January 16, 2015 / Filmwell
This debut feature from Paul Harrill has been getting a lot of press. Jeffrey Overstreet …
July 24, 2014
“You needn’t act as if the world had come to an end,” he said, “because it hasn’t. From now on you’ve got to live in a new world and face a few realities for a change. Buck up,” he said, “it won’t kill you.” (Flannery O’Connor – “Everything That Rises Must Converge”)
The pace of Rectify is slow enough that by midseason it has become easy to forget this really is a story about life and death, especially as the last few episodes have left these mortal details at the edges. The attempt to retry Daniel’s case is still brewing, which could put him back on death row. Trey keeps searching the river for George’s body. And every now and then the question of Daniel’s innocence presents itself as something worth considering. But the way the show skirts the crime in question is becoming a bit similar to the way Twin Peaks became a show about things much grander than Laura Palmer’s death. Good crime fiction is always able to extend our imagination beyond a crime and its first causes to a world, quite like our own, affected by human tragedy.
Episode 5, “Act As If,” finally pushes Daniel out of his nest. Episode 4’s impromptu journey to Atlanta to visit the family of his death row neighbor was a still a bit outside Daniel’s comfort zone, his conversations there limited to the greatness of panini bread, Tobias Wolfe’s “Bullet to the Brain,” and the memory of his departed cellie. There we meet the “Donald the Normal,” a version of Daniel that had never experienced the terror of death row and thus spends his days reading used books in Alabama. He is like Daniel, but less exotic. Then Daniel comes home and demolishes his mother’s kitchen, tired of shouldering life as someone granted a reprieve from a death sentence with all the stares and stigmas that entails. Life back in Paulie sure is better than dealing with unrelenting death row despair and degradation, but it is difficult nonetheless. So he vents his frustration on the cabinets, enlivened by the desire to tear something old apart so something new can be built in its place. Something more substantial than “Donald the Normal.”
This catharsis apparently prepares him to meet Lezlie, the spirit guide and party time mentor of Episode 5. While Amantha, Ted, Tawny, and the others thoughtfully fill out interludes that other shows use for character development, Daniel decides to cut loose on a three day binge that lands him in the bed of the Senator’s favorite townie. Episodes 3-6 have drifted quite a bit through Daniel’s navel-gazing and the subplots that have crept up since he was released from prison. But the pieces of the story are beginning to re-align. This is a murder mystery after all. Now that Daniel’s sense of wonder begins to fade, we are beginning to track with him back to what actually happened the night Hannah was killed.
The final moment of Episode 6 reorients us to this story arc of Rectify with great economy. Daniel has just eaten a bag of mushrooms Lezlie slipped into his pocket and the moonlit voice of Hannah calls out from downriver. The last four episodes of this season may intend to identify Hannah’s killer. It is hard to tell at this point. But it is clear that what happened is a mess that probably involves more than just Daniel or Trey or George or any of the few candidates for her murder.
Rectify marks the first time I have seen a TV show reference Thomas Aquinas. In a moment of reconciliation between Tawny and Teddy, Teddy picks up the book on Tawny’s nightstand and reads:
“Love may be of the seen and of the unseen, of the present and of the absent. Consequently a thing to be loved is not so adapted to faith, as a thing to be hoped for, since hope is always of the absent and the unseen. “
This comes from the Second Part of the Second Part of Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica, which deals with the nature of faith. The sentence is part of an answer Aquinas provides to a question about faith being the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” In this section, Thomas explains that faith always has hope as its object, rather than love. We can only hope for things we don’t quite know yet, or things that remain unseen for us. This makes hope powerful in a way that love is not, as we tend to love things that we are familiar with or have already experienced as true.
Hope allows us to “act as if” the good things of life are substantive, because they rightfully belong to a better world groaning within our own.
This speaks to Tawny, as her love for Teddy as vanished yet she wants to remain hopeful about their marriage. She tells Teddy that she doesn’t understand Aquinas all the time, but she lets these words “wash over her” because she sense there is something correct about them. Which is very fine theology. And what about Daniel? There are plenty of people that are not sure yet if or how they love him, but still have faith about him and the truthfulness of his release from prison. Intriguing to watch these Thomist nuances play out as TV scripts.