Note: Full spoilers for the season follow.
“We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.”
Bloodline creates an immersive world right from the start, utilizing the Florida Keys as essentially another character, as another element of a tidal wave of secrets, lies, and pain. As the rain falls and the heat envelops, our characters are caught in a fascinating web of lies, and as friends and loved ones and enemies close in around them, they are forced to do things they never imagined they could do.
It’s an intriguing setup for a series, but the main draw of the show is not necessarily the story for me; it’s the cast. I was sold once it was announced that Coach Taylor himself would play the role of John Rayburn, and once I found out that people like Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek, and Sam Shepard were involved with the project, I was overcome with excitement. They’re all phenomenal throughout the season, and they’re able to elevate what can be a soapy, middling, and sometimes ridiculous script. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Danny with such heart and passion and intensity that it becomes impossible to take your eyes off the character. Even if you hate him, he’s extremely compelling to watch.
After all, Danny’s story is what the show revolves around. Bloodline emphasizes the importance of the past at every turn, utilizing flashbacks and flashforwards and dream sequences to tie everything together under Sarah’s death. As evil as Danny can seem, there’s very clearly pain in his eyes whenever he interacts with his family, a family that doesn’t seem to want him in their lives. Danny’s character is one largely defined by his sister’s death and by a painful childhood, and the show creates a cycle of hurt that snakes its way through both past and present. It’s truly a tragic storyline, and the show takes our notions of family and holds up a light to its destructive side. What one family member does affects another in a profound way, and the past will keep springing up on you, no matter how hard you try to block it out. Danny embodies those ideas, and his return to the Rayburn estate wreaks havoc on the rest of his family.
It’s through this idea that the show is able to wring maximum tension out of its plot, but it’s also the source of some of the writing’s most glaring problems. The first half of the season is concerned more with a slow-burn, character development approach, whereas the second half sacrifices some of that in favor of propulsive, intense storytelling. The plot gets ridiculous and Danny turns into a full-on villain, but at the same time, it’s some of the most compelling TV I’ve seen in a while. Episode 11 in particular is a masterful pot of tension, and the final fifteen minutes are perhaps the best fifteen minutes produced by the show thus far. Episode 12’s ending–the fight between Danny and John–is also brilliantly handled, and it finally brings the show back around to the “we did a bad thing” tagline.
The finale’s ending, however, is where I have some problems. It’s the kind of twist that the show may still be able to salvage, but at the same time, it reeks of being cliffhanger-driven rather than story-driven. There can be some interesting storylines to explore with Danny’s son in season two, but at the same time, it ends the season on a down note.
All in all, though, these are thirteen episodes well worth watching. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a show that knows how to create an atmosphere, that knows how to draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s a character drama and a thriller and an acting clinic, and it’s one of the best new shows of the year.
-Chloe Sevigny shows up in a minor role and is a bit underused this season, as she seems to be in most shows. Speaking of minor roles, it’s also nice to see Glenn Morshower–of 24 fame–as Wayne Lowry.
-One of my favorite scenes: Meg and her father sitting on the dock in Part Four. Another of my favorites: Danny and John in the bar in Part Eight.
-Linda Cardellini is so adorable. And I have a serious man crush on Kyle Chandler.
-I was surprised to see Sam Shepard’s character killed off so early, but I suppose it’s a necessary catalyst in the story. The final scene between him and Danny in Part Four is probably the first truly great scene of the series.
-Some of the voiceover, especially early on, is pretty cringeworthy. I’m not a huge fan of the show revealing that it’s part of a nomination committee conversation, but one thing’s very important to note about that scene: it’s John straight up lying about what happened, and it’s undoubtedly going to get him in trouble.
-Netflix didn’t do a great job of promoting this. Very little buzz at all.
-Excited for next season! See you then. Any predictions/hopes? I’ll admit that I’m a bit worried about where we’re going post-Danny–especially with that awful son twist–but I’m also intrigued.
Photo credits: Netflix, Bloodline