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Rectify's Aden Young on Daniel's Innocence: "He's Not the Little Boy You Thought He Might Be"

The beginning of Rectify's second season once again finds Daniel (Aden Young) reemerging into the world. However, in contrast to his awestruck release from prison, when Daniel returns home following the attack in the cemetery, he will resurface a much more aggressive man.

Sadie Gennis

The beginning of Rectify's second season once again finds Daniel (Aden Young) reemerging into the world. However, in contrast to his awestruck release from prison, when Daniel returns home following the attack in the cemetery, he will resurface a much more aggressive man.

"[Creator Ray McKinnon] was saying yesterday that Daniel was very much a baby in the first season ... And this time he's more of an adolescent," Young tells TVGuide.com. "He's more of a character that thinks impulsively. And like any adolescent, doesn't recognize the consequences of his actions. So he's bound to make some mistakes and with those mistakes come some pretty heavy destruction."

After receiving a life-threatening beating from Bobby Dean in the Season 1 finale, Daniel will remain in a coma for the entirety of the Season 2 premiere, with all of his experiences playing out through flashbacks courtesy of his subconscious (and made especially moving by a surprise guest star). But when he does return to reality, Daniel will be driven by something new: "The desire to live."

Why everyone should watch Rectify

But things won't play out exactly as his family imagined. Though he spent a good part of the first season attempting to reconnect with his family — particularly his sister-in-law Tawney — Daniel will step away from that this year. "We understand that he makes a conscious effort to not feel, to not allow their love in in order for them to be free of this terrible burden they have to carry due to his actions one night 20 years ago," Young says. This change will have particularly devastating effects on Daniel's sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), whose entire identity up to this point has been defined by Daniel and her perception of his plight.

But is Daniel innocent of the murder of Hannah Dean? Even Young doesn't know and doesn't want to, despite the challenges this occasionally poses to his performance. "As I've said to Ray, if the experiment starts to fail, I'll ask for [the answer]," Young says. "So I had no choice but to in some ways accept the ambiguity of Daniel's reality."

Whether innocent or guilty of the crime, Young says Daniel is a man whose "life has been clouded by trauma." "You absorb that horror and the boot camp of death row. You're not meant to survive it and what happens if you do?" Young wonders. "The tools that you've picked up in there psychologically, mentally and physically can be so dangerous, and we see those in Daniel. We see the possibility that if anyone steps on his toes he might very well access that reality."

These experiences, Young says, might be what incited Daniel to react so violently against Ted (Clayne Crawford). The other option being that Daniel is, in fact, a sex criminal. "There's a looming threat now with Daniel. He's not the little boy you thought he might be," Young teases. But no matter Daniel's motivations, his actions with Teddy in the tire store reverberate throughout their family as Ted grapples with the sexual assault. "This season, Ted's got to deal with this horrible reality of this humiliation and almost like he's been skinned by Daniel. And that has to come out some way," Young says. "And what happens if his mother found out Daniel took down a man's pants and put coffee grinds in his ass? But was that all?"

Rectify and more shows we're binge-watching this summer

Young says the audience will get an answer regarding how far Daniel went with Ted, but "I don't know if it'll be this season." However, fans can expect to start finally discovering the truth about what happened that fateful night with Hannah. "How we come about that is a surreal, fantastic, maddened journey that Daniel initiates this time," Young says. "So much of his journey last year was responding to this crazed world around him, and this time it's about, 'I'm going to set this in motion. It needs to be set in motion for me to be free of it.' But he'll never be free of it," Young adds. "It's always there."

While Daniel is haunted by his past, Young remains haunted by Daniel long after the cameras have stopped rolling. "The whole experience of playing Daniel, mentally and physically, is one that is just utterly consuming and draining," Young confesses. "And you can't understand that depression that it puts you in. After the first season, it took me a long time to realize that I had been traumatized by Daniel in many ways."

But Daniel's looming presence for Young is just proof that the show is doing its job. "We aim to depress you and make you cry," he quips.

"Rectify is very much a story that people understand because they always ask the same questions: why am I here and what happened if I went left instead of right? That's it," Young says. "That's as base as I can think about why people find it a show they would watch. Because when we open the fridge we call it the car chase. There's not much in that regard that's going to take you out or thrash you around and say, 'Oh, did you just experience that exhilaration of watching a serial killer dissect a human being?'"

Instead of adrenaline-fueled drama, Rectify focuses on the big questions — "crime and punishment, death and absolution, freedom and confinement, family and solitude," Young muses. And this season, the fight between good and evil will play out in a most literal fashion, now that Daniel's one friend on death row, Kerwin, has been taken away, leaving Daniel with only the devil (Wendell) for company.

"We start to see in this season perhaps it was Kerwin who started to educate Daniel to a certain degree. Now that angel, that innocence, is allowing him to fight against this beast that lurks in the next room, which symbolizes so many things," Young explains. "Wendell isn't just your standard old serial killer. He's symbolic of many things in society which banish our innocence and banish our tenderness and our care, and our kindness and our ability to be human. So he's fighting for his life in there. Or at least the right to die with dignity."

Rectify returns Thursday at 9/8c on Sundance. Will you watch?

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