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Bloodline finally lets John Rayburn boil over

Bloodline
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Is the Rayburn bloodline too poisoned to ever recover? By the end of “Part 19,” Kevin has decided he can’t be a father. In his mind, his family is fucked up, and it’s destined to be fucked up forever. The episode firmly roots itself in the show’s central themes, providing a narrative with very clear and stirring emotions. Bloodline could still use more mystery, more momentum to keep it from feeling like it’s stuck in the muck of mere aftermath, but “Part 19” is a superbly tense and anxiety-ridden episode that even offers a little bit of payoff. Much like “Part 17,” it tells a very cogent emotional story for each of its characters, with John’s ongoing arc sort of at the center of it all.

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The Rayburns think they know themselves, but they don’t. It’s much easier for non-Rayburns to look at the family from the outside and point at all the problems. Sally doesn’t think Kevin has a serious drug problem, and she uses some fluffy story about him teaching himself to ride a bike to boost his confidence and remind him of his determination. When he retells the story to Belle, she sees right through it. To Kevin and Sally, it’s a story of triumph, a story with a happy ending. Belle immediately wants to know why a six-year-old Kevin was left to teach himself to ride a bike, falling off over and over with no one to pick him up again. Where were his parents? Where were the people who were supposed to be loving him and taking care of him? The Rayburns are so blind to their deeply rooted problems.

Even Jane, whose main role on this show is to be a shitty teenager, has a point with all her angsty accusations hurled at Sally. Jane has no doubt been manipulated by Eve, who finally found a Rayburn weak spot to appeal to after failing to get Sally or Meg on her side. John and Sally insist that Jane doesn’t know what she’s talking about, doesn’t have all the facts. That’s technically true. She certainly never understood the danger and malice her uncle Danny’s presence meant. But there are kernels of truth in what she’s saying. She hits on some very real and dark problems with the Rayburns, who talk a big game about the importance of family but fall very short of the perfect big family they pretend to be. Nolan was immediately regarded as an enemy by everyone in the family because he represents Danny, unearths all the sticky, muddy feelings the siblings and Sally felt and still feel toward the boy’s father. Jane’s a shitty teen with a bad attitude, but she sees through the bullshit. Diana does, too. She doesn’t want Sally to fuck up her family in the same way she did with her own. Like Belle, she sees the Rayburns for what they really are.

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Qualities typically considered good—determination, ambition, loyalty—run deep in the Rayburn family, but they’ve taken such attributes too far. They’re qualities that, when taken too far, become corrupted and toxic. The fact that their initial intentions began as good blinds the Rayburns from seeing just how bad everything has gotten. Gilbert drops hints that even the inn, the marker of the Rayburns’ success, the glistening symbol of their power in this community, was acquired through nefarious means. Meg herself gets caught up in dirty business when she uses Chelsea O’Bannon to dig up medical records that reveal Aguirre’s past assault on his wife. In that case, the allegations appear to be true, but that doesn’t necessarily absolve Meg of her actions. She didn’t do it to protect an abuse survivor. She did it to court a major donor for the campaign, a major donor who knows how to work around things like contribution limits. She says it doesn’t sit right with her, but just because she knows when something is bad doesn’t make her good.

And it isn’t just the Rayburns who prove to be poison. Even Marco, one of the show’s rare good guys, isn’t good after all. Aguirre’s ex-wife goes to Meg to tell her she didn’t get the full story. The officer who responded to the initial 911 call was offered a job in the sheriff’s office shortly after, and any record of the call and house visit vanished. Bloodline loves a messy cover-up, and that’s exactly went down. And the officer who got the payoff was none other than Marco Diaz. In my last review, I remarked that Marco’s only purpose on this show really seemed to be to pressure John, but here he is, being pulled into the show’s grander themes in a more significant way. Hopefully, this isn’t all just to serve the plot of the season. Hopefully we get more character moments out of this, especially between Meg and Marco. “Part 19” doesn’t really allow Meg to feel the full ramifications of the reveal.

