A review of Bloodline Season 2, a season filled with false starts, and one final lurch forward
*SPOILERS below. Do not read further if you are not finished season two of Bloodline.
“Things… are not good, for us, right now.”
John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) delivers that line at the beginning of the final episode of this season. It could have, and I argue should have, been the line to start the season; been the scene to start the season.
Halfway through the same episode, John’s sister, Meg (Linda Cardellini), and his brother, Kev (Norbert Leo Butz), tell him they’re out. They didn’t do anything. John put them in this position. He ruined their lives. There, the season could’ve begun.
There’s a scene six or seven episodes into the season where Marco Diaz (Enrique Murciano), John’s fellow officer on the force, and Meg’s ex-fiancé, really turns. He starts to believe the Rayburns themselves played a large role in the death of Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). There, they could’ve started this season, and we as viewers could’ve had the fun of playing catch up, just like we did in season one.
This season is filled with false starts, plots with great promise that halfway through are dead in the water; characters with great promise that then use all their time to search for an interesting way into a central character’s plot but fail, and instead remain on the fringe. Some that remain on the fringe make the position work, but most don’t, and watching their stories feels like homework.
Let’s look at the broad arcs of each character (big and relatively small) this season:
John Rayburn unravels due to the stress of murdering his brother and then running for mayor against his boss, the police chief. His wife, Diana, and his kids, Ben and Jane, take this on the chin. Meg Rayburn fails to stay in New York for long because she’s needed at home. Kevin Rayburn has a baby on the way, plunges into substance abuse, and just before he resurfaces, instead dives headlong into Florida’s underbelly. Sally Rayburn (Sissy Spacek), the matriarch, mostly wanders around her property wondering what happened to Danny, who people are, and forgetting to fix cabin 3’s shower. Marco snoops around and ends up (rightly) believing that John, Meg, and Kev killed Danny, and he pursues that belief (which causes this storyline to be one of the only interesting ones, until he starts acting like a cartoon villain, expressions rapidly switching back and forth between smug-faced and squinty-eyed to welling and aghast). Eric O’Bannon (Jamie McShane) and his sister (Chelsea, played by Chloë Sevigny) return. He’s the sympathetic dimwit who brought Danny into trouble one too many times and comes out of it all with a cloudy mind, unable to understand clear requests from law enforcement like an old dog misreading its owners directions. He ends up one of the season’s most important characters, a well of secrets from which different characters repeatedly drink. Ozzy Delvecchio, one of the season’s newcomers, lurks on the fringe I mentioned, pulling at those related to the core Rayburn three, hoping to make some profit and cause some trouble. He arrives with two other new characters. One is Danny’s ex, Eve (Andrea Riseborough), a woman that would’ve been right at home on Californication with her coy, flirtatious way of speaking, a kind of modern day, rockstar damsel-in-distress, more in danger of OD-ing or murder than a monster or a temperamental father. The other character is Nolan (Owen Teague), Eve and Danny’s son, smartly cast and well played by the same actor who portrayed Young Danny in the flashbacks in season one.
If that doesn’t seem like much, it is, and if it does seem like much, there’s even more I didn’t mention.
With a show like this, a show that earned its slow pace by stringing us along with Danny’s death, and knowing the right way to put its many pieces into place, I could not be more surprised with how jumbled and seemingly arbitrary everything is in this second season.
The first three episodes of season one were forgivably slow because you could see where things were headed and you were getting to know the lay of the land (the Florida Keys) and the characters, which is always fun when they’re even half-way compelling. This second season doesn’t get the same graces, and so its left with a few big decisions. Does it skip ahead to introduce a new chapter altogether, years down the line? Does it introduce new characters? Does it change up the location?
