Rectify: Always There

The word "rectify" means to put something right, to correct an error. Nothing can correct what happened to Daniel Holden. Assuming that he is indeed innocent, which I do. Or even, dare I say, if he's not.

I think I was hooked by this show in the opening scene. Daniel is off to the side waiting for his turn. He closes his eyes as a prisoner is being stripped and searched, giving him semi-privacy in the only way he can. And then Daniel is startled, outright thrown, when it's his turn and the guard treats Daniel himself like a person. We don't need to be told that Daniel is unaccustomed to being treated like a person. Aden Young, who plays Daniel, does that beautifully with just his expression.

Aden Young continues to show us just what Daniel is feeling during the rest of this pilot episode. Daniel is clearly in shock, unable to process what is going on around him. He really made me think about how unreal and overwhelming an experience like this would be. He acted as if any moment he would be yanked back to Death Row, so I kept expecting it to happen. Daniel told the reporters with disarming honesty that he had spent his time in prison religiously adhering to a routine that did not allow for optimism, and for that reason, he just wasn't prepared for freedom. Makes sense.

Daniel's first reaction to his family greeting him outside the prison door was like a deer in the headlights. He felt like he had always been in prison (as in the title of the episode, 'Always There') and that suddenly he was back in high school, and everything was too bright. The photography showed that overwhelming brightness, the sensory overload, in the uncomfortable close-ups of the faces of his family, the colorful food, the sun coming through the trees while they were driving, that gorgeous shot of Daniel and his sister Amantha standing in a field at dawn. I especially liked the scene of Daniel sitting in the bathtub, touching his own face like he was checking to make sure he was really there.

The prison flashbacks were striking, too. The walls were so white and appliances so colorless that it felt cold and futuristic, deliberately inhuman. I loved the way he and his friend Kerwin talked about their informal 'book club' as if it were the most important thing on earth. I'm a constant reader and can absolutely imagine that if I were in prison, books would mean the world to me, too.

But Daniel and Kerwin didn't just talk about books. Kerwin admitted to Daniel that he was guilty of his crime, which was killing a three-year-old girl, and talked about throwing in the towel and no longer continuing to fight for an appeal. He also talked about a book that was about free blacks in the old South owning slaves. Some obvious symbolism there.

Daniel isn't the only one who will have to adjust. His mother Janet made a nice dinner, like having her son come home from prison after twenty years was a normal situation with behavioral conventions. Nobody knew what to say, except maybe Amantha. She kept calling the cops and prosecutors and reporters obscenities, and kept calling Daniel "honey" and "sweetie". Half-brother Jared, too young to have ever lived with Daniel, wanted to give Daniel his room back. It was just so sweet that Jared brought Daniel that TV and DVD player, and sat down to watch a movie with him. Dazed and Confused, appropriately, since Daniel was both.

But stepbrother Teddy was the opposite. Teddy acknowledged in his introductory scene that he knew he had replaced Daniel in the family, and expressed the belief that Daniel must have done the crime since he was imprisoned for it. Teddy had never even bothered to go visit Daniel or in any way get to know him; they hadn't even met before Daniel's release. Teddy's wife Tawney realized (correctly) that Daniel was seeing things strangely, and Teddy later told his father that he'd had a big fight with Tawney. Was the fight about Daniel? And what does Ted Senior think about all this?

Amantha teased Daniel that he was a target (when referring to the box store), and she was right. We don't even know if Daniel actually killed Hanna, although I strongly doubt that he did. But it's almost unimportant. I don't even feel much like discussing the cops and the prosecutor and the actual crime, like they should just go away unaddressed. And that's mostly because I don't even want to consider the possibility that Daniel could go back to prison.

But at any rate, State Senator Foulkes and Sheriff Daggett believe strongly that Daniel killed sixteen-year-old Hanna Dean, and yet Foulkes said that "mistakes were made", and he and retired cop CJ were talking about protecting the girl's "reputation". Daniel was found by CJ next to Hanna's body, holding her hand and talking gibberish. Amantha said they forced a confession out of Daniel. Did they?

Which takes us to Trey and George meeting in the trees by the river, another oddly beautiful scene. George asked Trey if he killed Hanna, and Trey said no. Trey asked George the same thing, and George said no. George said a couple of interesting things here: "We were just kids. It wasn't real, you know?" and "What is the truth?" When Trey left, George shot himself in the head. Why would George kill himself if he didn't kill Hanna? Guilt over Daniel spending twenty years in prison for something George knew he didn't do?

