‘Rectify’ Review: A Death Row Drama Slows Down Even More

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Sundance’s underrated “Rectify” returns for its second season

“Rectify,” Sundance’s brilliantly nuanced, exquisitely acted drama ahout a man released from death row, seems to do the impossible in its second season: It slows down from Season 1.

The show, created by Ray McKinnon and produced by “Breaking Bad” vets Melissa Bernstein and Mark Johnson, aired six captivating episodes about Daniel Holden (Aden Young) emerging from prison after nearly two decades.

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Holden, freed by DNA evidence after two decades behind bars, is released into his small Georgia hometown, where many still suspect him of killing his high school girlfriend. He isn’t sure why he’s home, and neither is anyone else. The first season unfolded over only a week. Daniel spent some of that time sitting in the grass, getting used to his freedom.

How patient is the storytelling on “Rectify”? The climax of one episode last season was Daniel receiving a hug. But Season 1 ended with a rare bang, as a group of men convinced of his guilt beat him into a coma.

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And so “Rectify” — never a frenzied show to begin with — opens its second season with its lead character unconscious. He isn’t gone from the show, however, because he’s hallucinating about his time in prison. On one side of his solitary confinement cell, a man who once raped him masturbates at the memory. On the other side is his Kerwin, his only friend in prison, whose hopes of Daniel’s release sustain them both. Kerwin is played by Johnny Ray Gill, and his scenes with Young are the highlights of the first two episodes of Season 2.

Daniel’s absence from the waking world doesn’t kill the show’s other drama: The achingly innocent Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) is suffering the fallout of connecting with Daniel in Season 1. Her husband, Teddy (Clayne Crawford), suspects her of falling for the former inmate.

Daniel’s sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) was his greatest advocate when he was locked up, and finds that she still needs to fight for him now that he’s out. And the local sheriff (J.D. Evermore), no fan of Daniel’s, has to make a difficult political decision about whether to pursue his attackers.

“Rectify” is the rare show that may actually seem more slow and reflective than real life. We’re forced to stop, watch closely, and examine our prejudices and expectations — including our expectation that something dramatic will happen every few seconds. Few shows are so grounded. And, if you have a little patience, few shows are so worth watching.

“Rectify” Season 2 premieres Thursday at 9/8c on Sundance.