Rectify Season 1, Episode 4 ‘Plato’s Cave’
Directed by Jim McKay
Written by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller
Airs Monday nights at 9pm ET on Sundance
I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas behind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – so when I saw the title of tonight’s episode, I was obviously drooling with excitement. And, boy, did ‘Plato’s Cave’ not disappoint: it certainly fits the quiet, character-based model of previous episodes, but focuses intently on this exploration of faith versus reason, giving life to the mental and spiritual struggle Daniel Holden’s currently going through.
I don’t want to spend 10,000 words getting into Plato’s allegory (there’s a really well-organized Wikipedia article here for detailed info), but the foundation of it is fairly simple. In it, Plato presents a simple situation: a group of people are chained to stand facing a wall for their entire lives, able to view nothing but faint shadows reflecting on said wall. Plato asks a question: what would happen if someone came to let one of these men free?
This discussion is mostly hidden until the second half of the episode, but there’s distinct symbolism inserted in the opening scenes to lead us to his conversation with Tawney. ‘Plato’s Cave’ begins with Daniel asking his mother to take him to get some glasses – like many prisoners in long-term lock-ups, his long-distance vision has gone to shit. It’s a subtle fact most shows wouldn’t pay attention to in the first place, but it’s the first step in the debate of faith and reason at the heart of Plato’s allegory: Daniel is lacking vision, having lived in the prison. So he gets a pair of glasses (we see the doctor giving him the different vision options, a simple representation of Daniel searching for his true reality), and so now, he’s got his vision.
He then goes to Wal-Mart with his mother, who leaves him at the door of the behemoth retailer. This is a journey Daniel’s got to take himself, and so he walks around a bit. He watches a child play a video game, and then stands in between aisles, looking at all the directions he can go. The bright colors reflect the whited-out tone of the prison sets: neither have any shadows, but the differences between them are enormous. While the prison only offers the comfort of walls and privacy (something he finds with his mother in the car, while a reporter hounds them for answers), the aisles of the store offer an opportunity for freedom, restoring Daniel’s ability to exercise free will, a sensation he’d lost in the lifeless, mentally straining world of prison life.
Now that Daniel’s got his vision and his ability to choose back under his belt, his mother drops him off in front of the local church. As you can see in the screenshot above, they pull up under a roofed area in the church parking lot. Another lovely bit of symbolism: there is a certain comfort to the blanket of religion, although it’s worth noting the shadow cast over the parked car. Religion does provide a guidance and sense of security – but it is reality, or is it just another bunch of dancing shadows?
One of the components of Plato’s theories is this idea of perception. If the chained people saw what they observed to be a sheet of paper in the shadows, they might refer to it as paper to each other. But it’s not really paper they’re referring to; it’s the shadow they’ve seen that resembles paper they’ve now associated the word with (as opposed to the actual object). Now to apply this to Rectify, just replace a sheet of paper for God.
This idea first crops up in a prison flashback, as Kerwin and Daniel play a card game between cells. We can’t see what cards they are calling out (just like they can’t), but they take each other’s words for what value card they call out (to which they do a corresponding amount of push-ups). These are literally the men in the shadows, supplying each other with definition for things they cannot see. And it also personifies Daniel’s fear of being brought back into the light: Kerwin tells him “you’re the most reluctant innocent mothefucker I’ve ever met.”
It pops up again in the most fascinating scene of the series yet, when Tawney and Daniel cook some casseroles for the church and go for a walk in the park. It all begins when Tawney asks Daniel how he approached the idea of impending death in prison; Daniel says plainly that he tried only to think about the act of letting go and dying, rather than what the result of his death might be. Tawney finds this to be wildly interesting, especially when he says he finds the peace of not knowing more righteous than the peace of those who think they do. In a nutshell, Daniel wants to be the man in the shadows: he finds not knowing comforting, used to the shackles of solitary confinement and loneliness.
As he explains (indirectly, of course), he’s also an embodiment of Dante from the Divinia Commedia, moving from his journey through hell (his trial, going to prison), purgatory (being on death row for years), and now, Paradiso – his journey through heaven, the man removed from the shadows and given vision again. He calls Tawney his Beatrice, who many consider to be the inspiration of Dante’s writing, embodied in the text as a nurturing women, his salvation and guide to enlightenment. She’s not aware of what he’s saying (“I… I don’t know what that eees” she says in her Georgia drawl) until he explains it to her, where she becomes all smiley and embarrassed; “I don’t know about that” she replies sheepishly.
