Last week, Ovum, a British-based technology research and advisory firm “advised” its clients that, “Netflix’s current business model burns massive and increasing amounts of cash, which we think is not sustainable.”The gist is a warning that Netflix is spending beyond its means and the growth allegedly fuelled by spending on content has slowed. The end is nigh for Netflix as the world knows it.
Let’s see about that. In the meantime, we should be very thankful that Netflix offers a library of thrillingly good TV that cannot be accessed in bulk on any other platform. That applies in particular to one of the greatest TV dramas ever made, a show unheralded at award ceremonies, but adored by critics and a small audience that recognizes a masterpiece of writing and acting.
Rectify (season four, its final one, and previous seasons, now streaming on Netflix) is it. No praise is too lavish for it. If you haven’t seen it from the start, do. A masterpiece of Southern Gothic drama, it has Toronto-born and Australia-raised Aden Young playing Daniel Holden, released from jail when his conviction for rape and murder is undermined by new evidence. Young has described his exquisitely drawn character as “very much a child being born” and that is profoundly true.
But what matters, truly, is the texture of this formidably smart, sensitive and slow-burning drama about retribution, redemption, life, literature, family and forgiveness.
Created by Ray McKinnon and made for the Sundance TV channel, it could, crudely, be summed up as, “After almost 20 years on death row, Daniel Holden leaves prison, the evidence that convicted him undermined, and he wants a new life.” A summary that’s correct but cannot do justice to the subtlety of the journey into madness and suffering that Daniel undergoes.
For a start, it never becomes clear what role Daniel played in the murder of the young woman for which he was convicted. His release stirs all manner of nervousness, regret and rage in the small community where he lives.
He was hardened by prison, having spent most his time in solitary confinement, reading and reading. Now that he is out, he isn’t free. He carries the burden of what he caused his family. He is joyful, wary, unsure. He is a damaged, sensitive man facing the richness and complexity of life outside prison.
In early seasons of Rectify, much was anchored in the relationship between Daniel and his sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), whose adult life was dedicated to getting him out of prison. Amantha is a wonderful creation, a woman who is part firecracker and part maternal angel. Now that Daniel’s out, her life begins to disintegrate. (Abigail Spencer is stunning in the role.)
Daniel’s father is dead and his mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), has married a solid, careful man, Ted Talbot Sr. (Bruce McKinnon). But Ted Talbot’s son, Teddy Jr. (Clayne Crawford), is resentful of the attention given to Daniel and enraged by the sympathy his wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), shows Daniel.
What happens to Daniel and to Teddy Jr. and Tawney unfolds with a slowness that is highly unusual, even in the best of TV drama. Scenes are extended for their quietness, not their melodrama. The camera lingers long on Tawney as she tries to comprehend what Daniel might be feeling. Daniel, meanwhile, is like a smouldering ember – sometimes it seems he is lost forever and gone cold, but he is alive, on fire inside his own mind.
This fourth and final season puts Daniel in a new context. He leaves home and lives in a halfway house in Nashville. The men he lives with are hard-bitten ex-cons, some ready and anxious for a new life, a job and security while others fall back into the life that got them into prison.
There are remarkable scenes in which the guy in charge at the halfway house, Avery (Scott Lawrence, who like everyone in Rectify is finely attuned to the material), prods and provokes Daniel. And a moment, in which Daniel encounters a group of artists and gazes on what they’ve created, is unforgettable.
Rectify is probably the most urbane, poised and exquisitely delivered drama on television of the past 10 years. It is a testament to the power of TV storytelling at its best – intimate and trenchant. Every time I’ve written about it, a few more viewers are drawn to it.
And maybe the true value of Netflix is not in its spending on content and growth, but in its function as a place to watch, uninterrupted by commercial impulses, such unglamorous, unheralded, magnificent TV drama as Rectify.Report Typo/Error