was more interested in exploring how people lived their lives after a crime was committed, after the verdict had come down. The show was finely attuned to the slightest shifts in attitude and belief that each main character revealed. The finale gave every character his or her due. Certainly Daniel, and the depth-charge-explosion performance by Aden Young, remained central, and his gradual emergence from the suffering he endured in prison will continue long after the series ends. (Let’s hope the dream he has, to be united with his artsy girlfriend, Chloe — Caitlin Fitzgerald in a role that I found far more satisfying for her than the one she had in Masters of Sex — and Chloe’s newborn baby, is realized.)

There were very fine moments for Spencer’s Amantha, who remained tart-tongued and Thrifty Town-tantalizing right to the end; for J. Cameron-Smith’s Janet, whose motherhood defined her life until — exactly as McKinnon planned it, we now saw — the final season; for Clayne Crawford’s Teddy, who had finally come to terms with his failed marriage to Tawney (the glowing Adelaide Clemens) and the sale of that old tire store. (I never thought I’d get choked up at the closing of a place that sold wheels ‘n’ rims.)

Related: ‘Rectify’ Series Finale Postmortem: Creator Ray McKinnon Talks About Planning That Satisfying Ending, Returning Cast, Romance, and Reunion Possibilities

Rectify was the vision of creator McKinnon, who wrote and directed the final episode, as he had numerous other episodes. The finale was in keeping with the rest of the series: frequently so quiet you could hear your own heartbeat, and frequently so deadpan-funny you’d gasp with laughter.

The actors in Rectify have moved on to other projects. Clayne Crawford is having a fine old time whooping it up with Damon Wayans on Fox’s Lethal Weapon. Abigail Spencer is time-jumping on NBC’s Timeless. J. Smith-Cameron became Sarah Jessica Parker’s new lawyer during the final episodes of the first season of Divorce. But wherever they and the others go, whenever I see their faces on a screen, I’m pretty sure the first thing I’m going to think is, “Hey, that person was on Rectify.” Then I’ll also think, what a gift that must have been for that actor, as it was for us.