I've been waiting for someone to make "Rectify" (9 tonight, Sundance Channel); we've heard many stories of unjustly imprisoned people being released but not enough about what happens after. (Of course, the N&O's Mandy Locke powerfully told some of the after story of N.C.'s Dwayne Dail.)
"Rectify," a somber, intriguing and excellent miniseries about a man released from prison after 19 years, not only looks at the former prisoner's transition to freedom, but how those around him handle that transition and their own. Along the way, it plays like a meditation on faith, loss, freedom, fear, life, death and more.
Daniel Holden (Aden Young) gets off death row when DNA evidence makes his case -- the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend -- shaky. His sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) has been the force behind proving his innocence, working with Jon (Luke Kirby), a lawyer who works with a Innocence Project-type organization.
Daniel is welcomed home by his mother Janet (J. Smith Cameron), who is remarried to Ted (Bruce McKinnon) and his half brother Jared (Jake Austin Walker); less welcoming is his stepbrother Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford) who is married to the kindly, devout Tawney (Adelaide Clemens).
Daniel returns to his small Georgia town where not everyone believes he's without guilt, especially the prosecutor who's now a State Senator (Michael O'Neill) and the sheriff who may have helped the case against Daniel along, in a bad way, to get the conviction.
We also get to see a bit of Daniel's life on death row, where he reads classics and bonds with another inmate Kerwin (Johnny Ray Gill).
"Rectify" moves slow; sometimes that makes it hypnotic, sometimes that just makes it slow. But there's always something going on. Daniel talks about his sense of time being thrown off; on death row, he had to manage his time in a particular way to survive. Out in the world, he's disoriented by the limitlessness. We get to feel that struggle, not to mention watch his sense of wonder at mundane things. Smart Water and streaming videos are just a fraction of the new things the world has produced since he's been gone.
Meanwhile, his mother, who had gotten used to the idea of his death, has to readjust too. There are a lot of awkward silences. Ted Jr., fluctuates between being a selfish jerk and having moments of best-he-can kindness. His wife Tawney is intrigued by Daniel's rebirth of sorts. She may be attracted to him too.
I don't mean to make "Rectify" seem like a bummer. There are light moments too.
The series doesn't make clear whether Daniel did the crime or not. That's not the point. "Rectify" is going for something bigger than a procedural; it's exploring the human condition in all of its complexity. It may not successfully answer all the questions it asks, but what makes you keep watching is that it tries.