When looking on the surface of Rectify, one finds so many examples of some of horrors and tribulations awaiting people in life–not just extraordinary people like Daniel, but things common, more or less, to everyone. Indeed, characters will often wonder aloud about their state of affairs or those of others. In last week’s premiere, Tawney couldn’t understand how her God could let something some horrible as what happens to Daniel happen to anyone, but she specifically has trouble understanding why it happens to him. Yet, for all these honest inquiries into the darker sides of human nature and the perceived cruelty of fate (or what have you), I find Rectify to be a beautiful meditation on what makes life joyous and awesome, in the literal sense of that word. Last week, Daniel’s fantasy version of Kerwin was simply overwhelmed by that beauty. “Sleeping Giants” shows us that as well when Daniel wakes up from his coma. The overwhelming power of life makes fools of us all who revel in cynicism or even those who try to understand it and put it down into words. Maybe, then, criticism (including episodic reviews) has many formal limitations when it comes to these kinds of things. I can say, perhaps, whether that sequence is “good” or “bad” or “effective” or “poor” in terms of execution, framing, scoring, etc. But all of those avenues of analysis miss the point of it entirely, which is encapsulated in how Amantha is reduced into a mumbling mess. There is, on some level, only the intrinsic, physical reaction when faced with life’s beauty, and few shows other than Rectify manage to capture that on a television screen.
“Sleeping Giants” has the unenviable task of further humanizing Teddy Jr., who is such a strong presence in these first two episodes in ways that make him seem like he was just the stuff of background last year (re-watching the first season, though, he certainly wasn’t that, which makes these scenes seem even more powerful). What I like best about the Teddy Jr. material here is that we’re not entirely sure what’s going on in his mind. He exhibits frustration with his father and wife for not seeing the possibility of the family being completely torn apart if Daniel wakes up a “vegetable” (his word). Yet, I don’t necessarily sense malice in his attitude towards the sleeping Daniel. He’s very much being pragmatic while still obviously trying to make sense about who Daniel is and what he’s done to Teddy Jr. We saw him grip the statue that Amantha left in his hospital room last week with an intensity that I’m sure many people interpreted to mean he was ready or wanting to strike Daniel–and fair enough. But I don’t see this as who Rectify is portraying this character to be right now. Teddy Jr. is not a man overcome by his angers or jealousies as to turn him into something he’s not. His scene with Tawney in this episode in which she admits that she had feelings for Daniel could have gone in many directions, but Teddy is proving himself more and more to be someone who has to let things marinate before he can act accordingly, as if he’s careful he doesn’t want to make a wrong decision in his reprisals. It’s important to make the distinction that Teddy isn’t running away from any of this mentally, either. He may be avoiding Tawney, but there is every indication that he’s constantly thinking about all these things, which shows a tremendous amount of respect on the writers’ part for this character who utterly evades being caricature.
That, in itself, is a sort of example of the beauty of the human condition, too. “Sleeping Giants” is actually full of these small triumphs. There is, of course, the way Daniel interacts with his mother after he wakes up, knowing exactly what to do and say to make her feel at ease. But then there’s also the fact that Daggett has arrested Bobby for being the ringleader behind Daniel’s beating. There are certainly ways in which this can be played as less heroic and less triumphant depending on the aftermath in the following episodes, but “Sleeping Giants” allows us to revel in it as a major victory for a group of characters who have suffered quite a bit lately. Contrasting that with how Amantha gets so short with the doctor, her immaturity almost makes Daggett the more sympathetic character in a story in which probably no one could have predicted that from the beginning. The plot details of this–that Bobby is arrested–don’t really matter much compared to what it means for these characters. I see all of this as giving Daggett the same kind of depth that many of the characters in Rectify already possess. The episode is still concerned with advancing that plot, as seen by following Trey around some more, but none of that is taking away from the stronger character beats that are going on.
If I have any criticisms, they would be minor and, ultimately, unimportant. This series, after all, exudes a kind of confidence that is almost without peers. But the flashback scenes in the episode have less propulsion now that Kerwin is gone. Daniel’s mental battles are still interesting, but they risk becoming well-covered ground at some point. They work better when there’s something to bounce them off, such as Jon’s visit to one of his other clients who is about to be executed (did we even see Jon last week?), but Wendall won’t be enough of a force, I imagine, to make those sequences pop like they used to in the event of not having parallel stories in the present-day narrative. Again, minor and ultimately unimportant (and, actually, a similar criticism I have of another show I love, Arrow, which relies too heavily on its flashbacks sometimes because it feels like it needs to), but something to consider nonetheless. I’ll be paying closer attention to those scenes as we go forward, and as much as I enjoy seeing Aden Young portray Daniel’s total deterioration, that probably won’t be enough. In any case, “Sleeping Giants” is still superb television of the highest order on offer right now.
[Photo via Sundance]