If there’s one thing that made the first season of Bloodline watchable it was the mystery John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) narrates to us about what the three younger Rayburn siblings did to Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the fourth sibling and black sheep of the family. It was that mystery, those unnerving final words of the pilot — “we’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing” — that kept the momentum of the first season going, no matter how annoyingly teased out the information got to be.
But something is lost in Bloodline’s sophomore season. After Meg (Linda Cardellini) and Kevin (Norbet Leo Butz) help cover up John’s murder of Danny in the season one finale, season two is all about the three of them trying to keep the truth from getting out. With John running for sheriff, Meg’s new job in New York and Kevin’s financial situation looking up at the marina, the three stands to lose everything when the investigation into Danny’s death gets more suspicious after Wayne Lowry (Glenn Morshower), the man Danny was running drugs for, is cleared. Add in Danny’s long lost son Nolan (Owen Tegan), Nolan’s mother Evangeline (Andrea Riseborough), and Ozzy (John Leguizamo), Danny’s friend from Miami, things get a bit complicated.
At 10 episodes, season two should have had a tighter storyline, but what we got instead was a long, drawn out plot that at times seemed to make up mysteries on the spot in an effort to be just as mysterious as the first season. Things that were only hinted at in season one are brought to life in flashbacks in season two — Danny’s restaurant in Miami, the fire, the people Danny owed money to, and Danny’s brief interactions with Nolan. But Bloodline didn’t need these new mysteries to succeed — it already had a fascinating set up for a character drama, not to mention a very tense situation the three main characters found themselves in. When the season was dealing with that fallout, the show really shined. Scenes during which Marco (Enrique Murciano) interviews the three siblings separately about the night Danny was murdered are incredibly engaging and perfectly paced. There are scenes with John that just bleed psychological thriller when he hallucinates Danny and imagines himself in prison. Kyle Chandler does guilty so well it’s kind of weird no one has pinned the murder on him yet. When the show deals with the psychology of covering up a murder, it does it well. It’s just too bad there isn’t more of it.
And then I run into a problem with Bloodline. With Danny gone, the three remaining Rayburn siblings aren’t quite as dynamic. Danny was complicated and did bad things, but he had depth that made him likeable where the other three didn’t. It’s tough to pin down what there is to like about Meg and John. John won’t back down from running for sheriff and ropes Meg into being his campaign manager who eventually pays people off to secure John’s win. Kevin is a bit more sympathetic as a recovering alcoholic with a baby on the way while trying to create a business with the marina. But the three are constantly making bad decisions that never make any sense with who they are (and I’m not even sure that’s totally clear either), and I can’t help but think back to the pilot’s final words. The Rayburns aren’t bad people. They just aren’t all that interesting, either.
At times, Bloodline feels like it’s trying too hard to be serious drama, almost to a point where certain situations felt a lot like Breaking Bad. When John’s wife Diana (Jacinda Barrett) figures out what John did, their interactions with each other were reminiscent of Skyler and Walter dancing around Walter’s drug business. The difference between the two shows is that Breaking Bad earned those scenes with a multiple season buildup whereas Bloodline seems to call forward reveals for the sake of drama rather than timing them for the right moment. Or sometimes, characters will hold onto secrets for so long that the arguments get tiring. One such example is John and Diana refusing to explain to their daughter why the seahorse necklace holds such significance. A lot of this season is Janie (Taylor Rouviere) asking her parents where the necklace is, and let me tell you, it’s not engaging storytelling to watch someone search for a necklace for multiple episodes in a row.
The inclusion of Nolan worked as a literal ghost of Danny for John, Meg and Kevin to be haunted by, but other than that, Nolan’s side of the story doesn’t hold much weight. Evangeline shows up to essentially ask for money from the Rayburn family, and while her scenes with Sally (Sissy Spacek) are great to watch, most of the time Nolan and Evangeline feel pretty stationary and just kind of there throughout the season. Ozzy is really only here to stir up trouble for the Rayburns, and his partnership with Eric O’Bannon (Jamie McShane) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as the two investigate Danny’s murder by themselves.
The end of the season comes too abruptly, but maybe that’s just because I thought it was 13 episodes and not 10. Regardless, I’m not entirely sure what the end means for the next season (if it’s renewed, that is), and that’s mostly because the whole season felt directionless. Season one had a story to tell. Season two didn’t, and that makes all the difference.
Bloodline season one and two are now streaming on Netflix.