“Part 21” doesn’t nearly flow with the same rhythmic emotional turmoil as “Part 20.” But it weaves together a compelling series of flashbacks that have real emotional stakes in the present. “Part 21” does a lot of table-setting, a lot of last minute plot maneuvering to get things set up for the last couple episodes, but that final scene between John and Marco is a slow and spectacular collision—the exact kind of character-driven conflict this show handles well.

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After Diana drops a bomb on him at the end of last episode, John spends a lot of “Part 21” stuck in his own head. In typical Bloodline fashion, the psychological aftermath brews just beneath the surface. The only time Diana and John interact in this episode is at the very beginning, when she tells him she’ll be home at 6 without a trace of emotion behind her words. A wall had already been up between them for so long, but the dynamics are different now. She knows, and she has turned the tables on John in a way, shutting him out the way he has been shutting her out for so long now. It’s such a fleeting scene, but there’s a lot there. And it works so much better than some more dramatic fight between the two. It’s the natural way to follow that phenomenal scene from last episode. John finally seems to be grappling with the reality of what he did. He revisits the place where he last spoke to and then killed Danny. The scene is edited fantastically and in a way that really pulls the emotions to the surface, the chaos and choppiness of the flashbacks mixed with the calm and quiet of John’s present. It’s a technical feat as well as a powerful character moment. Kyle Chandler is again superb, able to communicate so much without saying a word. There’s a hint of fear in John’s eyes as he sits on the ground, overwhelmed by revisiting his memories of killing his own brother. Diana cracked open John Rayburn.

Meanwhile, every last person in John’s life is starting to turn against him. After the Ozzy incident, Meg becomes worried there’s more her brother isn’t really telling her. She wants to protect him, but she can’t if she doesn’t know the full truth. She goes to Kevin, and they start to wonder about the night of the Red Reef, Meg piecing together the fact that John could have been there. John has isolated himself from everyone by being the only person who knows everything about what happened. And this all culminates in the killer final scene (Bloodline this season is really determined to stick the landing on its episodes’ final beats). The scene undoubtedly marks Enrique Murciano’s best performance on the show. Murciano hasn’t been slacking as part of Bloodline’s killer ensemble, but he hasn’t been given enough material to really sink his teeth into until now.

The interrogation scene is much longer than it would be on most other shows. Bloodline is determined to let its most emotionally packed moments breathe. These are the moments when its measured pacing pays off. Marco is trenchant and determined in his interrogation of John. He accuses John, Meg, and Kevin of helping Danny get away with murder. Little does he know that the truth is much darker, that his partner John has way more to hide. From a plot perspective, I’m a little annoyed that Marco’s reignited suspicion hinges on a dumb error on Meg’s part. Meg is one of the smarter Rayburn siblings, and I don’t really buy that she would be stupid enough to give him Alec’s name. She had to have known he would follow up on her alibi. But that detail aside, the interrogation scene brims with tension, anxiety, extremely powerful character work. John tries to make things personal, desperately flinging Marco’s relationship with Meg in his face. And then he waits until the last possible second to drop a bomb of his own on Marco: the fact that he knows about the domestic abuse coverup. Again, Marco’s involvement in the coverup hasn’t exactly unfolded in a way that makes much of an impact, which is surprising given its severity and given Bloodline’s typically strong grasp of the emotional significance of major character reveals like that. Neither Meg nor John seem to have fully processed what it means. John merely uses it as a bargaining chip essentially. I’m still waiting for that story to seem like more than just a development for the sake of plot. The scene crackles, but it isn’t quite as moving as that Diana scene from last episode.

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Meg further entrenches herself with Gilbert and distances herself from Pamela Ortiz, leading the latter to go to John. Sally, whose strongest motivating factor always seems to be guilt, finally comes around to Eve and Nolan after a day in Miami with her tortured grandson. The Kevin storyline lags, as Kevin storylines often do. Kevin’s boatyard struggles have been very uneven in how compellingly written they are. Kevin often seems like an afterthought. When he tells Belle that the boatyard represents his attempts to get out from John’s shadow and be better than Danny, it’s almost too explanatory, like the character’s motivations are being neatly summed up by writers determined to answer the question of who Kevin Rayburn is. In other words, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing in Kevin’s parts of the narrative this episode.

For all my talk of that final scene and of John’s inner turmoil in the episode, the real heart of “Part 21” is Nolan. Last episode didn’t really have room for Nolan or Eve, but they’re back again, and the more details we get about Nolan’s past, the more we learn about his relationship with Danny, the closer he gets to being the most compelling and fascinating character of the season. The day Sarah died, Danny was charged with a life of punishment. He’s gone, but Nolan is still serving his sentence. When Nolan first showed up on the show, he was framed like a threat, like a repetition of when Danny first showed up in the Keys during the pilot. But Nolan is really innocent in all this. Okay, so he isn’t perfect. He burned down Danny’s restaurant in a fit of Rayburn rage. That reveal hits even harder than the interrogation scene, the past woven with the present in a charged sequence that’s strongly situated in Nolan’s head.

Owen Teague deserves as much praise for his performance as some of the season’s hard hitters like Chandler. Teague has masterfully mimicked some of Ben Mendelsohn’s Danny-specific qualities but still manages to bring something a little different to the performance. Danny and Nolan both possess the strange quality of seeming tightly wound and completely relaxed all at once. It makes their intentions hard to figure out. Flashbacks throughout this season have worked toward further developing Nolan and Danny through their relationship to one another. The ones here are devastating and so telling of why Nolan harbors such complicated feelings for his father, his mother, and the Rayburns. He doesn’t necessarily hate the Rayburns, even though they all kind of assume he does. His festering anger is more directed at Danny, who let him down over and over and over. Danny doesn’t seem to give a shit that he could lose the restaurant when he’s locked up for selling stolen pharmaceuticals, and his apathy cuts Nolan like a knife. It’s the first time that Nolan has really looked and sounded like a kid. Teague is as captivating here as he is in some of Nolan’s more hardened moments. He is another one of Danny’s victims. He is another product of the Rayburn cycle of violence and corruption. He’s the beating heart of this season, the tragic character who is unable to dig himself out of a hole he was born into. Whereas some of the other parts of Bloodline’s narrative are too consumed with stuffy, tangled plot, Nolan is still a firmly grounded character, and the more his emotional significance on the show gets fleshed out, the more engaging Bloodline becomes.

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Stray observations

  • Meg pays off Ozzy because I guess Meg is determined to make Kevin-level dumb choices these days?
  • I’m really loving Eric O’Bannon this season, and I wish we were getting more of him. He seems more and more defeated in every scene, and it’s devastating. He’s a sharp contrast to Ozzy, who is out of his damn mind.
  • John has to get caught by the end of all this, right? There are simply too many people onto him at this point.
  • Gilbert is such a caricature that it’s unfortunate that he’s playing such a crucial part in the last few episodes of the season. There’s really no emotional significance to attach to the character, and that makes him a glaring weak spot in this character-driven drama.

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