Bits and pieces:

-- The power behind this series is Ray McKinnon (Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy). The role of Daniel was originally written for Walton Goggins, who turned it down. I love Walton Goggins, but I can't see anyone other than Aden Young in this role now. I wasn't sure I was "getting" him at first, so if you're new to this series, give Young a little time to grow on you. I think he will.

-- The family cars that drove Daniel home from prison were red, white and blue. Probably not intended, or maybe it was, since this show can't help being an indictment of the American prison system.

-- The photography of the sun-dappled Daniel isolated in the passenger seat of the car was also beautiful. It looked like he was floating. I liked the way Amantha kept driving Daniel around the small town of Paulie, even though he was sleeping.

-- Amantha strongly dislikes her stepbrother Teddy Junior. So do I. Janet told Teddy Junior to call her 'Janet' instead of 'Mom', so I bet Teddy finds a way to call Janet "Mom" in front of Daniel sometime soon.

-- We saw a flashback to an obviously terrified Kerwin entering his Death Row cell for the first time, while Daniel was meditating a bit loudly next door.

-- Since I've seen the first three seasons already, I'll mention that I've noticed repeated water imagery, symbolic baptism, perhaps. Here, we saw Daniel sitting in the bathtub twice in a state of contemplation, as well as that George/Trey death scene by the river.

-- Will Daniel work at the tire store? It's his family's business, not Ted Senior's, as Ted acknowledged. If that business has been supporting two families, shouldn't Daniel be entitled to some of that money? How could Teddy Junior pout like that and say he wanted to confront Daniel about not scaring away their customers?

-- Daniel was scheduled to die five times. What did that do to him, getting so close to execution five freaking times? What did it do to his family?


Teddy: "I hate to say it, but we all thought he'd be dead by now, anyway."
I think Teddy didn't hate to say it but was disappointed that Daniel was still alive and complicating Teddy's life.

Daniel: "I will seriously need to reconsider my world view."

Daniel: (to reporter) "There's a lot to process right now. I'll probably be happier later… Perhaps I'll be angrier later, as I will be happier."

Amantha: (driving through town) "Is this, like, weird?"
Daniel: "It's not unweird."

Daniel: "We call it 'lethal injection humor'. More humane, but not as funny."

Kerwin: "You want me to read a book called Of Human Bondage?"
Daniel: "It's not that kind of bondage."
Kerwin: "I would hope so. Hey, will I be glad when you get past your dead white man writing about lily white Europe stage."
Daniel: "I am on a kind of a jag."

Kerwin: "What's whack is, I still want to live. Every day. What's that about?"
Daniel: "Vitamin A deficiency."

Daniel: "I don't think I wanna become computer literate. Mobile phone literate neither." I can imagine the internet would be completely alien after twenty years in a box.

Senator Foulkes: "This is as messed up as a pile of hangers."

'Always There' is an exceptional pilot. It's even better when you go back and watch it a second time after you know the characters better. Four out of four piles of hangers,

Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.


mazephoenix said...

Oh I love this show..Young is so good as Daniel..and the rest of the cast is also stellar..I love the tranquil yet tense mood that's unique to the show. Thanks for reviewing this. Oh yeah..Ted Jr..he's a piece of work. Love Amantha.

Jess Lynde said...

I haven't rewatched any of the series yet --- though now I'd like to --- but it was certainly interesting to revisit the pilot through your eyes with knowledge of the full series. I'm fascinated by the questions that remain and the perspectives that have shifted after three seasons. I'm particularly taken by the way the questions that remain don't feel like things being unnecessarily dragged out, even after 22 episodes. Probably because the way those questions (and their open status) affect the characters in so many varied ways is the focus of the story.

This show has so many fantastic things about it --- including the actors --- but I think my favorite aspects are how it really makes you recognize the beauty and wonder and pain in the smallest of things/moments, and how it manages to find the humanity in nearly all its characters. You note that Kerwin is guilty of the crime for which he is on death row --- a truly horrible crime --- but the show still creates tremendous empathy for him through his friendship with Daniel.

