Rectify Season 1, Episode 3 ‘Modern Times’
Directed by Nicole Kassel
Written by Evan Dunsky, Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller
Airs Monday nights at 9pm ET on Sundance
Daniel Holden’s exoneration from prison ripped a deep, tender scar off the town of Paulie – and unsurprisingly, many of the people living in it, from mothers, to politicians, and even those who weren’t born when the murder and subsequent trial of Daniel rocked the city. In an hour almost completely devoid of plot, ‘Modern Times’ takes a long, hard look at the Holden siblings (and those around them) trying to come to terms with this new reality, one where a confessed killer seemingly escapes the grips of justice.
For the first fifteen minutes of ‘Modern Times’, Daniel doesn’t even leave his bedroom. He’s spent his entire adult life in prison; having a choice of whether to open the door or not is something that hasn’t quite settled back into Dan’s mind yet. He’s mesmerized by the things around him: the feathers inside his pillow, the sunshine creeping through the curtains (which he can open and close at will), and even control over what he’s wearing, be it a pair of boxers, a white t-shirt, or nothing at all.
His sister Amantha isn’t quite sure what to make of it. After hearing him masturbate passionately in the last episode, she mistakes similar sounds of him jumping on the bed as him pleasuring himself again, which leads to an amusing little moment where Amantha’s good intentions of trying to “understand” her brother and what he’s going through have awkward side effects. But she’s struggling with having him home: should she try and bring him out of his room to reintegrate into the world, or should she give him space and let him progress on his own?
Furthermore, she sees the effects of his release start to seep into the fabric of Paulie’s society, with Hanna’s mother crying on the news (“Why ain’t you dead?”) and Hanna’s older brother reappearing in town, wondering what Daniel’s plans for the future are. She’s hanging onto the one constant she’s got in her life right now – Daniel’s lawyer Jon – as she tries to come to terms with Daniel’s return, and the reaction of everyone else in the town to it. Not everybody is angry to see him return (when she looks at an apartment, the landlord tells her about how Daniel used to watch his pets for him as kids), but there’s a distinct feeling that everyone’s trying to repress the ugliness of the past.
Others are trying to instigate it: Hanna’s brother’s return certainly doesn’t suggest a peaceful future, and another entity (or the same?) is sending Daniel’s little brother Jared threatening text messages. Like the state senator who sends veiled threats towards Jon in the opening scene, there are some people who aren’t willing to let Daniel go home and continue his life. The senator’s motivations are much more obvious: his entire political career stemmed from his conviction in the Holden case, “playing his part” like so many other characters in this tragic ballet – which include Hal Holbrook as Dan’s former lawyer, an old man who warns Jon the can of worms he’s opening by protecting Daniel.
I love how Rectify is slowly filling in the details of Daniel’s case and trial, although his insistence of guilt feels like it’s asking to be set up for a twist to play out in later episodes. Does it need to be? I don’t necessarily think so – some of the mystery behind Daniel’s character drives our attention to his behavior as viewers, and explicitly explaining the events of Hanna’s death may only prove counterproductive to the show’s philosophy, which is about a man (and the town he spent his whole life in) trying to reconcile with a nasty, tragic event.
More importantly, Rectify isn’t concerned with moving through big chunks of plot, despite a mere six episodes in its first (and possibly only season). ‘Modern Times’ puts most of its cast on the bench for this episode, spending long sequences with Daniel as he refamiliarizes himself with his old home, and Amantha does the same with the quiet Georgia town that house is in, both to mixed results.
And even without a major story arc, ‘Modern Times’ does provide an emotional crescendo for both its main characters, paralleling their moments of pleasure with intercut sequences of Daniel putting on his dead father’s clothes and bumping music in his Walkman, while Amantha has a little car sex with Jonathon (at the scene of Hanna’s murder, nonetheless). They’re small, but powerful moments that don’t neglect the saddening circumstances that precede the: for Daniel, it’s the mixtape from Hanna he pops in his Walkman; for Amantha, it’s remembering a terrible Daniel-themed prank people used to play on girls who would come out to that spot of the creek.
Redemption can be a painful thing, and ‘Modern Times’ celebrates the small victories along this long journey beautifully, albeit with a storytelling style that might make it a short-lived experience. But one can’t help but be mesmerized by the show’s atmosphere, almost whispering its observations and mediations on human nature with its subtly lit settings and relatively small use of dialogue. Top it off with Aden Young and Abigail Spencer’s performances in this episode, and ‘Modern Times’ is a perfect follow-up to its introductory episodes.
– Tawney pays a brief visit to the house, interested in Daniel while her marriage gets colder and colder. If there’s anything that’s moving a bit quickly in these first three episodes, it’s her character. We just haven’t spent enough time with her character (with or without her husband) to really understand her character, and her underlying, unspoken interested in Daniel.
– Rutherford Gaines (Hal Holbrook) makes a great point when he says that “people don’t change; the laws of civilization change.” He also suggests some political machinations involved in Daniel’s case, referring to everyone in the town “playing their part” in the events that unfolded.
– while looking through Jared’s room (his old bedroom), Daniel comes across a binder full of newspaper articles about his own case. Again, more suggestions of his possible innocence, while sloooowly filling in the details and atmosphere of his trial: one of the editorial headlines asked readers if Daniel’s trial was a “miscarriage of justice”.
– Tawney is in awe of Amantha’s dedication: “I don’t know I could’ve stayed so strong” she tells her, plate of monkey bread in hand.
– Daniel’s pretty stoked to find his Sega Genesis… which can complete with the arcade fighting pad! What a lucky kid he was, right?
– the upstairs hallway of the Holden home looks very much like a small prison block hallway, doesn’t it? I love this show’s cinematography and framing.