It does one of those things. In the first few episodes, I believed Nolan would be this season’s Danny, the centre of every plot, the one that gives each its turns and highs and lows. He is not. Eve isn’t the new Danny either, though she gains our sympathy. The trouble is, there’s no Danny. The writers have brought forth these three supporting characters and upped the roles of other existing supporting characters to lighten the load that, inevitably, John Raynburn must carry. Before I get too distracted, I want to mention again Ozzy Delvecchio (played by John Leguizamo), possibly this season’s most engrossing character. He’s a bottom-feeder out of Miami, where Danny once lived; where Nolan and Eve are from. He follows Eve out to the Rayburn’s part of the Keys, and he takes advantage of Eric O’Bannon, who has good, pertinent information about Danny’s death. Ozzy prods and pulls at John. He prods and pulls at Diana. No one is safe, not even Sally Rayburn. Not even Jane Rayburn; however, it’s Meg he zeroes in on. One of the only scenes this season to make me sit up in my seat comes when Ozzy visits Meg, when she’s alone. You genuinely believe he’s going to hurt her, but he doesn’t, instead threatening to spill all the Rayburn secrets if she doesn’t pay him off. That plot dies there, and it is not revived.
Which leads me to the main problem with this season: there are too many plots; too many half-baked plots; too many half-baked plots that aren’t even wrapped up, or given a clear arc, nor a central character. We see one scene, and then another scene, and then we just move on, like the writers forgot about it. Sometimes we’re reminded a thin plot exists, but it doesn’t matter because so much (and so little) has happened since we last visited it. Take for example Kevin’s pregnant wife, Belle. Kevin consistently says he can’t “handle all this stress,” he’s got a baby on the way; then he does a line of coke, or crashes his car. In the final episode, the writers service the pregnancy storyline one last time by inviting us to see Belle’s ultrasound. Cool. I’m satisfied, aren’t you?
All of these plots fade in and out, and so they leave little to no impression. The writers have tried and failed to mirror real life. Plenty of shows do this successfully, but it’s because they tailor stories in a way that makes sense for serialized television. The writers on Bloodline shouldn’t try and do that anyway. The first season so successfully existed in this surreal, dream-like state of Florida with so thick an atmosphere that at times it reminded me of the kind of rarefied air in which Shakespeare’s fantasy plays exist – and there are Shakespearean elements here, both within the show and the making of the show (phantom Danny, and casting the same actor to play both young Danny and Nolan). It’s too bad they don’t lean on them more heavily.
The first season kept many plates spinning. Here, it’s like the writers are knelt on the floor, scanning the plates, feeling them, and then placing them back down. It’s like the television version of shoegaze. The writers nod off, content to watch their characters sink with their mistakes, vaguely make an attempt to survive, and then give up and sink deeper.
There is a saving grace to the season, and it is not Danny’s criminally underused phantom, nor the flashbacks to Danny’s life, nor Nolan, Eve, or Ozzy; it’s an aspect of the making of the show: the directing (and with it, the cinematography). Never before has Florida looked so foreboding, and beautiful, and peaceful all at once. The setting never fails to lend even the most well tread character plot something slightly fresh. The directing is so good it can distract me from a poor scene. It’s precise. It’s symbolic. It’s filled with careful reveals. A moment that sticks out is at the beginning of the final episode, where we see a pair of feet pad along the beach where Danny was killed…. And then we see it’s not John, which is what we’re led to assume, but Marco, looking for any way in to the vault of secrets the Rayburns keep so well protected.
Like an actual bottle, there is the “bottleneck moment” every drama needs if it wants viewers to return next season. This is the final lurch forward I mentioned in the heading. Soon after Kev and Meg tell John they’re out, each one loses it in their own way. It makes for easily the most compelling episode of the season. With only five minutes left in the finale, Meg is about to reveal to Sally everything, Kev kills Marco, and John, who has all but killed Eric, lets him live. John exits, and with barely enough breath says, “You tell your fucking story.” Last we see of him, he’s barrelling down the highway, out of the Keys, into the balmy Florida night, phantom Danny riding shotgun. You know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like my final suggestion: what if the scenes above had been the first we see of the characters this season? I’d be compelled to watch.
I hope Bloodline is renewed for another season. Maybe the slow burn of this season will pay off in a big way.
Note: If it sounds like I’m being unfairly harsh, I probably am. I was deeply disappointed by this season, but only because of the great heights the creators and writers reached in the season prior.
Note: O’Bannon absolutely nails it when he tosses a garbage bag into a bin a few feet away. He does it like it’s nothing.
Note: Shoutout to the people in Cabin 3 who don’t take Sally Rayburn’s forgetful bullshit and gtfo. You run an inn, Sally. People are depending on you. Get it together.