Ray McKinnon’s critically acclaimed SundanceTV series wrapped up its third season with Daniel Holden (Aden Young) pausing at the door to the “New Canaan Project” halfway house.
We expect a turn, one last look at his longsuffering mother Janet Talbot (J. Cameron-Smith) who has just driven him there, the result of a plea deal that banished Daniel from his home state for a crime (we’re pretty sure, but not certain) he didn’t commit. But a last look never comes. Daniel opens the door and steps into his new life.
He’s going to give it his best shot. (It’s all he can do, really.) He’ll see us in the funny papers.
This is how the best show on television concluded its most satisfying season yet. It’d be a perfectly fine place to end the entire series—if Rectify hadn’t already been picked up for an 8-episode fourth.
Rectify returned to SundanceTV July 9 with a bang—er, Sheriff Daggett (J.D. Evermore) kicking a recalcitrant snack machine. It ended six episodes later with a new start in Nashville, man-boy Daniel quietly asking his mother: “Will you try and forgive yourself? You did the best you could under the most unusual set of circumstances.”
The line captures what Rectify is really all about. It’s what McKinnon preaches week after week. We all live under the most unusual set of circumstances. We all need forgiveness, grace. We all face consequences and change. These ideas are woven into the fabric of the series’ title. Rectify isn’t for knee-jerk cynics. It’s a life-map for how not to be cynical…how to live.
No character experiences greater “rectification” in Season Three than Teddy Talbot Jr., played to adult Southern frat boy perfection by native Alabamian Clayne Crawford.
“Apparently, I have resting douchebag face,” Crawford quips. “Always had it. In high school, every once in a while someone would come up to me out of the blue and just say, ‘What are you looking at, asshole?!’”
Few fans of Rectify are on the fence about Teddy Jr. But it’s not a love him or hate him kind of divide. Teddy Jr. challenges our ideas about forgiveness and hope, about loving someone who’s hard to love, someone who has never loved himself. Rectify fans are split on the issue of what they want for Teddy. And it’s a tribute to Crawford that by the end of Season Three, most want him to be happy… and believe that he can be.
Today, Crawford is relaxing at his Clay, Alabama farm in a worn denim shirt, ripped-off-at-the-knees red plaid pajama pants, and flip-flops. The voice is the same, but nothing else about the man is anything at all like his on-screen alter ego.
Crawford is a devoted family man who grows his own food, raises cows and chickens, and hand-feeds the fish that swim in his pond. To see him on the day of Rectify’s season finale is to glimpse a man completely at ease in his own skin, living a life of rural Southern charm—pretty much everything Teddy Jr. wants, but will probably never get.
“Playing Teddy has helped me understand some of the guys I grew up with more,” he says, patting his dog’s belly. “I mean, that’s what’s at the heart of all great acting. Empathy. Teddy’s taught me how to be more empathetic.”
Rectify Season Three wriggles its way out of the tight spot it made for itself at the end of Season Two by exploring the idea of what empathy actually looks like, how it’s lived out—not just for our friends and the people we love, but how it’s lived out with everybody.
Janet Talbot says to her husband (Bruce McKinnon) and stepson Teddy: “Daniel’s not a bad person. He’s a sick person. He’s a damaged person. But he’s not bad. And he’s had such a raw deal… his life. So I’m gonna help him. As much I can. As much as he’ll let me. So he’ll have a chance. That’s all. Just like the rest of us. If we’re lucky.”
It’s a rare moment of declaration and clear intent in Rectify dialogue. But it’s there for a reason. This is not a clue. It’s a smoking gun.
“I auditioned twice,” Crawford says of the Rectify casting process. “First time it was early. 7 AM. I was shooting a pilot [Graceland] and had to be on set by 8. Ray agreed to see me early and I went in and read,” he recalls.
“My agent called me that afternoon and said that Ray wanted to see me read again the next day. So I went in again, even earlier, and read for him a second time. Same scene. And he was like, ‘Alright. Thanks.’”
“My agent called and told me I got the part [of Teddy Talbot Jr.]. And I was like, ‘What was with that second audition? I just went in and did the exact same thing.’ And my agent said, ‘Ray just wanted to see you read it again—make sure the first one wasn’t a fluke.’”
Crawford likens this experience to the day-to-day process of making Rectify. Ray McKinnon is relentless in his push for truthful scenes and natural interactions between his actors.
“You remember that scene with [Adelaide Clemens, who plays Tawney Talbot] and me in Season Two, the scene where she breaks down and tells Teddy she just can do this anymore? Well, that was near the end of an intense 11-hour day. Addy was exhausted. We all were. She really couldn’t do it anymore. But Ray just kept on. Took her aside, chatted a bit, and we went back to work. And the scene got even better.”
Two main plotlines animate Rectify Season Three: Sheriff Daggett’s continuing investigation into the disappearance of George Melton and his apparent link to Hanna Dean’s rape and murder, and the Holden-Talbot family’s coming to terms with Daniel’s plea deal and impending lifetime banishment from Paulie, Georgia. In a sense, not much happens in the week or two that constitutes the season (we literally watch paint dry in a couple of scenes), but in another sense, everything happens.
It is the slow motion of life being lived, moment-to-moment, and the blink-and-you’ve-missed it compression of time as we reflect.
On their road trip to banishment in Tennessee, Daniel and his mother wistfully return to a long-forgotten family vacation spot: Tybee Island Beach. Both mother and son realize the place is not as it was (the restaurant is flat out of their “world-famous” snapper, but they do have grouper!), though we get the sense, as Daniel wades out into the Atlantic Ocean (“I must now go to the source”), that what comes next can be as spectacular as what once was.
And so we hope.
After Season Three wrapped in April, Clayne Crawford found himself at the Sundance Lab, acting with Ed Harris and chatting with Robert Redford about (what else?) Rectify.
“You know, around here, my family, relatives… they don’t really watch the show. We never really talk about it. Which is fine, you know,” Crawford says, “But I’m out there in Park City and here’s Redford—Robert Redford—and he’s just going on and on about it. Asking about how I played certain scenes. He and Ed love Teddy.”
Crawford is laughing now. The strangeness of his life outside of the farm, a punch line.
“Those guys, what incredible artists. And they both say, man… they both say you gotta keep on doing great work. It’s all about craft with those guys. None of that Hollywood bullshit. It’s do great work today, then do it again tomorrow, and then do it again the next day.”
Crawford eases back in his chair, looks out over the rolling green Central Alabama hills. “That’s what you learn working on a farm. Small steps. Slow and steady. Every day. Every day.”
Which is precisely where Ray McKinnon’s Rectify has left us. Daniel’s new life is going to be a slow and steady process. Amantha’s sticking with Thrifty Town management training for now. Slow, steady. Janet and Ted Sr. have some work to do on their marriage, getting back on the same page. Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) is going to find out who really killed Hannah Dean, one step at a time. Tawney’s on her way back… shy, timid, but determined to get healthy. And Teddy Jr.? He’s sipping beers with stepsister Amantha, playing gin rummy around the family’s dining room table.
Stepbrother Jared (Jake Austin Walker) walks in:
Jared: “Who’s winning?
Amantha: “Don’t ask.”
Jared: “Can I play?”
Amantha and Teddy: “No!”
It’s the first moment Teddy Jr. has ever felt like a part of this family, like a brother. And that look on his face? That smile?
Crawford’s visage is neither resting nor douchebag. It’s the smile he wears at the farm on a sunny August day.
Teddy’s found a home, which is precisely where Ray McKinnon lands Rectify Season Three: home.
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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