In this era of “Prestige TV,” it’s understandable why a little show like Rectify falls under the radar; there are no big name stars, no award show glory, and certainly no dragons. It’s about a man, Daniel Holden, who has been released from death row after nineteen years on a DNA technicality. Rectify shows his relationship with his family and the town where the murder and rape of Daniel’s girlfriend, Hannah, took place.
Rectify is one of those shows you watch once and then find yourself thinking about days later. It stays with you because everything about it is quiet and beautiful, but there is genuine emotion and most importantly, fleshed out characters. No one is an afterthought. There are no superheroes, and even the antagonists on the show are very real — someone you could run into on the street. All of the characters on Rectify are terrific for different reasons, but Amantha Holden is really the heart and soul of the show.
Amantha, Daniel’s sister, is played brilliantly by Abigail Spencer. She is a no-nonsense woman with a penchant for wearing cowboy boots with everything and forever smoking cigarettes on her mother’s front lawn. She has a dry sense of humor and will call out anyone and everyone on their BS. Amantha has a strong sense of what is right and gets angry and vocal when justice is not served. She is also Daniel’s main advocate.
Daniel goes to jail when Amantha is just twelve and she has spent years trying to free him. She will do anything for her brother, but in a way, she barely knows him. Daniel is imprisoned when he is nineteen and only just beginning to find his identity. Amantha fights tirelessly for him, but the brother she remembers from her childhood is gone.
That is why it hurts Amantha so much when Daniel doesn’t want a second trial. He is released from prison, but not exonerated. He would rather state that he is guilty and be banished from Georgia rather than risk going back to prison. It’s especially difficult for Amantha because she has spent years saying that Daniel is innocent, just to have him say that he isn’t. Daniel is finally back in her life but now leaving her again. He won’t fight for himself the way she fights for him. It’s as if everything Amantha has done in her adult life is for naught.
Just as Daniel is a fish-out-of-water and trying to adjust to life outside prison, Amantha is really in the same boat. The life she knew is now gone. Daniel is out of prison — so what now? As much as Rectify is about Daniel’s journey, it’s also about Amantha’s. Who is she if she’s not the woman trying to get her brother off death row?
Things between Amantha and Daniel get awkward when he comes home. She tries to make sure that he has everything he needs but Daniel is so unaccustomed to having someone fret over him, that he doesn’t know how to react. Amantha acts more motherly towards Daniel than their own mother. You can see it on Amantha’s face, how happy she is to have Daniel back in her life, but how devastated she is when he doesn’t respond the way she thinks he will. Their conversations don’t flow easily and Amantha seems to tip-toe around him. She didn’t know how much prison impacted Daniel and changed him in ways she couldn’t imagine.
The moments when Daniel and Amantha slip back into the kids they used to be — just a little sister looking up to her big brother — are wonderful. I can see why Amantha has fought so hard for her brother. There is love, honesty, and an understanding between them that no one else shares. Daniel and Amantha have not yet spoken in season four and it’s destroying me. They had better reach a truce by the time Rectify ends.
Amantha’s whole life has revolved around Daniel, and that includes her love life. Her only real relationship is with Jon Stern, Daniel’s lawyer. Jon is a good guy and like Amantha, he fights for Daniel. But their romance is a little tricky. Is he fighting so hard for Daniel because he believes in him? Or is he fighting for him because Amantha believes in Daniel? In season three, Amantha breaks up with Jon and hooks up with a stranger at a hotel bar. As much as I root for Amantha and Jon, I can really understand why Amantha just wants to be with someone who doesn’t know her history.
In season four, we’re introduced to Billy, a guy Amantha knows (and dated?) from high school. If Amantha decides to date Billy, I’d be in support of it even though it seems like she is settling a little. Amantha hates her hometown and most of the people in it. However, Billy doesn’t seem to be as small-minded as some of the other people in Paulie and plus, he knows her baggage. He won’t dwell on it. Dating Billy could be freeing because their relationship would not be based on their mutual interest (saving Daniel) nor would she be burdened with telling him her whole story of what she’s been up to for the past nineteen years.
Amantha temporarily moves back to Paulie, Georgia — the town she grew up in — when Daniel is released. At first, she is there to help Daniel settle in but then contemplates moving back to Atlanta. To give her more motivation to stay in Paulie, Amantha gets a job as a cashier at Thrifty Town, a local shop. Amantha’s choice to work in Paulie says a lot about her character.
Amantha is intelligent and she could go back to school and become very successful in a high-powered job. So it’s sad that she chooses to take a job where she won’t be challenged. Staying and working in Paulie also shows that Amantha is not ready to move on from her past. Paulie is the safe choice. Working at the store also provides some comedic relief because Amantha is definitely not a people person. Her words can be acidic and her vibe surly. It’s quite fun to watch her interact with customers and her colleagues. Amantha could have chosen to leave the store but instead, she chooses to go down the Thrifty Town management path. Maybe she’s still holding onto the past, but maybe she’s just trying to figure out what she wants next.
In addition, her relationships with the other characters in the show are always a pleasure to watch. Her relationship with her mother, Janet, is strained. Perhaps Amantha is angry with her because she feels like Janet didn’t do enough for Daniel and actually moved on with her life. While Daniel is in prison, Janet remarries, becomes close enough to her step-son to have him call her “mom,” and has another child. Amantha teeters between apathy and tenderness when it comes to Janet. Sure, Amantha is always going to roll her eyes at the things Janet says and does, but she also knows that Janet is going through the same thing in regards to Daniel. This bonds them. Well, that and wine.
The relationship between Amantha and Teddy, her step-brother, is more acrimonious but dynamic. At times, they have playful banter as any siblings would, but then Teddy will say something Amantha doesn’t like and the quips become nasty. He knows which buttons to press to make her angry. Amantha has actually spent more of her life with Teddy than Daniel, but she treats him as an outsider. Teddy likes to act like the prized son, but Amantha is always willing to knock him down a peg. Because they do know each other so well, there is a familiarity between them that Amantha does not share with Daniel.
I don’t know what’s in store for Amantha for the remaining episodes of Rectify but I hope she finds happiness or at least a path towards it. I want to know that Amantha is going to be okay even after I stop watching. A character as great as hers deserves that.