Rectify Season 2, Episode 1 “Running with the Bull”
Written by Ray McKinnon
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on Sundance
“Life is gift, man.” – Kerwin
As Daniel Holden’s life hangs in the balance, Rectify‘s second season premiere takes a look at the people in his orbit and how they’ve affected their lives in the week he’s returned (and as a product of this, their entire lives). Where the first season was primarily concerned with the mental state of Daniel – and with six episodes and an uncertain future, smartly maintained this narrow view – the opening hour of the show’s sophomore effort takes a much broader look at Paulie and the families still living in the shadow of Hannah’s death in 1994. As riveting and reflective as ever, “Running with the Bull” is the blossoming of the beautiful, disturbing flower that is Rectify, giving new depth to the many petals clinging (or for others, like Ted Jr.), and setting up what looks to be another fascinating (and extended – huzzah!) collection of episodes.
For the most part, the religious allegories of episodes like “Plato’s Cave” and “Jacob’s Ladder” are subdued in “Running with the Bull”, which opens (and frequently returns) to the purgatory of Daniel’s mind, reflecting on Kerwin’s death and his own possible departure from this life, as he sits in an Atlanta hospital in an induced coma. It doesn’t quite have the existential bent that dream sequences on The Sopranos or LOST would have, but it’s effective all the same, a look into what Daniel’s life was like in the days and weeks after Kerwin died. It’s a look inside his mental emporium, the places he’s constructed for himself to go in his mind, during the 18 years he spent in his little cell on death row.
However, it’s not with Daniel where the best material of the episode lies: everyone in Daniel’s life, from Amantha to Ted Jr., gets their moment of reflection during “Running with the Bull”. The work done with Ted Jr. in particular is great; it begins to humanize season one’s biggest villain, the jealous stepbrother who was put in his place with a choke out and a (large) sprinkle of coffee in his ass crack. He’s still reeling from the moment, hiding his neck bruises from Tawney and staring at the coffee maker while at the rim shop – and the frustrations keep piling up, be it a marriage slowly falling apart, or a business he can’t keep above water (Carl informs his government bid to sell tires to the city wasn’t accepted). He – like many other characters in this world – are letting the ‘variables’ of life control them, fighting against the challenges that come with looking inside oneself.
Through Ted Jr., Amantha and Tawney’s conversations about God and cruelty come to life: we can never hope to understand why things happen in life. We can comprehend the how of things, or understand the concept of when, but “why” is the great question of life, whether we’re curious two-year-olds or contemplative mid-lifers: and those who become obsessed with that question lose sight of the goal. When Daniel is focused on why he’s being beat down (literally and figuratively), he begins speaking to Kerwin as if he’s ready to die. What’s the point in fighting if you can’t control what battles you’re in? All we know is nature (or God, or whatever you might believe in) is going to be cruel, and there’s always going to be something out there trying to beat us down (like the nasty state senator, who wishes Daniel would just die and make his re-election campaign easier: what a horrid Big Bad for this season).
All we can do is enjoy the life we have: and more importantly, fight for the things we love. In the end, “Running with the Bull” is about recognizing the good in life, feeling the love and support of family (and of something divine, if you’re talking to Tawney) and embracing it, rather than allowing the negative things to push away. Look how strongly Daniel reacts when his family is in the room; at one point, he wakes up out of a medically-induced coma: if there’s one thing Daniel is starting to learn, it’s that nothing in life is easy, especially the things that can be ripped away from us in an instant. We’re going to suffer, there’s no doubt about that – but without suffering, could we really enjoy the beauty of the world? Sometimes, it’s better to leave the statue broken; there’s beauty to be found in imperfection, a certain poignancy that reminds us nothing will ever be perfect, or remain how we’d like it to – so when it is close, cherish it with every fiber of your being.
– I’m so happy Rectify (which I voted my favorite show of 2013 in our year-end voting here at Sound on Sight) is back for a ten-episode second season. Welcome back, Paulie.
– Will someone get Abigail Spencer a fuckin’ Emmy already? She is brilliant in this role, America; start paying attention!
– Amantha: “well, I’m going to go smoke an entire carton of cigarettes.”
– Marvin the rental agent is such an awesome little character; it gives us a view into a forgiving Paulie, a world where people still love Daniel for the delicate, well-meaning boy he once was.