Life after death row
Rectify, the eagerly awaited mini-series from Breaking Bad's team of producers, is a work of fiction. But its premise, a man freed by DNA evidence after half a lifetime in prison, has been stubbornly asserting itself in our cultural consciousness.
Still reeling from 19 years in solitary confinement, Daniel Holden (Aden Young of Killer Elite, having a breakout moment), has no option but to return to the sharp-toothed hometown that demonised him for raping and killing a teenage girl. Paulie, Georgia, doesn't have a bar where you can get a stiff drink but you can bet everybody knows your name.
Rectify, premiering tomorrow on Sky's Rialto Channel, holds its own with Restless and Top of the Lake, which also debuted on Unite States network Sundance Channel earlier this year. Flawless production design and lush cinematography make Rectify visually stunning, but its simmering mystery and artfully depicted dysfunction make every scene hum with tension.
Opinion on Holden's guilt is divided in Paulie. It's hard to forget his confession, however coerced it might have been, and the fact that he was found incoherent with the girl's body, which he'd covered with wildflowers. There are few doubts among the men who put Holden away the first time, including a prosecutor who rode the verdict into office.
"Don't report that he was exonerated," insists state Senator Roland Foulkes as Holden walks free - for now. "His sentence was vacated on a technicality." Like the others involved in the case, Foulkes (Michael O'Neill of The West Wing) is either evil or clinging to his last shred of conscience.
If anyone is the saviour in this Lazarus story, it's Daniel's stepbrother's wife, Tawney. Adelaide Clemens, who is also starring in The Great Gatsby, is convincing as an honest-to-goodness sincere southern Christian.
Everyone on screen in Rectify, down to who pours the coffee at the diner, is fully realised, and everyone has a part to play in revealing who killed Hannah Dean by the river 20 years ago.
What Holden remembers about that night is anyone's guess. He emerges from his tiny, whitewashed cell an unfrozen caveman with a thousand-yard stare, to an unrecognisable family tiptoeing around him and TV crews accosting him at Wal-Mart.
"I'll probably be happier later," he says in one of his Rumsfeld-esque soliloquies. "Perhaps I will be angrier later, as I will be happier."
For now, he wants to dig his Walkman out of the attic and listen to Cracker. And go to the baseball field and eat a candy bar on the grass.
Meanwhile, his lawyer (Luke Kirby, Take This Waltz) gets down to business trying to keep him free. His first stop: Holden's first lawyer, Rutherford Gaines (Hal Holbrook, a terrifying Gothic force sitting motionless in an armchair).
Gaines has bad news: He didn't save the case files, and juries don't always care about DNA.
"Don't let all this modern technology lull you," he warns. "If you're thinking you're in modern times, watch yourself."
Rectify, Monday, 8.30pm, Rialto Channel
Sunday Star Times