Daniel’s wish to make Teddy “feel some of his shame” culminates in season one’s fifth episode, which features one of the show’s few scenes of actual violence. When the two men are alone at the family tire store, Teddy mocks Daniel: “When you said it doesn’t do any good to fight back ... what I wanna know is, did you fight back, or did you just relax and enjoy it?” And then, suddenly, Rectify upends Teddy’s expectation of safety as a man. As Teddy stands in front of the gurgling coffee maker in the tire store’s tiny breakroom, Daniel grabs him from behind, wrestling him to the ground in a choke hold. In the very next episode, Teddy comes to on the cold floor with his pants pulled down and coffee grounds piled atop his bare bottom.
This attack, which is filmed at a distance, is clearly meant to sicken the viewer. But whenever Rectify has been unsettlingly explicit, it has done so to illuminate something darker and more real about living in the aftermath of abuse. Though Daniel does not rape Teddy, the nature of his attack is blatantly sexual, and its intent is clear. Daniel wants to make Teddy feel vulnerable and humiliated, to remind him that, at the right time on the wrong day, he too could find himself unable to fight back. This scene is inspired, in part, by McKinnon’s readings on sexual assault in prison: “You know, it’s ... human for someone who has been assaulted in prison or some other arena to act out ... particularly if they are male. That happens every day.”
Daniel isn’t portrayed as disposable like many of Law & Order: SVU’s victims of the week, and he isn’t like Jessica Jones, who ultimately protects other victims. He is, as McKinnon says, “a complex … damaged human being.” You could argue that Daniel gets to be “unlikeable” in ways that even characters like Jones or Jennings aren’t allowed because he’s a man. When female survivors lash out, their violence must be directed solely toward taking revenge against their attackers; they aren’t allowed to simply be angry, and to deploy that anger in messy, even unfair, ways. Daniel Holden, however, has no hope of real retribution; he walks around in a fugue state punctuated by moments of rage. And since this sort of fury is more commonly associated with men, there’s less of a need for the story to contextualize or justify his violent outbursts.
Teddy’s reaction to his assault is similarly opaque, particularly because he subverts “the good survivor” narrative. A “good survivor” reports his attack right away, cooperates with the authorities, grieves with loved ones, and eventually accepts that what happened to him wasn’t his fault. But on Rectify, there’s no Lt. Olivia Benson to say things like, “You survived the abuse, you’re gonna survive the recovery.” When Teddy’s wife, Tawney, catches him washing the coffee-ground stains off his pants, he makes up an excuse rather than admitting he was violated. He’s frantically performing in order to meet the standards of all-American masculinity, becoming fixated on the tire store’s success, starting fights with clients, and pushing Tawney to start a family. But it’s not a sustainable approach to recovery.