Much has been made of the new Sundance Channel series Rectiify. From Alan Sepinwall to Andy Greenwald to The AV Club to a host of other sites and critics, there has been almost universal acclaim for Sundance’s scripted series about a man released from maximum security prison after being sentenced to death and being assured by both his own psyche and those around him that he would die even after multiple stays of execution. It is all at once sad and uplifting, plodding and exciting. In any given episode scenes can transition from straightforward events to contemplative looks at each character filled with though and emotional heft. Rectify finished its initial 6 episode run on Monday, to return next year with a 13 episode second season. Without spoiling anything, I will only add to the large group of people already in agreement on the finale with a short “it was great”. Luckily, if you haven’t seen it you have an abundance of time to catch up before Daniel and Co. grace screens again next year for the continuation of this unique indie drama that found a perfect home on Sundance.
If you haven’t had the chance to watch Rectify yet however, this post won’t spoil anything for you. A cohesive music palette that never overwhelms but somehow still makes its presence known enough to matter when watching ties all six hours together in a way that sometimes each episodes’ contents don’t. As you attempt to understand the motivation of each character that inhabits this fictional small town in Georgia, Ray McKinnon guides you along with visual and musical cues different from any series on television. With a soundtrack almost completely lacking vocal pieces or upbeat songs, Rectify takes the viewer where it wants you to be during each scene and set piece, and it is done expertly. It feels as if you really are driving around town revisiting your old haunts even though in all likelihood you’ve never even been to a town like Paulie (in reality Griffin, Georgia). Amidst the exceptional turns from actors like Abigail Spencer as Amantha Holden (this name will never cease to frustrate me) and Aden Young as Daniel Holden, the music does accomplishes what it sets out to do and nothing more.
Even with a gripping story, vivid characters, and music that is just about perfect, the first thing I fell in love with (and the first thing that told me I would be sticking around past episode one) was the title sequence. Balmorhea’s “Bowsprit” is accompanied by Polaroids of all the characters in various states of action. They don’t move, but as the pictures flash by it feels almost as if they are slowly becoming more familiar to you even if only for a moment. You see Amantha smoking a cigarette nonchalantly and Daniel looking out from the door of his prison cell, things you know are part of the story already. But you also see things from the past and the future, or at least the future as of the first episode. There are flashes of the tragedy that rocked Paulie and locked Daniel away in the first place; scenes from the funeral, a roped off crime scene, a mug shot of a high school-aged Daniel looking equal parts innocent and guilty, and letters to the victim scattered over a makeshift memorial. As the quick notes of “Bowsprit” play, the photos change at the same pace. It gives you a few seconds or less to take in each of the pictures, but it works. Instead of only using the music as background noise for opening images, the sequence intertwines them so that you are paying attention to both at the same time, never one more important than the other.
The series doesn’t deal much with explicit flashbacks, rather relying on characters’ memories or accusations from law enforcement and townspeople to round out exposition of how a tragedy almost 20 years ago affected everyone in different ways. Because of this, the opening credits are as much a window into the past as two or three episodes might be. There is also an interesting choice as to how the pictures are arranged. Daniel could very obviously be the focus of one group of pictures, but there are photos that are just as important shuffled off to the side or nestled in the center within much larger photos. Whether this is a conscious decision to reflect the need to look beyond the surface of many of the characters and situations within Rectify or simply a byproduct of the format chosen for the credits is unclear. Regardless it does speak to the way the show works. One character may by shuffled off to the side or seem unimportant for an episode to allow room for other developments, but you can feel every character making an impact in the back of your mind as you watch. It allows for a decent sized cast without feeling claustrophobic in its efforts. Taking the title sequence frame by frame, the pictures operate the same way. If you don’t watch closely, it doesn’t matter all that much. The main pictures are both beautifully shot and the ones that really matter in the long run, main characters represented as they are most well known in the story. But if you take a moment to look on the outer edges there are interesting details such as the flashbacks previously mentioned.
The interesting thing about Balmorhea is that they fall somewhere between uplifting music and a classical soundtrack. One of my favorite bands, a six minute song could go from the softest and most delicate of notes to rousing instrumentals before you know it. Most artists fall easily into a category such as “studying music” or “running playlist” or “driving around with all your windows down in the summer”, but not Balmorhea. What is most unique about their songs are that they don’t seem to work when you need to do something. Rather, they are perfect for when you are just doing nothing at all. I call them my Sunday Morning Music, best for wandering around the kitchen or sitting on the porch drinking coffee. Which is why I think choosing Bowsprit for the Rectify credits was such an inspired choice. There is a beautiful moment in the early episodes when Daniel walks around town gathering all the things that didn’t exist before he was put away and then finds his way to one of his old baseball fields and just lays in the grass. That is what Balmorhea is perfect for, and it’s something the creators of the show clearly understood during their world building. It pairs so well because if Paulie had a town soundtrack, I’m pretty sure Balmorhea’s whole catalogue would be their choice.
- Balmorhea is from Austin, so they do share at least the Southern background of Rectify, if not the same state.
- Abigail Spencer is recently separated from her husband, and it makes me wonder if she channeled any of that emotion into her portrayal of Amantha here. If she did it’s working, as this is easily her strongest performance to date.
- The title sequence isn’t available online, but the “Bowsprit” is by itself. Enjoy!