“Life is always perilous. That’s what gives it its spice,” Roland Foulkes says early on in Rectify’s season three premiere. Indeed, Rectify is all about peril, the anticipation of danger as opposed to the moment when it actually strikes. When it does finally arrive, it leaves everybody so shaken that they don’t know how to process it.
One thing the show excels at is closing seasons with cliffhangers that nevertheless would make satisfying ends for the show. Season one—which itself would have made a fine miniseries—ended with Daniel Holden fighting for his life, having suffered a brutal beating from a group of men led by Bobby Dean. The even-better second season ended with his life on the line yet again, but in another way. Having just confessed to the murder of Hanna Dean as part of a plea deal, he was about to be banished from the state, forced to start a life somewhere new.
Nobody wants to confront things in the aftermath of a disaster. So “Hoorah” is all about avoidance, beginning with Teddy, still reeling from the aftermath of Tawney leaving. One of the major questions as season two ended was whether or not Teddy would be willing to confess to his assault if it meant Daniel would go back to prison. So we open with him, struggling to get a Twix out of a candy machine at the sheriff’s office, nothing going right for him as usual. Daggett helps him out by kicking the candy free, commenting, “Desperate measures.” When Teddy is told that pressing charges won’t affect the plea deal, he’s defeated. No longer will admitting things hurt Daniel more than him, so once again, he avoids it, unwilling as ever to take desperate measures. Later, when he confronts Daniel, he talks a big game again. He says he’ll press charges if Daniel goes near Tawney, but he won’t. He has too little to gain now.
No character brings out the avoidant personalities of others like Janet, who is oblivious throughout “Hoorah.” In an intense dinner scene, she, Daniel, Ted, and Ted Jr. sit around the dinner table, the three men all knowing more than she does, and none of them willing to tell her. After all, Teddy isn’t even willing to press charges, while his father has seen how willing Janet is to take Daniel’s side over his. So, later that night, Ted asks Daniel to tell Janet about the assault and then leave the house. Daniel agrees. In the morning, he’s nowhere to be seen and Janet still knows nothing. Just another person avoiding responsibility.
It’s not hard to see why Daniel is reluctant to tell his mother, though. While everyone else, including Amantha, Jared, and even Tawney, has had their perception of him warped, Janet still has faith in her son, faith that nobody else really has anymore. Other than her, the only person even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt is Jon Stern, who meets Amantha at a bar for one last talk before he leaves town. “I think that sometimes he believes he did it and sometimes he doesn’t,” he says, reflecting the uncertainty the audience has felt throughout the past two seasons.
After all this time, we still don’t know if Daniel Holden is innocent or not. We may never know. By withholding this information, Rectify has always made viewers question their own definitions of guilt and innocence, as well as their own certainty about how people fit into the categories. All that Jon knows: “He still has to live his life.” Without missing a beat, Amantha replies, “So does everybody. Hoorah.” The title of the episode seems to imply a cheerful victory scream. In the episode, it’s a sarcastic non-reaction, used to avoid the reality of the situation.
Another major theme in “Hoorah” is circumstances, how quickly they can change, and how changes in them can leave you questioning your entire reason for existing. Sure, Daniel could be innocent, and he could be guilty. But when his sister has lost her will to stand up for him, there’s an imbalance in the universe. Amantha’s loss of faith is more due to disappointment than anything, the disappointment that she’s been feeling since he was released. It would seem like the plea deal would be something Amantha would be in favor of. After all, she’s made her entire life about getting Daniel out of prison and taking the deal was the easiest way. But she didn’t just fight for Daniel’s life. She fought for his reputation, as well as their whole family’s reputation, and now he’s willing to throw it away and take the easy way out. For her, that’s not just cowardly; it’s selfish, and if he’s not willing to fight the accusations, she may have spent her life fighting for a killer.
In a particularly telling moment, she details her hope that Daniel would fight for his innocence, just as she spent 20 years doing. Nobody on the show is as strong as Amantha, but her strength is also a weakness. For her, Daniel’s freedom is something to go into battle for. For him, it’s something to gain in any way possible, even if it means banishment. Even if it means becoming a convicted killer. It’s all a game, as he said last season, and it’s easier to play along than to fight.
Amantha’s expectations for Daniel also mean that his weakness brings out hers. So, as Daniel is about to be forced to leave Paulie, Amantha is actually considering staying and taking a managerial position at Thrifty Town. “There are worse places to end up,” Wynn tells her. Amantha would have begged to differ when the show began. At this point, she’s inclined to agree. She’s seen worse.
Circumstances haven’t just changed for her. Returning home early in the episode, Teddy hears Tawney call for him. Calling back, there’s no response, the voice having been his fantasy, a subordinate wife that doesn’t exist anymore, waiting for him to arrive home.
Tawney, as usual, is a better person than most. While staying at her friend Beth’s house, she becomes intrigued upon hearing that Beth and her husband Mitch went to a marriage counselor after two miscarriages. A woman of faith in far more things than God, she calls Teddy and suggests seeing a counselor, attempting to save her marriage as it falls apart. Teddy, predictably, changes the subject, and once again, Tawney’s left to deal with things on her own.
What everyone is truly avoiding here is their changing perceptions. Amantha’s feelings towards her brother may have changed, but when Daniel shows up outside Amantha’s apartment, she can’t turn him away. He can stay at her place, but under one condition: “I can’t be your keeper, Daniel,” she says, as if she’s learned nothing. Daniel never wanted her to be anything more than a sister. It was she who insisted on being a keeper and a fighter, and now she’ll have to learn how to be a mere sister again, lest she cease to have any relation to him at all.
Foulkes, meanwhile, has never had to confront this changing perspective, because of his sincere belief that his perspective is the right one. He maintains this even as evidence points to him being wrong and, just minutes after the deal’s gone through, he tells Sondra that it would be pointless to look further into the case: “We got our man, Sondra. Holden admitted it, twice now.” He truly believes that that means something, and this utmost confidence makes him almost sympathetic, despite being the most despicable character in the series.
Sondra isn’t so certain that the confessions prove anything, and upon seeing George Melton’s body, she doesn’t know what to believe. But, as Foulkes said, if she’s going to look further into the case, it’ll be at her own peril. Meanwhile, “I’m done here. As they say, I feel complete.”
The final scene makes me question what is otherwise the finest season premiere Rectify has done. Sitting in the diner, talking with Marcy on his last night in town, Foulkes has a stroke. Without seeing what happens after this, it feels like mere moralism, which the show has always done a good job of avoiding. Is it punishment? Is it to teach him a lesson? Either way, the timing feels too convenient for it to be a coincidence. For once, the writers have outright told us who the bad guy is.