Ever since he collapsed, Robert Rayburn’s death has been iminent. Otherwise, all this conflict over estates and wills and how Danny factors into any of it doesn’t carry any narrative significance. His quiet death at the beginning of “Part 5” places new potency on the tensions first incited by Danny’s arrival in the Keys, and that urgency is felt during parts of the episode but gets buried under excess exposition at others.
Danny’s return set into motion a critical shift for the Rayburn family as they all tried, in their own ways, to reconcile not only their personal relationships with their wayward brother but also grappled with the past he represents for them. Similarly, Robert’s death throws the Rayburns into emotional turmoil that seeps into all parts of their lives. Kevin seizes the moment to embrace his separation from Belle, only to eventually return to her. Meg cuts off Alec.
But the most important change brought on by Robert’s death is the arrival of Lenny Potts (Frank Hoyt Taylor), an old Navy pal of Robert’s and former detective. As has become Bloodline’s modus operandi, the writers explain Potts in cautiously unfolding pieces. Even though Bloodline’s slower methods can be tedious, it’s a much more emotionally effective storytelling style than, say, the massive info dump Sally throws on John. The most sluggish parts of Bloodline are the ones where characters are just explaining why people are the way they are. Sally explaining Robert’s fraught relationship with his father and the real reason for why he never finished high school doesn’t add much to the story or even the character development of Robert or anyone else on Bloodline. Kyle Chandler and Sissy Spacek turn in more fantastic acting work, but listening to Robert’s fucked up past doesn’t resonate as richly as the muted emotional responses Danny and John have in response to Potts coming to town, shown in the little ticks that the brothers develop over the course of the episode. Danny is visibly spooked by his arrival, and even though John hides his unrest better, it’s clear that the acceleration of his flashbacks is linked to Potts’s presence.
Director Jean de Segonzac weaves the past into the episode organically. Sometimes the jumps are more fluid, like the way present-day John sees his 14-year-old self sitting at the dining room table. Young John lingers in the room for a couple of seconds after Sally interrupts John’s thoughts, and even though it’s a small detail, it drives home the persistence of John’s memories. “I try not to think about it too much,” John tells Detective Potts in the present, but we see throughout the episode that his attempts to not think about the past and Sarah and Robert’s assault on Danny are futile. Sound bites from his interview with Potts after the altercation as well as flashbacks to the actual fight sneak into his eulogy like a curse he can’t shake. And the fantastic editing of the whole sequence keeps us right there with him. Other forays into the past happen more jarringly, especially for Danny, who rips between distant memories and present-day anxieties in a nightmare sequence at the beginning of the episode. The erratic nature of Danny’s flashback mirrors the character’s erratic behavior. Despite its pacing problems, “Part 5” continues to showcase strong editing and stylization choices that reflect and elevate the specific emotional beats of the show.
Belle and Diana continue to be story devices more than actual characters. That could be just because they aren’t part of the main Rayburn clan, but even the way the show treats Meg’s fiancé is different than how it treats the brothers’ wives. Marco doesn’t really factor into the pathos of Bloodline in the same way Meg and her brothers do, but as John’s partner, he still has a life outside of Meg that we’ve seen. His character description is two-pronged, unlike Diana and Belle who are simply “wives.” Diana spends most of this episode draped over John like an actual accessory, while Belle seems to have no agency in her relationships problems with Kevin. There are no women in the Bloodline writers room, and all of the directors for the first season are men. It’s hard for me to believe that doesn’t factor into the series’ poorly defined female characters. It’s an ironic problem to have since a lot of the show’s narrative hinges on a young girl or, more accurately, the hole she left in the Rayburn family years ago. Sally asks John to speak on the behalf of all the siblings at Robert’s eulogy. But it also seems like the writers have asked the Rayburn men to speak for all the other characters of the series most of the time.
- In retrospect, some of the smaller moments from “Part 4” are even more beautiful now that we know they were some of Robert’s last experiences in life. The scene of the brothers and Robert in the truck, for example, holds even more magnitude.
- “They had a special bond,” Sally says to Meg as they look at photos of Robert and Sarah, prodding Meg’s inferiority complex.
- Drunk Kevin is mostly a nightmare, but I couldn’t help but smile when he got all affectionate with Danny at the bar.
- There’s a lot of great imagery that evokes grief in the episode, like Sally noticing Robert’s toothbrush, watch, and shaving supplies while she’s brushing her teeth.
- Danny, of course, lies to his siblings about the details of his last conversation with their father.