Rectify (2013–2016)

Prison, plea deals, family, small towns, and more.

Rectify image

My Netflix list is about a mile long at this point and yet, I often find myself going back to those same shows that I’ve come to grow and love over the years like The West Wing and Friends. But every once in a while I stumble upon a hidden gem that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And Rectify is one of them.

I honestly thought this was going to be a show about a homicide investigation or some serious lawyering, but it wasn’t really about either one. Murder investigations and various appeals were subplots that pushed the plot forward, but the main focus was on something else entirely: a man reintegrating into life, family, and society after being in jail for almost 20 years.

This show is thoughtful and slow and melancholic and an absolute delight to watch (if you’re into that sort of thing). More than that, it was a call for empathy and understanding.

Throughout the seasons there are flashbacks to the main character, Daniel, during his time in prison. What I was most impressed with was the fact that this time wasn’t made easy for the television audience. Daniel discusses, on more than one occasion, the fact that he was raped by multiple people in prison. Throughout the series, we see how the PTSD from that event, in addition to the terror of being on death row for nineteen years, has affected him. We see his lashing out at his family and others when he feels threatened, reactions he learned while inside.

We see his struggle to fit in with his family though they all share a mutual love for each other. He is awkward and understandably withdrawn from everything that’s happening around him. His mother and sister have both put their lives on hold in some respects and now that their mission of his release has been accomplished, they need to figure out how to restart their lives as well. Everyone in the show is lost in one way or another and seeking to find themselves in one way or another.

The audience is brought into a small town that has nothing but mistrust for Daniel, who make it incredibly difficult for him to move past his conviction and experience a new life. It made me wonder about the difficulties that people have after they’ve been released from prison. It’s easy to talk about prison reform as a thought exercise, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re wrapped up in a story following a man as he tries to adapt to his new life outside. At one point, Daniel even mentions how he wants to go back to prison because he feels so uncomfortable as a free man — that brings another perspective to the recidivism phenomenon.

Rectify was a thoughtful show about growth and strife and overcoming obstacles. It’s difficult and painful to watch at times while also being beautiful and whimsical. It was a welcome break from the same tried stories we’ve grown used to — needless to say, I’m excited to dive into more original series from Sundance TV.

Listen to episodes of The Strategic Whimsy Experiment here:



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Sarah Callen

Sarah Callen

Every number has a name, every name has a story, every story is worthy of being shared.