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SundanceTV’s underseen but incredibly prestigious (metascore of 99 for its stunning final season yet not popular enough to be gratified by the primetime Emmy awards) series Rectify could have easily become a typical procedural or an overwrought melodrama with its essential premise being set on a man’s release from death row after spending close to twenty years there in confined conditions and the emotional effect this has on him and the people he is surrounded by. However, with the show’s poetic writing, well-chosen melancholy visuals, and incredible performances from all those involved, Rectify transcends typical Southern Gothic trappings to display such truths about us as people and the way that human interaction is so vital yet can be so bittersweet in their intricacies and complexities. This is often achieved with a tentative focus on what is not said in conversation as opposed to dialogue heavy scenes, choosing to provoke our emotions with hesitant, revelatory pauses and nuanced expressions in an introspective, slow-burn, and serene character study that offers sobering questions to our methods of rehabilitation for people who are convicted yet may still be innocent. Yet there are no obvious answers to whether or not Daniel is guilty as through the severe trauma he has suffered throughout his time in death row his memories from over two decades ago are deeply suppressed and arguably unreachable.
The show chronicles its protagonist Daniel Holden (an excellent internalised performance from Aden Young) in his problematic journey out of the justice system and his continual obstacles he meets from them as a pariah in his own hometown as well as the prospect of facing people after so many years of isolation within his cell on death row. Upon his return every member of his family looks back at the consequences of their actions during his time served as their unity becomes fragmented. His sister Amantha (a light yet poignant Abigail Spencer) looks at her sacrifice of defending the brother who is willing again to proclaim himself guilty only so he may see himself acquitted and his mother (a warm yet at times devastating J. Smith Cameron) re-evaluates her marriage to Daniel’s stepfather and the content equilibrium she once had for herself. What proves most fascinating is Daniel’s emotional connection to Tawney (a hopeful yet wise Adelaide Clemens) whose faith and compassion arises Daniel out of his withdrawn nature which only serves to have repercussions with her husband Teddy (fiercely protective yet emotionally wounded as played masterfully by Clayne Crawford).
All this serves to show Rectify’s focus on human adjustments that vary from extremes to minor dilemmas as each character wishes to reach some form of harmony, but as demonstrated throughout the show there is so much cause and effect in everyone’s actions that they each can cause another to spiral with their contrasting personalities. This is exemplified numerous times as it’s easy to emphasise with any character: an extrovert like Amantha trapped with incredibly private people; to be like Tawney as she’s faithful yet becoming aware that she’s stuck where she does not to be; to look at Daniel’s mother accommodating someone she loves that is the same person she’s grieving the memory of how they used to be or to see Daniel struggle in his loneliness and alienation in a place who used to be completely in control at. The subplotting around Daniel’s heart-rending flashback narrative of his moments distressing moments heightens the dramatic impact of this device as together they shape his heartache and constant struggle to gratify the ones he loves whilst they all must find acceptance in what has happened with no true form of rectification ever coming their way.