By Kevin Canessa Jr.
Imagine what it must be like knowing you’re innocent of a crime.
Then, somehow, you’re charged with the crime, go through a trial, get convicted and then sentenced to death. You’re spared the death penalty for 19 years, and thanks to DNA evidence, your sentence is vacated — and you’re released from prison.
Such is the scenario for fictional character Daniel Holden in the Sundance Channel’s “Rectify,” a series that debuted a year ago and that is currently in its second season.
Daniel Holden’s background
Holden stood accused, at age 19, of raping and murdering his then-girlfriend, Hanna, 16, in 1994.
When he’s released, it’s 2013 — and just think for a moment how radically different things are now than they were in 1994. For starters, there’s this new thing called the Internet. TVs are flat. Computers are everywhere. Cassette tapes are obsolete. Life as Holden knew it in 1994 is nothing as it is upon his release.
This incredible drama deals with how Holden, now 38, deals with life on the outside. And is it ever a challenge. Now keep in mind this — it’s one thing to be released from prison. It’s a completely different scenario when that release happens in a small town in the rural South — in the fictitious town of Paulie, Ga.
In small-town life, everyone knows everyone’s business. Everyone has a formed opinion. Everyone believes their opinion is the one that matters the most.
Such is the life Holden faces back in Paulie. There are countless people — including the sheriff, the prosecutor and a state senator who is the former prosecutor who tried and convicted Holden back in 1994 — who won’t rest until he’s put back into prison.
But then, there’s a faction of people who truly believe — just as they did 19 years ago — that Holden wasn’t responsible for the death of the 16-year-old.
It all takes an already-divided community — and divides it even further — to a point where people truly learn to despise one another.
The writers of the show do a brilliant job of making it all seem so real.
Holden’s character is portrayed brilliantly by actor Aden Young. At times, the man you see in the Holden role is the same 19-year-old who went away for as many years. At times, you find a man who is curious — who wants to learn how to get a driver’s license, what wants to discover what Target is, wants to learn to play games on a Playstation instead of his old, ancient Sega Genesis.
Yet throughout it all, you find in Holden a man who is completely lost — who really doesn’t know what life outside the walls of a prison is supposed to be like … who doesn’t know his place in the world … who can’t seem to figure out whether he even believes in his own innocence … who longs just to be touched by another human being.
What makes “Rectify” a hit is that it’s not like anything else you’ll find anywhere on TV. It tackles a quite taboo subject. It’s not a typical crime drama where the crime is the main focus of the show. It’s not in a hospital. It’s not in a police station. It’s not in a law office.
Instead, it’s in real America. It doesn’t take us to the absurd. And it portrays what this writer would imagine would happen in a nosy little town forced to deal with a man being released from prison for a crime that divided everyone.
As TV Guide said in its review, “Rectify is “one of the most captivating and poignant TV series” currently on the air.
Couldn’t agree more. Season 1 is available now on Netflix and Season 2 is currently underway. New episodes air at 9 p.m. Thursdays on the Sundance Channel.