I could pick any Rectify actor’s name out of a hat for TV Performer of the Week, and it would be more than well-earned. That’s not meant to be flippant, but rather to recognize that every single actor (in major and minor roles) has had an extraordinary turn on the show. Ray McKinnon’s Sundance series about a Georgia man, Daniel Holden, (Aden Young) who is released from Death Row after 19 years because of a DNA error is thoughtful, beautiful and difficult, and the Holden/Talbot family is made up of outstanding actors: J. Smith-Cameron, Bruce McKinnon, Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford, and Adelaide Clemens (with special mention to Sean Bridgers as Trey Willis). But there’s something about Crawford’s performance in this third season that has truly stood out even from this outstanding group.
The best word to associate with Rectify is “authentic.” Southerners have long been forced to watch too many terrible shows with terrible accents and tired (or just plain ignorant) stereotypes of small-town Southern life. But not only do the Holdens and Talbots feel knowable, but the (fictional) town of Paulie feels wholly familiar. Ray McKinnon’s scripts pick up a particular cadence of Southern speech, and the interactions he fashions — filled with repressed emotions and quiet glances — are hauntingly real.
No one in the cast embodies these elements though as fully as Clayne Crawford, who plays Teddy Jr., Daniel’s step-brother and occasional adversary. The two have had several encounters, including a haunting assault when Daniel choked him out and laid him unconscious on the floor of the tire store with coffee grounds in his behind. It was in that moment viewers really thought Daniel might have committed that crime so many years ago, and it was act that has resonated through three seasons now, and filtered through the family, shocking and confusing each in turn. Teddy and Daniel have also tussled over Daniel’s attraction to Teddy’s wife Tawney (Clemens), and worse for Teddy, her attraction back.
Season 3 has seen the disillusion of Teddy and Tawney’s marriage, without giving up hope on it completely (even in the wake of painful revelations, including a miscarriage). As Teddy, Crawford has been hard, difficult, sad, desperate, vulnerable, and at times a little creepy, but still ever charming. He stalks Tawney with his half-brother Jared (Jake Austin Walker) while she stayed with friends, and confronted her in their house when he told her he wasn’t going to be there. When asked about going to counseling, he was defiant and cold, and then begged for the opportunity. When his stepmother Janet (Smith-Cameron) came to his house early in the season to apologize for not being there for him, he’s hesitant and polite, but not warm. Later, when she confronts him over her knowledge of Daniel’s assault, he looks like he would rather run away or be anywhere else than in that room. He nods, holding his breath, and then quickly gets back to work on the kitchen cabinets with his father. In another scene, when he calls Tawney up to ask her to come home, he’s heartbreakingly hopeful, and makes a mature decision to let her have the house while he moves out.
All of these examples of Crawford’s portrayal of Teddy felt so real and so raw, yet I could single out a dozen more. Crawford has stolen all of his scenes, and that’s not an easy thing to do on the show. He carries Teddy with a practiced facade of assurance, but the cracks and vulnerabilities have never been clearer. Still, Teddy knows how to say the right things and comport himself to project the kind of person he wants people to see, and Crawford illustrates all of this so beautifully, and with such complexity. (Update: I forgot to note initially that Crawford has found a way to make the unlikable Teddy someone for whom it’s been much easier to have compassion for this season. Not an easy task).
But no scene had more of an impact this season, or really shown off Teddy’s true character and Crawford’s mastery of him, more than the scene with Teddy and Jared in the truck, watching the house where Tawney is staying. Looking out the window, he tells a story from his teenage years about a girl he pressured to have sex with him, just because he had heard she would put out (and in that, it has shades of Hannah’s tragic life and death). It was a terrible story, and Teddy did himself no favors in telling it. But that wasn’t his objective — his message to Jared was that Jared is better than he is because he’s not like Daniel or Teddy. But it wasn’t just the dialogue in that scene that was haunting, but how Crawford talked about his younger self, quoting “Please, pretty please” over and over again, until the girl submitted to his lies.
I could go on and on about every single Teddy-involved scene this season, because they have all been stand-outs. Crawford’s portrayal is so real, so grounded, and so authentic (there’s that key word again), that it’s worthy of every praise. So before Rectify’s season ends tonight, I want to be sure to give that praise to Clayne Crawford for his exceptional work, as TV Performer of the Week.