Rectify, Season 3, Episode 3, “Sown with Salt”
Written by Coleman Herbert
Directed by Billy Geirhart
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on SundanceTV
It’s no surprise one of Daniel’s dream destinations is the land of Carthage in Tunisia, home of the Carthagian empire that fell to the Romans in 146 BC. When their lands were stripped and the Carthagian people were enslaved, legends said the Romans “salted the earth” of Carthage, cursing the land for re-inhabitation by the Carthagians or any others. This practice has appeared throughout history, most notably in medieval Spanish culture, when convicted traitors often had their lands covered in salt, as punishment,usually right before their heads ended up on spikes. There’s a strange two-sided nature to this practice; while often a symbolic gesture of destroying the land for agriculture, thus killing any chance of rebirth the civilization might have, the idea of salting a fallen civilization preserves it, in all its ugliness. It keeps things stuck in a way, doomed to never escape the vision of its own destruction, unable to finish dying, or be born anew.
“Sown with Salt” is about a group of characters stuck in their shared, salted pasts; and everywhere characters go, it seems there’s no hope for positive change. Trey is still trying to destroy Daniel’s life, twisting up the story of their trip to Florida, which ends up with Daniel putting himself in line for a new set of assault charges; Tawney is straight afraid of being in her own bedroom with her husband, Teddy putting on the full intimidation display Tawney mentioned to her therapist earlier; and most painful of all, Janet is finally getting her new kitchen – but it’s not being built by “her boys”, a home being rebuilt by surrogates she can’t fully accept into her heart (as she mentioned last season, when she apologized to Ted Sr. for never loving him the way she loved Daniel’s father). The kitchen is rotten, as is much of Paulie for the Holden family; for 18 episodes, we’ve seen them try to grow out of a town stuck in time – and in “Sown with Salt”, the cracks we’ve watched formed are beginning to show.
Flashbacks to the moment Daniel found out he was getting out help frame the emotional arc of this episode; for every character but Amantha (we’ll get back to her), the hope of Daniel getting out of prison has been lost, replaced with the deep scars coming to the surface after 20 years buried under the surface. As hard as they may try, they can’t escape the spiritual black pit that is Daniel’s past (and potentially, his future); with only 24 days left in Paulie, Daniel’s already contemplating going back to prison rather than try to make it out in the real world. Stuck in Paulie’s purgatorial grip, the Holden family can’t figure out a way to regrow – or even completely break; there’s no resolution to be found in “Sown with Salt”, an hour spent pondering whether a new coat of paint will do the trick, and quickly realizing there’s no quick fix in the world that could heal these deep, permanent scars.
The only character able to escape this iodine-laden nightmare is Amantha, whose arc is the complete inverse of everyone else in Paulie; her day starts off on the lowest note when she has a nervous breakdown of sorts in front of her fellow management trainees, but improves greatly when she meets a man with an open bar tab and a friendly face. Offered an opportunity at a momentary escape from her life, Amantha seizes the moment with the man who is staying on the 7th floor (metaphorically making him her brief, sexy divine intervention), and takes him back up to her room on the 8th floor (aka infinity, or the home of true transcendence) to a place she can escape, and not be the sister of Daniel Holden, if only for a little while.
That final sequence is a perfect capper to a visually delightful episode (those overhead shots of Daniel alone in the pool? Simply poetic); the episode closes on Amantha and her delightful gentleman walking down a seemingly endless hallway, the image fading to black when the elevator doors close, leaving the two alone in private for her brief foray into freedom from the painful physical world she lives in. It’s a brilliant shot, and one that captures the essence of the episode in a powerful way. Things may look quite dour for Daniel and his family, but there’s always still hope, even on the most salted of lands – in that way, reminding me of a hauntingly beautiful passage from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping:
“Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water–-peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing–-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.”
I have to think this was on the minds of writer Coleman Herbert when writing this stunning episode of television: with a little patience, everything has a chance of being born anew, no matter how dark and ominous things may be. The only thing we can do is give it a chance; can any members of the Holden family give things a chance, when the end seems like its only 24 days away? – Randy