Rectify Season 1, Episode 6 ‘Jacob’s Ladder’
Directed by Ray McKinnon
Written by Ray McKinnon
Returns for season 2 in 2014
Back in ‘Plato’s Cave’ (which is my favorite hour of television so far this year, in case you’re keeping track), Daniel and Tawney have long talks about the intersection of reality and faith as Daniel struggled to find ways to reconcile himself with the changed, but still unforgiving Paulie, Georgia he returned to. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ puts faith to the side (mostly) for a moment and replaces it with danger, as the threats existing mostly in Daniel’s peripherals greets him face to face.
The unseen dangers surrounding Daniel cast a long shadow over the episode – oddly enough, the one man we’d think would be on a rampage against Daniel right now – Ted Jr., who wakes up in the episode’s opening scene to an asscrack full of coffee grinds – isn’t one of them. But it’s the unseen dangers that are the scariest: whether its people shoving bombs in their mailbox, threatening looks from passer-by, or the shadow of death that hangs over us all, what we don’t know is what scares us the most. And it scares the shit out of Amantha and their mother, who are both trying to find a way to get Daniel out of the only place he’s ever known in his life.
Should they? Like much of Rectify, whether Daniel leaving Paulie is a good thing or not is doused in shades of gray. There’s certainly moments of healing for Daniel throughout the first season (in this episode, it’s visiting an old pecan grove with Amantha, where I believe he sees the statue he saw with The Stranger last week), but there’s also been a lot of telling signs that Daniel’s presence in town isn’t helping him any. As he tells John over at Amantha’s apartment, he hasn’t experienced enough of everyday life for it to become mundane yet: six days off death row, the smallest variable or bit of stimuli is enough to throw him into an emotional spiral (notice him crying when his mother asks him to help redo the kitchen, which in itself was actually a metaphor for her to try and push Daniel into moving out).
About halfway through ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, the tone of the episode shifts from Daniel’s attempts to adjust to new life, to the town’s almost utter lack of it. Save for a quick shot of the tender hairdresser and the friendly bookstore owner Daniel talks to, there aren’t a lot of friendly faces to be seen around Paulie. The senator is trying to push the investigator into re-indicting Daniel, and she’s waiting to hear from George, the one man who testified to seeing Daniel rape Hanna before she died (George was the man who killed himself at the spot of the crime at the end of the pilot). Others aren’t so patient: and as Daniel sits in front of Hanna’s grave, eating some chips and listening to some classical music, a group led by Hanna’s brother beats him within an inch of his life (further degrading him by pissing on his face before exiting).
If there’s one thing made clear in ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ – whether you want to think Daniel is Jacob or the ladder, which often acts a metaphor for Jesus in Christian interpretations – it’s that the journey to redemption isn’t as simple as dunking himself under water for a few seconds. As Daniel says to Amantha, even when he had a purpose (to die), the guilt of what happened to her always came back to him. Should it? We hear pieces of Daniel’s testimony as John listens to it at the beginning of the episode, and we even hear Daniel talk about how it felt afterwards to Amantha (who isn’t comfortable listening to it, in the least) – but there are still people out there who think Daniel is innocent, chief among them Daniel’s step-father Ted, Tawney, Amantha, and even Kerwin, who tells Daniel “I know your innocent – I know because I know who you are” moments before he heads off to his own death.
But in the grand scheme of things, whether Daniel is innocent or not is not a matter Rectify is inherently concerned with. What interests Ray McKinnon and his writers is the journey towards reconciliation. Strip away the heavy religious metaphors and literary allusions, and Rectify is about how one man’s journey is his own, no matter how many external factors weigh upon it. Society, the legal system, your parents… all these people might try and shape your destiny or experience, but at the end of the day, life is a journey we take by ourselves. Rectify spends a lot of its time in those in-between moments, when characters find themselves alone with their own thoughts and demons, trying to make sense of a reality that sometimes doesn’t feel like its real (or in terms of Hanna’s murder, may not even be real, in terms of how the public perceives it). As John points out to Amantha, there’s nobody out there who can protect Daniel; he has to climb this ladder alone, facing the external and internal demons waiting along the way.
– I never found a place to discuss this in the weekly reviews, but there’s an interesting pattern in Paulie, where it seems females are more forgiving and open-hearted (generally speaking) than the males of the town. I’m not sure if this is intentional (or speaks to anything in particular), but it’s interesting to note. Daniel’s convicted of killing a woman, yet it’s the women in Paulie who’ve helped him heal the most. Why are the men so angry with him?
– Jacob’s Ladder refers to a dream that the Biblical Jacob had about climbing to heaven, during his time running away from his twin brother Esau. In the Bible, Jacob is encouraged to impersonate his brother and steals his inheritance from their father Issac, in turn causing Esau to hate them. In Rectify, Daniel and Ted Jr. aren’t technically twins, but otherwise, they fit their respective roles of Jacob and Esau very well: Ted Jr. is jealous of the attention Daniel’s getting, believing him to be taking his position as the prominent, loved son in the family.
– another image that sticks with me: the red inflatable man always swinging outside the tire shop. Trouble will always be around for this family, as long as Daniel’s there to draw attention to them.
– Trey finds George’s body by the shore, and puts it in the water to float away. If anything, he just wants everything to be buried and left in the past.
– things continue to be cold between Ted Jr. and Tawney, even as they visibly distance themselves from Daniel.
– Hanna’s mother is obsessed with collecting dolls, figurines, and snow globes – all things a teenage girl might have amongst her other belongings in the room. It’s a said, wordless portrait of a mother still struggling with her grief two decades later of losing her child (and stands as a catalytic moment for her brother to go beat Daniel).
– Ted Jr.: “I’ll get some more coffee today… that’s a bit stale.”
– I wonder what Daniel got his sister for a gift.
– John: “Did I just say diddling?”
– we find out that Daniel was high on mushrooms the night Hanna died, adding to the confusion surrounding the actual events. Not an exciting bit of information, but one I think plays a key role into making the night in question unreliable – and therefore, always a moral ambiguity. Innocent or guilty? The best part about Rectify is that it goes out of its way to push this question aside.
– Ted Jr. had an ‘accident’… darn hotel food, amirite?
– Daniel: “we’re a leaky family.”
– Although we haven’t spent a lot of time with Kerwin and Daniel, their final scene together was the most powerful of the finale. Daniel initally refusing to come to the window and say goodbye is such a heart wrenching moment, followed by the cathartic release of the two sharing what would be Kerwin’s final important human interaction in his life. Beautifully shot and written.
– thank you, Ray McKinnon. Thank you so much for giving us this amazing, contemplative piece of television.
– I hope you’ve enjoyed reading reviews through the first season. Rectify (and my reviews of each episode) will return in 2014, when the 10-episode second season begins.