The time arrives for Daniel to tell his side of the story about what happened on the night of Hanna’s murder. But the truth is slippery. The season’s finale is smart, but not wholly satisfying when it comes to answering the show’s biggest question.
Opening with the morning after Tawney’s getaway to a motel room where she invited Daniel, we find the two lying side by side as they discuss their immediate plans. While nothing happened between them (“You cried; I held you,” says Daniel) the incident will undoubtedly cause an uproar when revealed. Daniel decides to tell her what happened between him and Teddy at the tire shop on the night of the baptism, that he hurt and humiliated Teddy. He called the moment “violent and unhinged.” At first, I expected this to drive Tawney back to Teddy in what would be a more typical storyline. But Rectify comes through with a much better version.
When Teddy awakes he drives to Janet’s, hoping that Daniel would be there. Janet sees that something is wrong, but Teddy attributes it to Tawney’s miscarriage. He returns home and writes a letter to Tawney who comes by to get her suitcase. Things are congenial till Tawney tells him that she’s sorry for what Daniel did to him. (Tawney, Tawney, Tawney. Why would you tell him?) He not only decides against giving her the letter, but he angrily tells her they were fine together till Daniel showed up.
The current district attorney convinces Daniel to take the plea deal, whereby he would have to confess to the murder, but he would not have to serve anymore time. All Daniel would have to do is sign some papers, and a judge would surely okay it. But former D.A. and now senator, Roland Foulkes, convinces her to require a “debrief” in which Daniel would have to verbally give his accounting of what happened that night. Daniel’s attorney Jon warns against this, but Daniel—in his newfound, self-assured, lets-finish-this attitude—says he wants to tell his story at the debriefing. While this is going on, Sheriff Daggett is checking out George’s mobile home, and some kids are playing by the river—the same river where Hanna died. Foreboding runs rampant.
In another one of the prison flashbacks Tawney visits Daniel and tells him that Justice Row is on his case, and she is sure they will get him out. Daniel’s body language is not as positive, as they play a dark humor game of “Hangman” on the window that separates them. Back to present day, Amantha tells Jon he should take the Boston job and they should go their separate ways. As has happened since the beginning of the series, Amantha—the crazy one—turns out to be the smart one. She talks with Daniel one last time and says he’s a coward if he goes into the D.A.’s office, and confesses to something he didn’t do. And, surprisingly, she says she’ll never reach out to him again. Way to go, Amantha!
I want to believe that Daniel is good like Tawney says he is. But “good” is such a nebulous concept. That, I believe, is what creator Ray McKinnon has been trying to say all along. There is no good or evil, only varying degrees of each. Senator Foulkes, for example, may not have ever been convicted of a crime. But is he less guilty of committing evil than Daniel?
In the debriefing Daniel says that although he made out with Hanna on the night of the murder, after they ate what the D.A. calls “psychoactive mushrooms”, he did not have sex with her. He ran away from embarrassment when he couldn’t get an erection, and she laughed at him. When he returned he watched other boys having sex with her from a distance. When they left, he went down to where she was unconscious and naked. He confesses to strangling her after placing flowers over her private parts. The problem with this whole scene, of course, is that he is required to say that he is guilty under the conditions of the plea deal. While his testimony is dramatic, it is the same story Trey told him days earlier after Daniel had said he could not remember what happened. So, is the big moment of truth just another fabrication in this case of many falsehoods? Daniel and Jon must sit in the hallway while the final decision is made behind closed doors.
In part of the final scenes, we see Daggett looking at the trailer park’s security camera footage where he discovers the point of Daniel’s arrival and departure at George’s home, along with the footage of Trey’s pickup truck. Back at the river, one of the boys finds George’s body. The coup de gras comes when Teddy walks into the sheriff’s office and asks if it’s not too late to confess to what Daniel did to him. The sheriff calls the D.A. while she is still in session about the debriefing when a police officer walks in Daniel’s direction. Daniel gives a panicked look before the officer walks on by. It’s a great moment because it shows what most viewers are thinking—they are going to re-arrest him. And that is how it ends—with Daniel sitting alone, waiting—except for an incredibly apt snippet of The Lumineers’ “Flowers In Your Hair” during the final credits:
“When we were younger we thought everyone was on our side.
Then we grew a little and romanticized the time I saw flowers in your hair.
Cause it takes a boy to live, but it takes a man to pretend he was there.”