Bloodline

It’s hard not to write about season one of Bloodline when writing about season two. I worried all my reviews would turn to comparison, obsessing too much over the changes between this season and last. In some ways, Bloodline seems like a fundamentally different show in its post-Danny days. Aesthetically, it’s very much the same. And it grapples with a lot of the same themes as season one. But the narrative structure has changed in a way that perhaps does more damage than the trio of creators could have anticipated. Bloodline season two lacks urgency. It lacks its hook. “Part 17” was a dazzling, in-depth character study of John Rayburn, but “Part 18” is back to the murky waters of building a sprawling story structure that just doesn’t hold up. I said it a couple reviews ago, and I’ll say it again: If you have the audacity to make an episode of television this long, every fucking second better count.

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The biggest change in season two has been the show’s scope. In the first season, the drama was pretty confined to the immediate Rayburn family: Danny, his three siblings, and Sally and Robert. Sure, Lowry and the other baddies were around, but they were almost background noise, the side effects of Danny’s bad choices. Season two has cracked open the world of Bloodline, turning an intimate family noir into a more sprawling psychological thriller. Some of it works. Evangeline and Nolan, for example, are additions that perfectly fit the show’s themes. They’re an extension of the Rayburn family that Robert Rayburn never wanted to poison his family’s bloodline. They bring along an intricate emotional narrative that further casts the Rayburns in darkness. In this episode especially, Evangeline’s motivations are clear. Sally just sees her as some desperate woman after money, but Evangeline is much more human and sympathetic than that. The Rayburns merely cast her aside because they didn’t see her as good enough. She was another one of Danny’s mistakes to them. Sally tried to get her to not have the baby. And then when she did, Robert paid her to keep quiet, to stay on the periphery so as to never bring down the precious Rayburn name. She’s not completely wrong to feel owed, to feel like a victim of the Rayburns’ relentless pride.

Even more so than Evangeline, Nolan is a truly fascinating character. With every episode that passes, I become less and less mad about his initial introduction to the story, which was so contrived that it bordered on hack. The flashbacks this season are doing a solid job of justifying Nolan’s existence, making it seem less like he was just thrown into the mix to be a last-minute plot twist. With every episode that passes, I’m also increasingly impressed by Owen Teague’s performance. He isn’t just playing Nolan as some shitty, troubled teen. There’s something deeper there, something darker there. Nolan evokes such strong images of Danny for the other characters, and thanks to Teague’s performance, that uncanny feeling is palpable for viewers, too. Nolan’s menacing manipulations at dinner with Belle and Kevin are so Danny that it’s scary. He possesses his father’s ability to subtly and yet terrifyingly threaten people. Ironically, he’s threatening Kevin because he wants to be seen as someone other than his father. But Bloodline is a bleakly fatalistic show. Nolan has inherited some of his father’s characteristics, and he has unfairly inherited the way people saw his father, too. Danny’s shadow is inescapable for him, even though he barely knew the guy. He’s just a kid, and people are treating him like he’s a monster, much like Danny was treated as a kid in the wake of Sarah’s death. Nolan’s fate has been sealed by his father’s choices. And I hope season two digs even deeper into that, because it’s a part of the story that’s so intensely character-driven and compelling.

But as Bloodline opens up its world, some cracks in the character development start to show, too. Evangeline and Nolan are working quite well, but because this show is so deeply rooted in the minds of the Rayburns, there isn’t really a lot of time to get to know anyone else. There are characters who have been around since season one who still seem like they exist more for plot than as a substantive part of the show’s emotional storytelling. Season two is telling a very unsettling story about Kevin’s addiction, and the way it affects his marriage is one of the many threads of “Part 18,” but it would all mean a lot more if Belle were a more fully realized character and didn’t just exist to fulfill this part of Kevin’s arc. Diana always seems like more of an audience surrogate than anything else, asking John the questions I typically want to ask him. John purposefully keeps her out of everything, which makes it difficult for the writers to really develop her, but still, it would be nice to see her doing more than just asking questions and smiling by John’s side, especially since all the Rayburn drama undoubtedly affects her even when she doesn’t know everything that’s going on. Even Marco is an underdeveloped character. This season, he really only seems to be around to put more pressure on John. Ozzy isn’t really working yet either. He represents Danny’s past, but his motivations to hate the Rayburns so vehemently aren’t that convincing. On that front, Eric makes much more sense. Chelsea and Eric O’Bannon are really the only non-Rayburns who have come to life on the sidelines, providing a slightly different but still poignant look at the complexity of family.

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In “Part 18,” it becomes clear how many forces are closing in on John, which does heighten the stakes of the story a bit. Ozzy puts a fine point on it: Start pressing John Rayburn, and all sorts of shit will come spilling out. Eric’s putting the pieces together. Marco is, too. Everyone’s getting closer and closer to finding out the truth. The storm keeps on brewing. But we’re still waiting for lightning to strike. “Part 17” was so successful because of how focused it was. Now, we’re back to a more spread out story, with a lot going on and yet nothing really happening all at once.

Stray observations

  • In a way, it’s fitting that I’m obsessing over how things used to be with a show that itself is so fixated on the past.
  • The flashbacks to Danny and Nolan bonding time confirmed a lot of what I wrote about toxic masculinity on this show. Danny suggests that Nolan’s worth as a man is tied to sex and alcohol.
  • I do like the Sally subplot trickling throughout this season. The inn is wearing down, and so is she. That kind of overt but still moving symbolism is something Bloodline really excels at.
  • Sally’s hatred of Nolan and Evangeline makes sense, too, given the overwhelming guilt that hangs over her at all times.
  • So John has to run for sheriff now because, according to him, he’ll have more control and be able to protect the siblings from that position of power. Okay. But I still don’t think he should have decided to run in the first place.
  • Meg’s on an interesting track now as John’s campaign manager. I’m into the supposition that she’s more like Robert than her siblings, as suggested by Mr. Gilbert—another one of season two’s extraneous and plot-serving characters.

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