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It’s a fascinating character development that sheds new light on some of Marco’s past words. In this episode, he insists that John is a good man to Aguirre. But is he really the right person to be making that kind of character judgement? Bloodline’s pulling everyone through the mud this season. But Meg’s political schemes are the weakest part of the episode, because the character moments just aren’t nearly as well written as the rest of the episode’s conflict. It‘s plotty and a bit mechanical. Aguirre’s not a fully realized character, but more importantly, his ex-wife isn’t. In fact, she’s only referred to as Ms. Ortiz throughout the episode, not even given a first name. So she’s just a nameless victim, and the writers use her for the sake of this storyline without really digging into the emotional significance of it all, painting a very broad portrait of domestic abuse. And then the real interesting moment—when Meg realizes what Marco did—gets cut short. Linda Cardellini has been giving a really great, subtle performance all season, but in “Part 19,” she isn’t given much. Meg’s just reacting to things in small bursts.

Though it isn’t quite to the same extent as “Part 17,” John’s struggle is the unpredictable thread that holds the episode together. He isn’t in this episode as much as he has been, but he remains the focus of Bloodline’s intense character study this season. Throughout the episode, John’s popping his blood pressure meds, a foreboding detail in and of itself, like John knows he’s seconds away from exploding. Bloodline thrives on tension. This season has had some difficulty building suspense because it hasn’t found anything as compelling or propelling as the crux of the first season, but “Part 19” has a manic energy to it that sucked me in. A lot of that has to do with John Leguizamo’s performance. Ozzy still feels more like a plot device than a real, complex character at this point, but Leguizamo still unsettles masterfully. Ozzy’s always running his mouth just a little too long, like he wants people to catch onto him. He’s unfazed and unhinged, easily catching Diana in his trap in a way that he knows will get back to John. He’s playing games.

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But John Rayburn doesn’t play games. Bloodline’s immense restraint means that these more explosive moments tend to explode with much more force. John becomes increasingly violent and agitated in the episode—a pattern that’s becoming more and more common for him. His first visit to Eric’s is serious but quite muted in comparison to his second, during which he very directly and aggressively threatens Eric with jail time. It works, and he finally gets a first visit with Ozzy, which again goes much better than the first. Ozzy wants John to ask him what he wants, and he thinks his latest game—sneaking into John’s own house to leave behind a menacing message—means John finally wants to talk. But instead, John just beats the shit out of him. This kind of violent outburst has been a long time coming for John, who hasn’t blown up like this since he killed Danny last season. It’s one of the first truly shocking moments of the season, but it certainly doesn’t come out of nowhere. John has been boiling all season. Just when it seems like he has gone too far, he pushes even farther into the darkness. Kyle Chandler is giving the performance of his life, so captivating that I didn’t even notice until it was all over that Ben Mendelsohn never appeared once in the episode. Maybe Bloodline doesn’t need him anymore after all.

But there’s still something glaringly missing from the season. In his pre-air review of the season, Joshua Alston likened the first season to a slow-motion car crash and the second to its slow-motion clean-up, and it’s a metaphor so accurate that I feel the need to highlight it again. There are really strong character moments throughout this second season, and the emotions the writers are untangling for each of the characters—hinged on Danny’s death—are convincing and visceral. But it’s hard to give urgency and stakes to a slow and endless coverup. “Part 19,” however, hints at the storytelling power of Bloodline’s second season. The performances are so spot-on, and the thematic throughlines are so tight that the episode stands firmly on its own. But it also transcends the cover-up. The episode is no longer just about the series of dark and corrupt events that Danny’s death led to. It reaches back much farther, goes much deeper. The Rayburns’ issues are so much bigger, so much more messy than just Danny. This is a deeply fucked up family. The secrets and lies are starting to compound. Maybe Kevin’s right. Maybe the Rayburns can never make anything good again.

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Stray observations

  • Jane is way too trusting of adults she doesn’t know all that well. I can’t believe that after what happened with Danny, John and Diana wouldn’t tighten security to the point where it would be impossible for another adult to essentially lowkey kidnap her. But alas, Eve pulls it off pretty easily.
  • Danny and Ozzy were both bailed out of jail by Beth Mackey, who we met last season.
  • I still think Belle and Diana need to be more developed as characters instead of just representing counterpoints to their husbands.
  • Owen Teague is scary-good at replicating Ben Mendelsohn’s physicality and energy.
  • Sally’s smack was actually even more of an explosive moment than John’s attack on Ozzy in some ways.
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