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Imagine spending 19 years on Death Row, then being told, “Oops, the cops might’ve made a mistake – you’re free to go!”
Aden Young, who plays Daniel, says that “it is always more of an intrigue to me about not knowing than it is about knowing. Allowing the ambiguity and the confusion of that night to reign as opposed to the knowledge of that night and the facts of the case to be in the forefront of my thinking creates a much more complex process of working, which I am intrigued by.”
A wrongful conviction
Throughout Season 1 (the six episodes span six days), there is a constant unease in the fact that Daniel and the witnesses who helped convict him the first time can’t recall that fateful night. He was arrested and prosecuted for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend Hanna, to which he confessed after spending 11 hours in the police station being interrogated without a lawyer. But as each episode unfolds, it’s clear that there’s a lot more going on than an open-and-shut murder case.
Daniel has been released thanks to conflicting DNA evidence, discovered 19 years after his arrest. But most of the town still hate him, including Senator Foulkes (Michael O’Neill), the attorney who originally convicted Daniel. Most of Daniel’s town want to see him back behind bars, and the only people who believe in him are his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), his new lawyer Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) and his step-sister-in-law Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), who helps Daniel with his journey.
A study in human nature
Daniel’s re-integration is what makes Rectify a must-watch. He’s still a teenager in his mind, and struggling to process things like DVD players, 24-7 quickie-shops and even his bodily functions. But he’s not alone, explains Young: “What happens when such a traumatic event invades the life of a family? You have no choice but to really examine who you are and who you were and what led up to that. It’s just human nature.”
Daniel isn’t alone in his journey, though: Amantha, his mother Janet (J Smith-Cameron) and step-family are all affected by his release. But as difficult as it is for them, Daniel is still suffering in his newfound freedom.
4 ways Daniel struggles to live a normal life, from Seasons 1 to 4
1. Breaking the barrier
When Daniel is released in episode 1, there’s a badly planned press conference/make-him-stand-at-a-podium-and-speak moment. He doesn’t know how to speak to people anymore – his only interaction over the last 19 years has been with corrupt prison guards and fellow inmates who assautled him in his weekly showers. He comes across as having a mentally diminished mind, but it’s clear in later episodes that he’s anything but dumb.
2. Terrifying transformation
A lot changes in the space of a year, so imagine what it’s like for someone who’s been incarcerated for two decades! Seeing the adult Daniel stumbling around the Walmart in awe of everything from knitting yarn and flatscreen TVs to video games and a kid with lights on his shoes is heart-breaking. During a road trip with Amantha, Daniel asks “When did they open a videostore there?”, and she replies, “It was there for about 15 years.” Not only did Daniel miss the shop’s opening, he missed it closing too!
3. The simple things
During his first week (which spans across Season 1), Daniel quickly figures out what he does and doesn’t like about his new world. He tells his mother, “I do not think I want to become computer literate, or cellular telephone literate either.” What he does want is to enjoy things most of us take for granted – like drinking bottled water, eating a chocolate, even feeling grass between his toes.
4. Treading on toes
One of the biggest problems Daniel faces is dealing with people, especially his step-brother Teddy Jr (Clayne Crawford). Teddy’s dad married Daniel’s mom while he was in prison and Teddy Jr has had it in for his newly released step-sibling since episode 1. And making it worse is that neither knows how to react around the other. Teddy Jr wants Daniel to leave town so that he doesn’t lose the family business “to a killer”, while Daniel just wants to be accepted. His bond with Teddy’s wife Tawney becomes a stumbling block in Season 1, episode 5, when Daniel is forced to put Teddy in a chokehold as the episode fades out…
In episode 6, Daniel tells Amantha, “When I confessed, it was such a relief. To be free of all that unbelievable guilt and regret that I was feeling. After I told them that I killed her [Hanna], I could finally accept that she was dead.”
While he’s free now and off Death Row, something died inside Daniel a long time ago. He tells Amantha: “The guilt returned. That I survived.”
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