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Bloodline – Season 1 Review & Discussion – “We Did a Bad Thing”

WARNING: There are Spoilers throughout this review! Don’t read unless you’ve seen all 13 episodes or don’t mind having major plot points spoiled!

Did you finish yet!? Watching a new Netflix series is a totally new and unique experience – the pacing defies what I usually love so much about TV, which is long-form storytelling, with time each week to think about the advancements of previous episodes. Before I sat down to watch the pilot I told myself I’d take a more traditional approach when viewing Bloodline… not like the two-day Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt binge of last month, or the week-long, double-season marathon of Orange is The New Black that I embarked on when season two was released. Not this time, I told myself. I said I’d watch two or three episodes and then pace myself from there, doing only an episode or two a week to prolong the experience. But no such luck; season one took me less than six days to finish.

Truthfully, Bloodline had me hooked long before the flashback-heavy first episode. The moment Netflix announced a series starring Kyle Chandler from the creators of Damages I was sold. And by every means measurable, it lived up to my personal hype. Bloodline manages a unique mix of realistic, relatable family drama and twisted, edge-of-your-seat crime thriller – it’s sort of like Brothers & Sisters meets The Sopranos. These people could be your siblings, your neighbors, your husbands, your wives… There are no caricatures here, which makes the series so impactful. The “good”, by-the-books brother is pushed over the edge; the perfect, attorney sister is anything but model; the laid-back younger brother has a dangerous temper; and the black sheep brother has a past that might make you understand (and even feel sympathy for) him.

Indeed, what will get you caught up in the first few episodes isn’t the whodunit (though that gets increasingly interesting as the season progresses) but the realistic portraits of people we know in these characters. One of the biggest strengths of Chandler’s last TV drama, Friday Night Lights, was its hyperrealism, and that carries on through Chandler and the rest of the cast of characters here. It’s rare to see such an accurate depiction of family, from triumphs and strengths to dysfunction and secrets. Bloodline gets that right on the nose, so when the darker more suspenseful aspects come into play later on, they don’t feel unbelievable – they’re gut-wrenching because they’re happening to people we feel like we know and care about, and their fear and regret is palpable. On that basis alone this series deserves accolades. Bloodline’s first season perfectly encompasses nearly everything I love about television.

The Family

At the core of the series are the siblings of the Rayburn family: John (Chandler), Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) and Meg (Linda Cardellini). As a cast, they’re pretty much impossible to beat. Chandler already has an Emmy under his belt, not to mention one of the all-time iconic TV roles, but there’s no Coach Taylor to be found in John Rayburn - it's easy to see why Chandler would choose this role as his return to TV. Cardellini has been a favorite of mine for years, too, first as Lindsay Weir and most recently in the 6th season of Mad Men playing one of Don Draper’s more notable mistresses. Butz was a new face to me, and he didn’t miss a beat – Kevin could have been a one-note character, but he never came off that way.

Perhaps the most credit goes to Mendelsohn for finding – and expertly maintaining – a balance between the total darkness we see later on and the damaged, down-on-his-luck brother that you can’t help but root for at some points. Like I said above, one of the most expert components of this series is how much these people grow to really feel like a family - Sissy Spacek is the glue that holds them all together as matriarch Sally (no surprise, she's phenomenal especially when trying desperately to convince herself that Danny can be saved.)

Even while we were told basically from the first scene that Danny wouldn’t make it out of the season alive, I found myself constantly rooting for him throughout. “He’ll cleanup his act!”, I’d lie to myself. “There’s no way they’ll kill him after all that!”

What’s Next?

But alas, they did kill him. John did, to be precise (like I said, there’s no Coach Taylor to be seen in John Rayburn.) As season one wraps, you get the feeling that the writers told exactly the story they set out to – unlike most freshman seasons, there aren’t really any stories here that bloat the show or feel out of place. Sure, the first few episodes have a slightly slower pace, but it’s not because the stories are uninteresting or non-vital, it’s because they take their time, setting up a slow-burn that pays off mightily in the back-half of the season.

With Danny out of the picture I find myself wondering what season two might look like. His death isn’t the only great change, of course; Sally is learning to live without her husband (Sam Shepard, who was great), Meg has relocated to New York and Kevin is trying to fix things with his wife who’s expecting a child. There’s a lot to tackle there going forward. And then there’s that ending…

When I was thinking of possible ways for Danny’s presence to loom over the next season I thought, I wonder if they’ll give him a son? I had totally forgot about that notion by the time the bomb was actually dropped at the end of episode 13, and I’m still wondering how I feel about it all. It’s a bit cliché, sure, but not totally implausible. There’s still so much we don’t know about Danny, and this is certainly a way to dive into his past while causing future trouble for the family. Still, I hope that with Danny’s death and this new introduction we don’t lose Jamie McShane or Chloe Sevigny. As Danny’s old buddy and frequent cohort in illegal misdeeds, Eric O’bannon, McShane was fantastic – another black sheep you couldn’t help but root for in some cases, no matter how much he fucked up. Sevigny plays O’bannon’s sister, Chelsea, who gets caught up with several members of the Rayburn family once Danny returns home. I’d love to see more exploration of their family in the second season (we briefly glimpse their mother at one point – she’s certainly a character.) Sevigny has just signed on for a regular role in the next installment of American Horror Story, but I'm hoping that we haven’t seen the last of her here.

Whatever comes with the second season, I’m clearly open and excited. I love House of Cards and was a die-hard Arrested Development fan long before it made the move to Netflix, but for my money – this is the best series the streaming service has produced so far. Chandler, Mendelsohn and several other members of the cast deserve, without a doubt, to have their names called when the Emmy nominations are announced this year. And I’d love to see Bloodline up for Best Drama… it may just eclipse Orange is New Black which, due to a change in rules, is no longer eligible to compete in the Comedy categories. As long as season two finds a similar balance between relatable family dynamics and biting mystery, I’ll be breaking my binge rules all over again next spring.

So what did you think of Bloodline!? Did you love it as much as I did, and how quickly did you get through it? Hit the comments with any thoughts! I’ve thrown together a few questions to get a conversation started, if you will:

- How long do you really think Meg will last in New York? Will it be the news of Danny’s son showing up that brings her home?

- Not a question, more of a thought: I hope season two isn’t bogged down by countless fake-outs where the siblings are nearly caught…

- Is Kevin really going to be happy once he gets the kid he and his on-again-off-again wife Katie have been trying for?

- At what point do John and Diana finally come clean to the kids about what Danny did? They seemed a bit old to be totally sheltered given the severity of it all.

Bloodline Season One is available for streaming on Netflix. It’s been officially picked up for a second season set to premiere in 2016.

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