There are a few things in this world that I really, really like (in no particular order):
- The Deep South
- Crime fiction
- Ray McKinnon
At first glance, these five things may not seem to have anything in common, but stay with me. I’m about to take a long driveway to a small house, as my uncle used to say.
Way back when (2004), I started watching Deadwood, the highly acclaimed (and highly profane) Western series on HBO. It was loaded with a great cast, superb writers and directors, and plenty of good storytelling. One member of the cast in particular always grabbed my attention – Ray McKinnon, in his portrayal of the very odd, possibly nuts preacher (which always reminded me a little of the preacher in High Plains Drifter, but I digress). His role was small, so when Deadwood was canceled (dammit), I promptly forgot about McKinnon.
But he kept showing up in odd places – like as the high school football coach in The Blind Side and as the kinda weird D.A. in Sons of Anarchy. Hearing his Deep South accent, I did some research (meaning I went to IMDB and the Googles) and learned that he and Walton Goggins were not only the writing team of Ginny Mule Productions, but they also won an Oscar for the short film, The Accountant (a superb piece of Southern fiction). Of course, Goggins starred with Deadwood’s Timothy Olyphant in Justified.
So, recently while skimming Netflix looking for something new to watch, I stumbled across Ray McKinnon’s name – and his series Rectify (now in its fourth season on Sundance).
This is the best thing I’ve seen on TV since, well, Justified. Period. McKinnon has crafted a universe of characters of which Flannery O’Connor would be proud, with all the concomitant dysfunction, violence, religion and longing for redemption that is as omnipresent in the South as kudzu. (In fact, if you’re paying attention, you’ll see a character reading one of Ms. O’Connor’s books in prison.)
The story revolves around Daniel Holden, who was imprisoned as a teenager for the rape and murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend, Hanna. After nineteen years on death row, DNA test results of evidence from his first trial contradicted the prosecution’s case and an appeals court vacates the judgment of his original trial, allowing Daniel to return to his hometown of Paulie, Ga.
And from there, McKinnon’s mastery of storytelling – supported by an exceptional cast – gives us a real, heartfelt (and, at times, heartbreaking), soul-searching study in characters. McKinnon wastes not a single word of dialogue – every utterance by every character has meaning.
Or, as Brian Lowry of Variety wrote, “Rectify remains a master class in nuance — in small looks and long pauses that say more than pages of dialogue.”
The world of film (and TV) is full of gripping stories and high-wire drama, but Rectify goes to the next level. These characters are so real, their crises so vital, their stakes so high, that you’re riveted as you watch – and implore them to avoid the disaster you know they can’t avoid. And nearly every scene lands on you like a hammer.
I’ve said (often) that Slingblade is my favorite example of “modern” Southern gothic, but Rectify is a pretty damn close second. I’m going to be sad to see it end after this season, its fourth and final one.
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