A few scenes later, they’re walking in the park, and their conversation turns back to Plato’s ideas. Daniel asks her if she’s sustained or numbed by her belief in God, and her compares to Thomas Aquinas (another lengthy rabbit hole of information to fall down: basically, he’s an old theologist credited with the intentionality, or the directedness of the mind towards what it’s aware of). It’s a fascinating scene, one that combines Plato’s theory with Aquinas’s as Daniel explains that “he believed supernatural revelation is faith, natural revelation is reason… and the two don’t have to be contradictory.” In other words, is Tawney the person who returns to the cave, believing she’s seen everything for what it truly is – or is she one of the people living in the dark, staring at shadows and grasping for any meaning to give life definition.
Dense? Hell yes, but Rectify is tackling things on a level I haven’t seen a show attempt in a long, long time – and even better, there’s nothing anywhere that tries to justify itself as the right answer. It doesn’t even linger on these things longs, Aquinas being a short detour into their next meaty concept: baptism. Tawney asks Daniel if he could be baptized, explaining the feeling of being born again and forgiven. Daniel thinks he might be, but is it for him or for her? She hugs him, and the tone immediately turns awkward as Daniel reacts to feeling someone touch him. “You begin to vacillates between being repelled by touch, or seeking it out in any form… even the most negative. Out here, you’re the only touch that soothes me, and I know that’s not proper.”
It adds a final bit of levity to the conversation they’ve just shared (as well as establishing a bit of dramatic stakes the show might want to have moving into it’s recently announced second season): everything suggests to Daniel that he’s in heaven: the sunlight, a beautiful girl in white talking about loving the Lord… but it’s not, and that reminder brings him back to the purgatory he’s living in, a reminder that he hasn’t forgotten his shadows of the past just yet.
There aren’t many characters seen in the episode – outside of the opening scene, Tawney and Daniel take up the majority of the episode, save for a few scenes with Ted, who’s fighting the temptations of the flesh and illicit contracting money as he buries his frustrations in drinking. He’s clearly not that happy that Tawney’s taken an interest in Daniel, and that their marriage is anything but the joyous reunion either of them thought it would turn out to be.
But ‘Plato’s Cave’ is very, very light on those matters, closing on a nice little scene of an old friend of Danny’s from high school showing him a bit of kindness, in the way of company and some very, very positive touching. And for once, we close on a Daniel relaxed, not jumping at noises at the window or feeling lost in the world: he’s being held and loved in a way that even religious faith can’t help him. It’s a beautiful way to close out the heavy philosophic tone of the episode: he’s definitely out of the shadows, and finally starting to get reacquainted with the light, connecting slowly to the world around him.
– more connections to the world around him: Daniel’s got a cell phone!
– Daniel once wrote a book report with his mother on Plato’s Cave: “I didn’t understand the allegory, but I’ll tell you one thing… Plato was onto something.”
– what was with the Kohl’s name dropping while in Wal-Mart? Either that was some serious product placement (there was also a Sega game shown on a Playstation 3 in the store) or I’m seeing things. Whatever pays for this awesome show is fine with me, though.
– Daniel’s lawyer Jon has a brief meeting with Sandra, someone in the county D.A.’s office (I think). We get a few more details about the case (Daniel was questioned without a lawyer for 10 hours, something to which there is no phsyical evidence of, save for the confession in the last hour), and the knowledge that the state is still trying to figure out a way to re-try him.
– Sheriff Carl meets up with Trey (one of the main witnesses) who notes that a lot of people had sex with the girl who died, but insists that Daniel was the one who killed her, arguing and then leaving with her at the fateful party.
– Daniel thinks that it’s probably better to hear about Raphael’s paintings third-hand; it might be too overwhelming for him if he had been there himself.
– Daniel: “I would’ve visited with the executioner had he stopped by.”
– “Could you accept Christ into your heart?” Tawney; “I don’t think Buddha would mind making room – or Confucius… Nietzsche might grumble.”
– what’s Tawney doing? “Oh, I’m just puttin’ on my soft pants.”