What's Worth Watching: Rectify on Sundance for Thursday, July 23

Matt Roush
Curtis Baker/Sundance Channel

L to R, Abigail Spencer and Michael Vartan - in the SundanceTV original series "Rectify" - Photo Credit: Curtis Baker

Rectify, "Sown With Salt" (Thursday, July 23, 10/9c, SundanceTV)

Deep waters run extraordinarily still in Rectify, a drama that mesmerizes with its hushed intensity, palpable sorrow and tender empathies for its flawed, broken characters. Of no one is that more true than Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a taciturn soul haunted by uncertainty as he faces what he calls "exile" and "banishment." After taking a plea deal in the murder case that put him on Death Row for nearly 20 years, Daniel has less than a month before he must leave behind his loved ones and small hometown of Paulie, Georgia. Where will he go? "I'm not used to deciding on anything," he tells a sympathetic acquaintance. "Postponement is more my strength," he adds, drolly.

Daniel's enigmatic confession has inflamed the fissures within his conflicted family, and Rectify takes its sweet, slow time mapping the disintegration of these relationships, especially that of his insecure and jealous stepbrother Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and devout wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens). They're currently separated, painfully and sadly adrift, and things aren't much better between Daniel's mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) and stepfather Ted Sr. (Bruce McKinnon, no relation to the show's creator, Ray McKinnon). His headstrong sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer, electrifying), who championed her brother's innocence and is more wrecked than anyone by what she sees as a bad deal, has been the catalyst for many a family explosion since Daniel's release. But this week she's in Macon at a Thrifty Town management seminar—the pathos is stifling—and when a team leader asks her to open up, does she ever.

(Guest-star alert, a rarity on this subdued series: Michael Vartan appears as a traveling businessman from Arlington, Va., who takes a shine to Amantha at a hotel bar, helping her drown her existential woes. He concedes he's never met anyone quite like her, and we agree.)

Plot isn't always a driving force in the character study of Rectify, but this episode builds up some steam as Sheriff Daggett (J.D. Evermore) confronts Daniel, who's only just met his probation officer, about the death of one of his accusers, George Melton—we've known from the beginning of the series that his was a suicide, but circumstantial suspicions continue to surround Daniel. He doesn't help matters by answering questions obliquely: "Sure? Who is ever completely sure about anything?"

Which pretty much describes the fascinating spell of ambiguity Rectify casts in every meticulously crafted, moving hour.

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