So glad you are covering this one, Billie. Now I'll have to find time to rewatch the pilot!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for reviewing this show! I love the first season and appreciate the second season a lot. I'm not able to watch the third season right now because of depression issues. I like Teddy as a character and the actor does a great job even though the character often does the complete wrong thing. The actor makes us understand the scared boy hiding inside. Thanks again!

calle me turnipseed

Gavrielle said...

I read about this show recently for the first time and gave it a shot, but weirdly, although obviously it's incredible quality on every level I just found it too depressing. (Weirdly because I have no trouble with the depressing parts of shows like The Leftovers and Wayward Pines. I think real-type depressing is a lot worse for me than SF/fantasy depressing.) I'll just read along with your reviews instead, Billie.

Billie Doux said...

Gavrielle, I get it. Usually I'm super sensitive to depressing, especially when it's so realistically portrayed. But as the other commenters mentioned, there's just something about this show. The acting is amazing, the characters are complex, the story can be uplifting as well as heavy, and the photography is gorgeous.

Jess Lynde said...

Okay, so I’ve rewatched the pilot now. It’s interesting that you find the show depressing, Gavrielle. I cry a lot when watching it, because it’s so achingly resonant, but I also find it hopeful and uplifting, as Billie says. In spite of all the pain and damage, the show has equal room for redemption, atonement, beauty, humor, joy, and grace. “What’s whacked is, I still want to live. Every day. What’s that about?”

I totally agree with you on the opening scene, Billie. The way Aden Young reacted to the offer of a drink said so much about the character and his life right from the jump. He is so tremendous in this role. Just the way his body language and minute facial expressions convey his difficulty processing this turn in his life and his uncertainty that any of it is real. All the actors are really wonderful, so beautifully portraying the massive mix of emotions contained in this circumstance: the joy, anguish, confusion, awkwardness, and even fear.

For this episode’s “things that made me cry” entry: Amantha going to give Daniel a hug when first seeing him at the prison, and the expression on Daniel’s face as Janet hugged him and cried.

You note that you dislike Teddy Junior, and I remember disliking him at this point, too, when I first watched the series. But I couldn't help having empathy for him when I watched this time. Of the characters who come across in this pilot in an unsavory light, only one or two of them do I continue to feel absolute revulsion for. The others, including Teddy, have been given enough depth and shading that I can see their behavior this early on with a full understanding of and appreciation for their perspectives.

George’s question of “What is the truth?” coming right before Amantha’s rant about the prosecutors and cops convincing themselves of what happened, and then convincing the defendants and everyone else was interesting. What is the truth, really, if it is something we can be convinced of? How can they even hope to find it after 20 years has passed? I ultimately think that is the point of the continuing investigation in the show. It’s not about finding the real truth for the audience, it’s about showing how and why people need to pursue/present an idea of truth and “justice,” and how that need ends up affecting multitudes.

Josie Kafka said...

Thank you for this recommendation, Billie. I've watched the first episode and I'm intrigued, although, as others have mentioned, I might be disinclined to pursue it if it starts to make me a bit too sad.

He also talked about a book that was about free blacks in the old South owning slaves. I think this might be The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Billie Doux said...

Josie, thanks for trying it and for the book title. The second episode is also excellent and I hope you'll give it a shot.

Ez said...

Oh, I'm in love with this show. I've been waiting for something like this and just discovered it, through your reviews Billie - so thank you! On my second (or third...) rewatch of this episode, one thing that struck me was how sensitive it was of Jared to choose a movie for Daniel to watch that was from 1993 - his era. How lovely of him to think of that, and pick something that would have been full of familiar things for Daniel and not overwhelming with new technology and things he wouldn't understand, so he wouldn't feel shut out. I like Jared. :) Had they ever met before this? I like to think Janet would have introduced Daniel to his new brother, but sad to think of taking a child to such a horrible place.

There's so much to pick up on and absorb you can rewatch it many times, it's just mesmerizing. The complexity of these characters, how real they are. Even with Teddy - oh how I hate him, but I can still understand him due to Clayne Crawford's performance. Fantastic.

Billie Doux said...

Ez, how clever to pick up on the fact that the movie Jared picked for Daniel was old. I hadn't thought about it, but I think you're right that it was a sensitive and careful choice Jared made. And I absolutely agree that Clayne Crawford's performance as Teddy is excellent.

Marianna said...

I started watching this series, and it's beautiful so far! I was a fan of Sons of Anarchy so I was expecting something much more fast paced, but this works. I'm so glad I have these reviews to follow along!