This episode of Bloodline belongs to Jacinda Barrett. I’ve been waiting to say that for a while now. Bloodline most egregiously under-uses the brilliant and versatile gifts of Chloë Sevigny, but Barrett too is rarely given much to do in any given episode up to this point. The men of Bloodline’s ensemble tend to get most of the credit—even Sissy Spacek and Linda Cardellini don’t get quite enough praise for their performances. That has less to do with their ability than it does with how inadequately the women on this show are written a lot of the time. Both Meg and Sally have been better developed this season than last, and Cardellini and Spacek have shined even brighter as they’ve stepped up to do more complex and heavy storytelling.
But Belle and Diana, the quiet and trusting wives of Bloodline, have stayed firmly on the sidelines of Bloodline’s narrative. They ask questions. They poke small holes in their husbands’ lies, but they never quite poke hard enough to see any real results. They’re kind and insightful and the opposite of everything that the Rayburns are. They’re one-woman Greek choruses for their spiraling, morally corrupt husbands. But rarely are they given the chance to actually think and feel on their own. We’ve never been pulled into either of their heads—until now.
“Part 20” pulls us right into Diana’s emotions, right into an intense crisis and revelation for the character who so rarely gets to play a part in the emotional storytelling of the show. The best installments of Bloodline’s second season have been the ones that see one character through a specific and emphasized emotional arc that feels both ongoing and resolute all at once. That’s what made “Part 17” such a standout: Its intense character study of John has a clear arc, one that taps into the past but keeps the story moving forward. “Part 20” does something similar with Diana, sending her down a dark path that ultimately has a powerful conclusion. In the first few minutes of the episode, there’s a wonderful shot from her perspective, as she looks at John flexing his bloodied, bruised hand in the middle of the night and chooses to just silently drift back into the bedroom. She flashes back to that visual once more later in the episode, and normally I would write this show a citation for flashbacks to something that happens in the same episode, but in this case, it works. Diana’s running toward a dark sky, flashing back to the day John told her to run away, to some of John’s other violent outbursts, to that bloodied hand which so starkly awakens all her worst fears and a realization that has been slowly building within her: The Rayburns are violent, and that includes her husband. John Rayburn is more than capable of violence. He’s guilty of it.
Even though this is really the first time that we’ve seen things from her perspective, this realization Diana comes to has been built steadily throughout the series. So many past events are given new meaning, new weight as she puts all the pieces together here. Sally’s slap last episode becomes even more significant. It was Diana’s first glimpse at Sally’s role in the family’s cycle of violence. The seahorse necklace, John asking her to take the kids away, Danny’s death—it all has new meaning to her. One of the issues I’ve had with the character up to this point is the fact that she was never really allowed to live in the emotional moments she was part of. Scenes between her and John were always pretty situated in John’s perspective. Barrett always does a great job of showing how Diana’s feeling in quick, fleeting expressions, but they weren’t the focus, weren’t deep or developed enough to really pull her feelings to the surface. That was on the writers, not her. But Diana finally gets to live in these emotional moments, even ones that have long passed. Diana is no dummy, and the writers are finally acknowledging that. She connects all the dots, and it leads to one of the best scenes Bloodline has ever done.
Diana’s confrontation of John is a masterclass in acting on both Barrett and Kyle Chandler’s parts, but it’s some damn good writing, too. Here is another example of Bloodline’s restraint working to its advantage. Diana never asks John if he killed Danny, nor does John ever explicitly cop to it. They don’t need to. They speak more like regular people would speak versus characters on a television show. It makes sense that Diana can’t get her mouth to form the words “did you kill your brother?” The way she lets John know she knows without saying anything quite that direct is more real, more cutting. It’s a phenomenal scene. Bloodline’s cautious pacing that can sometimes be too much is just right here. It’s a moment that deserves to be slow, deserves to be tense and silent and as drawn out as possible. It drips with the heavy, salty air of the ocean Diana stares out at for most of the conversation. Every fucking second counts. And that’s the way it should be on this show, which is determined to push past the hour mark almost every episode. Every movement, every look, every inflection counts, too. I wrote in my last review that Kyle Chandler is giving the performance of his life this season. How could I have known that I hadn’t even seen the best of it yet? His face right after Diana makes her accusation encapsulates all the fear, all the remorse, all the anxiety and pain John has yet to truly feel. It hits him like a crashing wave. John has been disturbingly mechanical and borderline sociopathic in the aftermath of Danny’s death, never really letting himself feel the full ramifications of what he did—until now. Realizing how his actions have affected Diana flips a switch in him, and John realizes what he did in a whole new light, realizes he isn’t just caught up in a mistake. He did a bad thing. And that’s an understatement. His whole body flinches as Diana gets close and utters the words “what you’ve done.” Chandler’s excellence this season is relentless. I never thought I’d be more moved by a Chandler character than I was with Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and yet here we are.
Diana and John—and Barrett and Chandler, really—are the anchor of “Part 20,” which isn’t quite as successful on other character or relationship fronts. Meg seems oddly disconnected from what she learned about Marco throughout the episode. Except for a quick scene of her doing some digging and realizing that he indeed did get his job shortly after the 911 visit was made to Aguirre’s home—a scene that honestly doesn’t add much by way of plot or character development—it doesn’t really factor into the episode at all. That’s especially confusing because of the emotional journey Meg does go on with Marco in “Part 20.” After nearly botching her interview with him by becoming overly flustered when he started asking her questions about the night after the Red Reef inn murder, Meg manipulates Marco by going to him and telling him the truth about Danny. Not the truth about how Danny died, but the truth about what happened when they were kids. She tells Marco exactly how fucked up her family is (no one on this show is being at all shy at describing the Rayburn family as “fucked up” this season), and she regains his trust. They sleep together. If Meg is at all feeling an intricate web of emotions about telling Marco just how fucked up her family is while also knowing that Marco isn’t such a good person himself, it never comes to the surface. I know Bloodline almost always takes the subtle route, letting emotions and tension stir below the surface before cracking the characters open, but I couldn’t discern any significant presence of her recent revelation about Marco in those scenes at all. I’m still waiting for that development to play a more meaningful role in the story, especially from a character perspective. Right now, it’s just hanging there, but without much weight to it. But the weight of Diana’s storyline is enough to carry the episode.
- I have a hard time believing that Meg would be so careless as to give Marco Alec’s name when she’s using him as an alibi. I’m hoping this means that she has already gotten Alec to agree to corroborate that he was with her that night. Otherwise, the writers are selling Meg short.
- I’ve said just about all that can be said about Barrett’s performance, but it’s also worth noting how great she is in the scene where John is giving a speech to abuse victims. Diana’s silent throughout, but there’s still so much going on in the way she looks at him and digests his words.
- Did Meg actually win Marco’s trust again or does she just think he did? I’m leaning toward the former.
- I’m really loving Eric O’Bannon this season.