'Rectify' Creator Promises "Something's Gonna Be Revealed" in Final Season

Ray McKinnon's acclaimed SundanceTV drama returns for its final season on October 26.
Curtis Baker/SundanceTV
Aden Young of 'Rectify.'

SundanceTV's Rectify, which has occupied a place in my annual Top 10 lists for the past three years, will launch its eight-episode fourth and final season on October 26.

Creator Ray McKinnon and his stars took the Beverly Hilton stage at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday to reflect on the show's journey and to tease how the story of Daniel Holden (Aden Young), released from prison at the start of the first season, will arc as the show nears conclusion.

Daniel was incarcerated for murder and freed on a relative technicality and so his actual literal guilt and innocence has been an open question over three years. While the show has never been about literal "answers," viewers' perceptions about whether Daniel did it or whether he feels a more ingrained spiritual guilt has been ever in flux.

"We've discussed that in the writers room, had a lot of bright people. If you put all our IQs together, I think we have a near genius in that room, eight of us. But we decided we're just gonna reveal in the first scene in the first episode that he killed her..." McKinnon told the press in a deadpan he said later in the panel "is so dry that it's not even funny."

"I wish you had told me," Young replied, deadpan-for-deadpan.

So just know that McKinnon is joking and that Rectify isn't going to just come out and reveal so inelegantly something that has been so delicately danced around. The veteran character actor would only say that when it comes to whodunnit, Rectify is going to continue to be Rectify.

"There's that issue and hopefully by the end of this season, how we deal with that will leave you, in a Rectify way, satisfied," McKinnon promised. "Maybe some people it will, some people it won't. Something's gonna be revealed for sure."

My own reading of Rectify has always been that people watching for some kind of definitive answer about what Daniel did or didn't do are watching the show wrong. McKinnon said that part of the show's theme has always been about "our need as human beings to want to have closure, to want to have a frame around something, to want to understand it, to want to have order in the universe. And in our art, we also want that."

McKinnon continued, "We want the conclusion to answer all our questions, but that's not life. Part of what we tried to do with the show is reflect, in a skewed way, what life is."

The actors on the show have followed McKinnon's lead.

"It wasn't ever really my focus to look at his pure guilt or his innocence," Young insisted. "It was my focus to look at how this man's life has impacted this town and his family."

One notable change about the fourth season is that when the show left off, Daniel was leaving a town that had become a manifested referendum on his guilt or innocence or as McKinnon puts it, "In some ways the story has been about Daniel being a conduit for the projection onto him of others." Daniel finds himself in a reclamation home as part of the New Canaan Project.

"Part of the tension and part of the mystery and part of the suspense of this season will be 'Can Daniel become himself?'" McKinnon teased.

And just as being away from his hometown changes Daniel, being away from Daniel changes the other characters on the show, including Abigail Spencer's Amantha, who has dedicated most of her life to getting her brother released and integrated back into the community.

Spencer summarized Amantha's new questions as, "Is she gonna stay in her hometown and who is she without Daniel?"

While Rectify has always been a weighty show, it also remains one of TV's most stealthily humorous shows, channeling McKinnon's dry humor and drawing from McKinnon's frustration at watching representations of people, particularly people from the South, that didn't include humor.

"Most of us have a sense of humor about ourselves and the world around us," he said.

"There's a whimsy there that I really enjoy coming back to with Daniel," Young said, telling a story about an oddball elevator encounter with a woman with a giant purple unicorn as an example of his ability to get into Daniel's mindset. "He had that ability when I read him on the page to look out on the world and immediately see the absurdity of all life."

The third season of Rectify comes to Netflix on Monday (August 1) and there's a palpable awareness that this is likely to be a series that most viewers will discover, and lament not having watched in its original run, down the road. McKinnon ended the panel by thanking critics and his network partners for sticking with a creatively successful show that was never a success by conventional measures.

"The first season and the second and maybe third and probably fourth, we don't have a lot of people watching the show and generally if nobody's watching the show and the critics don't really care for the show, the show doesn't last," McKinnon said. "So we truly owe a lot to both the tastemakers of this show, who got it, and also to AMC and Sundance for continuing to let us tell the story and not just let us and not just be a support, but be a collaborator on it. It was an unusual time in television for us to tell the story and I'm not sure that that time hasn't passed and we all feel very incredibly lucky."

Rectify's final season premieres on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV.

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