In Netflix’s latest original series Bloodline, the Rayburns are a well-respected affluent family in the Florida Keys thanks to the inn and charter business started by patriarch Robert (Sam Shepard) and matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek). But when the family’s black sheep son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) comes home for a ceremony honoring his father, his return threatens to destroy the peaceful balance his siblings and parents have worked toward.
Unlike their older brother, Danny’s siblings live in the Keys and each have their own lives and responsibilities. John (Kyle Chandler) is a detective with a wife and two teenage kids. Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a lawyer in a long-term relationship with John’s partner Marco (Enrique Murciano). Finally, there’s Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), a hothead with a fishing business and a marriage on the rocks.
Throughout the first episode, the siblings are clearly defined through strong dialogue while the threat of Danny’s return is alluded to. The sense of impending doom is evident, but the reason for the doom is shrouded in mystery as the show unfurls its tightly woven family drama. Through brief flashbacks throughout the season, we’re given bits and pieces of a couple key events throughout the siblings’ childhood. These events were what led to Danny’s fragile relationship with his family. And as the secrets and history come out, the gloves slowly come off.
Slowly is the keyword there. Bloodline is a slow burn when it comes to its storytelling. But as slow as the story takes to unfold and as long as we wait for the backstory to be divulged, the overall experience is highly rewarding. The acting is fantastic. All the main characters get their time to shine. Whether it’s Meg screaming in a car, John laying into Danny when things go off the rails, or Kevin letting his temper steer him into a volatile situation, the show does a spectacular job of weaving its characters together. More importantly, the show puts a spotlight on sibling bond between them.
While the main characters get their arcs, it’s definitely Danny’s story that is given the spotlight throughout the season. Ben Mendelsohn’s performance is phenomenal. It’s a multi-layered performance where he balances Danny’s pain of being an outcast in his family with the horror in the family’s past extremely well. Bloodline isn’t a show that gives a clear definition of good and bad. John is by all accounts a “good guy” and choices Danny makes and things Danny does are “bad”. But the show paints their actions in shades of gray in a way that makes the culmination of the season much more gripping.
I have buried the lead long enough. What is perhaps the most gripping part of Bloodline is its narrative structure. Throughout the first episode, we are given shots of something in the future. It’s a scene that depicts something shocking involving a character with a voiceover from Kyle Chandler saying some cryptic dialogue. He ends with what is the show’s tagline: “We’re not bad people. But we did a bad thing.” The entire season builds to this event.
The flash-forwards occur throughout the season, depicting other characters’ roles in this scenario that is getting closer and closer to happening. The show does a wonderful job of giving its audience enough information to satiate our curiosity while also making us wonder more and more just how the hell things will get to be so dire for this scenario to play out.
To say these flash forwards are necessary due to the show’s slow burn nature isn’t accurate but isn’t completely inaccurate either. It’s gripping and will keep you guessing. But there are several episodes that don’t include the shots from the future. Those episodes are just as intriguing and just as interesting as the episodes depicting the climax of the season. The episodes without clips from the future just prove how strong the characterization and storytelling is in Bloodline. The show doesn’t need the hook of the flash forwards, but damn it if they don’t give the present day actions of characters so much more weight.
Bloodline is a strongly written and spectacularly acted drama/thriller about family and what happens when secrets don’t stay buried. It takes the viewer on a journey toward something shocking that eventually occurs in a very satisfying and surprising manner. The clips showing the outcome will hook you into the show but the acting, the drama and the writing will keep you streaming it.
Netflix has renewed it for a second season and I cannot wait to see what happens next. If nothing else, season 1 of Bloodline sets things in place for what could be an even better second season next year.