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On Bloodline, family is purgatory

Illustration for article titled On iBloodline/i, family is purgatory
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After the unrewarding slog that was last episode, “Part 16” offers a bit more energy and, most importantly, more emotion. But there’s still an underlying sense that the show can’t quite eclipse the fundamental changes it has undergone. Season one posed such a clear question with its nonlinear structure: How and why did Danny die? Watching the events leading up to his death was like watching a Shakespearean tragedy. His fate seemed inevitable. The whole Rayburn family was ultimately responsible for the downfall of Danny. This story has no heroes.

But what is the question of season two? There are a few open-ended mysteries winding their way through the narrative. There’s Nolan, who no one trusts. After all, he really is the spitting image of Danny. Everyone wants to know what Nolan is up to, why he’s here. But that conflict, so far, hasn’t really broken through to the surface. The Rayburns are too preoccupied with their own mess to really worry about any potential threat Nolan poses. A more ominous character is introduced in this episode: Ozzy Delvecchio (John Leguizamo), an associate from Danny’s past. The flashbacks are some of the episode’s most effective moments, showing a desperate and troubled Danny on the first steps of his path toward total destruction. Ben Mendelsohn, as usual, is great here, capturing Danny’s reluctance to go full bad. The fact that Delvecchio is now lurking around with Nolan touches on the cyclical nature of these characters’ arcs. Nolan has inherited his father’s trauma in a way—and his hunger for vengeance, too—and that could prove to be a compelling story moving forward. Delvecchio undoubtedly has John in his crosshairs, but as with a lot of the suspense of the season, it’s all just below the surface and seems a little aimless in where it’s headed.


The writers are still quite good at building palpable, potent tension, with the direction pulling us into the action and the characters’ thoughts. The finest example of that in “Part 16” is when John knows Kevin is missing and then hears that a body that easily fits Kevin’s description has been found. I was pretty certain the body wouldn’t be Kevin’s, but John isn’t so sure himself. And Kyle Chandler’s performance and the hesitant camerawork leading up to the reveal build effective suspense. It isn’t Kevin. John looks like he could explode with relief, but he keeps it together. Danny was last season’s ticking bomb, but John is almost walking a Jekyll and Hyde balance this season with his double life, and it’s only a matter of time before he explodes. Right? All the meticulous build-up has to have some sort of emotional payoff.

Bloodline is, of course, about family. It’s about the lengths people go to for family, but it’s also about how family can be toxic, inescapable, punitive. The Rayburn family desperately tries to help each other, but they harm each other just as much. John and Meg get sucked into Kevin’s shit when he very narrowly escapes the drug dealers who accuse him of being a cop. Meg is quite literally on her way out of this world, in a cab on her way back to New York to resume the job she loves—if only because it’s something that has nothing to do with the Rayburns. But her escape route is interrupted. She’s babysitting her drugged-up, paranoid brother in a motel. Kevin remarks that he doesn’t have anyone to talk to now that she’s in New York, and she rightfully snaps at him. Meg should be able to live her life. She’s right, and yet, like so much of what happens on Bloodline, Meg’s role in her family is indelible. Even if she does make it back to New York, she won’t truly be free of Rayburn blood.


They’re in this shit together. Danny made sure of that. But in a way, they’ve all been inextricably tied together ever since Sarah’s death. That tragedy wrapped its way around each and every one of them, pulls them back like an undercurrent. Even before Danny was dead, the siblings struggled to reconcile their feelings about their oldest brother and how he was treated in the wake of Sarah’s death. The mess they’re trying to clean up is all just the same mess from before. The Rayburns are stuck in a Sisyphean cover-up. The real question of season two is how far they’re willing to go.

In “Part 16,” Chelsea O’Bannon (Chloë Sevigny) returns. Eric and Chelsea add to the themes of family on the show. It isn’t just the Rayburns trying to protect each other, but the O’Bannons, too. And there’s something slightly different about the way they care about each other that adds to the complexity of the show’s depiction of family ties. And Bloodline doesn’t seem to merely be about the toxicity of families but also the more specific toxicity of masculinity. Last season, this seemed especially true in the way that Robert fathered his sons, giving them a narrow and harmful definition of how to be a “real man.”


This season, it’s again apparent how the men of Bloodline are driven by pride and aggression and expect the women in their lives to play either passive or caretaking roles. Chelsea, like Meg, keeps getting pulled into her brother’s shit, expected to take care of him and protect him. John tells Meg to stay with Kevin, insisting that it’s her job. Actually, Meg has a very legitimate job as a lawyer in New York that’s just as important as John’s job. But he still expects her to play caretaker while he tries to balance his life as a cop and his life as a murderer covering up a murder. Just as Sally seems to be onto John, he tricks her into believing he moved the drugs back to Danny’s so that Danny could give them back to Lowry (I have a hard time believing Sally is naive enough to believe that lie though). Diana and Belle are persistently in the dark about everything. Meg and Sally are hardly innocent in everything that has happened, but it’s really the men on this show who keep fucking shit up. And a lot of their actions have the gravest consequences for the women in their lives. Kevin dealt the drugs because he was too ashamed of his business going under, too ashamed to ask for help. I wondered in my last review why John is running for sheriff, and one of the possible answers is his pride. He’s arrogant enough to believe that he can get out of his mess and be the hero. But this story has no heroes.

Stray observations

  • Eric tediously explains to Nolan answers to questions audience members might have. On a show with as long of a run-time as this, every line should count, and yet there are a few extraneous scenes that just flounder. There’s a difference between slow-burn storytelling and tedium.
  • Even though it’s still moving at that glacial pace with very little payoff, I liked this episode a lot more than last. I think a large part of that is because the Rayburn siblings were all thrown, quite literally, into a small room together so that tensions could fly. That provided a much more intimate and visceral look at the family dynamics than their phone calls to each other have.
  • The Lowry deal seems way too easy. I’m guessing it’ll unravel soon enough.
  • I know I’ve been hard on Norbert Leo Butz’s performance in the past, but he’s excellent here. He does this kind of unhinged very well. Still, I was probably pulled the most into Meg’s headspace throughout the episode. Linda Cardellini is giving a very subtle but gut-wrenching performance as Meg this season.

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