All along, Bloodline begged viewers for patience. Between the nonlinear story structure and John’s foreboding voiceovers, the writers promised that things would all come together eventually. The show’s slow pacing became its strength and its defect: The careful storytelling made for a restrained and gritty drama, but it also made binge-watching feel like a tedious chore.
As I expected, now that I have all the pieces in front of me, it’s easier to appreciate the narrative and emotional intricacies of the series than it was when I was just looking at individual episodes. The past is immensely important to every single episode of Bloodline, almost acting like a character itself, manifesting in physical form through visions and memories. Present-day Sally watches her past self pack her bags in the same room with her. A young Danny sits in the back of present-day John’s car. An adult Sarah Rayburn lingers around Danny. But as formative as the past is for Bloodline’s characters, the way the show reveals things slowly over time made the future just as important to the narrative. Characters’ choices and feelings became more cogent in hindsight. That’s true of most well plotted out serialized dramas, but Bloodline has been particularly withholding with its characters’ motives.
This is especially true for Sally Rayburn, who—in an episode full of twists and turns—delivers the biggest reveal of them all by admitting to Lenny Potts that it was her who fed the lie about Danny’s “accident” to her children. It’s an odd choice to give Sally such a big character moment in the season finale when up until this point, she has mostly existed to ask what’s going on, only to be kept in the dark by her children. Her confession would probably carry more emotional weight if it hadn’t been saved for the last minute. The writers don’t have time to parse out the emotional significance of Sally’s role in the coverup, and as a result, the reveal feels sort of tangential to everything else happening in the episode and doesn’t hit with the maximum impact that it should.
Sally’s confession only gets sidelined because there’s a lot more going on in the episode, as the Rayburn siblings rush to cover up John’s actions. The throughline connecting Sarah’s death with Danny’s death is plainly clear, as the Rayburn siblings pull off an immaculate coverup. This time, their job is much more than just lying to the police. They lie, make fake phone calls, move a body, plant $2 million of narcotics, and manipulate masterfully. The full extent of their plan unfolds slowly, but the finale clips along at a faster pace than Bloodline typically takes, making for an exciting ride. The nonlinear structure works to the mystery’s advantage. In the beginning of the episode, a pile of fish on ice throws Kevin off, and Meg has a similar reaction to a bottle of tequila. These moments effectively convey the trauma experienced by both characters, but also offer an early tease of what’s to come.
“Part 13” hooks in a way previous Bloodline parts never quite mastered, playing with our expectations and keeping the story suspenseful even when we already know its conclusion. We know the siblings have to get Danny in that seersucker suit and line up every other moving piece in this clusterfuck in order to get away with the bad thing that they’ve done, and watching it all play out thrills in the same way “Part 11” managed, exciting with a twisty plot but never losing sight of who its characters are, what they feel, and why.
The first season leaves John, Meg, and Kevin Rayburn in totally new places in their lives and in what would seem like happy endings on any other show. John becomes the Monroe County sheriff; Meg joins Alec at the New York law firm; Kevin’s getting his boatyard after all and about to start a family with Belle. But keeping in line with the series’ dark tone, a new character shows up to threaten the stability of all of that: Danny’s secret son.
There are few end-of-season stock shocks I despise more than a Secret Child reveal. Introducing a child no one knew about is just such a clunky way of introducing conflict, and the trope no doubt lives in hack territory. It was hard not to roll my eyes at the sudden appearance of Danny’s son in John’s backyard with all his facial piercings, baggy clothes, and long hair (otherwise, how else would we possibly know that he’s capital-t Troubled?!). The execution seems lazy, with the finale cutting to credits immediately after the reveal.
All that being said, a secret-son reveal works for Bloodline better than it would for most other shows. I watched this finale knowing that the series is going to get a second season, so one of the questions on my mind was how the hell is this story going to sustain itself? Ben Mendelsohn has consistently been one of the best parts of this show, and moving forward without him and without Danny Rayburn is going to be a huge challenge. Creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman have proven their ability to keep a show going even after major character deaths with Damages, but the relationship between John and Danny is as foundational to Bloodline as the relationship between Ellen Parsons and Patty Hewes was to Damages. With Lenny Potts hot on the Rayburn siblings’ heels, Meg, Kevin, and John are undoubtedly going to continue to deal with the consequences of Danny’s death and its coverup. That will keep the story going for a bit, but it isn’t enough to sustain an entire second season. Danny’s mystery son, however, keeps some of Bloodline’s larger themes and emotional underpinnings alive.
Even with Robert out of the picture for most of the first season, the broken father-son relationship between him and Danny informs the series and its central themes of family, grief, and aggression that’s tied to toxic masculinity. Robert taught his sons a very narrow definition of “how to be a man” through his actions. And even though Kevin is known as the family hot head, John clearly isn’t exempt from the violent tendencies of Rayburn men. Kevin is perfectly blithe about John’s reasons for killing their brother. It’s Meg who asks the real questions, clearly uneasy about the circumstances surrounding John’s assault on Danny. As clichéd of a plot device as he is, Danny’s son allows Bloodline to continue to explore ideas about fragmented families and father-son relationships.
Bloodline explicitly deals with the lasting psychological effects of past trauma. Sarah and Rayburn are both dead due to vastly different circumstances, but neither ever really went away. If Bloodline follows a similar path with Danny, the second season could build on that character work. Danny lives on in the guilt of his siblings but also even more directly through his son, who’s bound to be a new threat for the Rayburn family based on the show’s pattern. This still doesn’t resolve the fact that Bloodline axed the strongest actor in its ensemble. The entire Bloodline cast is full of heavy-hitters, even down to its guest stars, but Mendelsohn brought an extra special performance to the show, effectively capturing all of Danny’s layers. The character wouldn’t have worked without someone as skilled as him behind it, and his absence will hit the show hard. I’m not fully ruling out the possibility that he’ll show up again: Damages worked ghosts and dream-renderings of dead characters into its framework, and Mia Kirshner’s role on the show suggests it isn’t fully out of the realm of possibility. In any case, the Bloodline writers could address some of the weak spots in its first season by filling the void created by Danny’s death with increased roles for some of its existing female characters.
- Bloodline Season Two Wishlist: More Chelsea O’Bannon.
- Belle’s surprise pregnancy is also a slightly annoying reveal, as it too simply brings her and Kevin back together. All too often, television uses pregnancy as an easy way to save relationships.
- His acting in this finale is the best we’ve seen from Norbert Leo Butz.
- I’m not sure I believe the folks at the sheriff department would let John ramble on and on with all of his vague musings on families and “bad things,” but I’m at least glad the voiceover we’ve been hearing all season actually factored into the story in some way. Plus, intercutting the now complete speech with images of John getting rid of Danny’s body makes for a stunning sequence.
- It was smart to have John incapacitated for the first part of the episode. John is clearly the solution guy, and having Meg and Kevin flail a little bit as they tried to deal with Danny’s body added some uncertainty and anxiety to the episode.
- And so concludes season one of Bloodline. We can take a nice little vacation away from the Florida Keys for now. I hope the daily pace of these reviews felt faster to you than watching these 13 episodes did! Now, I’m going to take a cue from Meg Rayburn and go have a beer (or two). See you next season, Rayburns!