Season one was an endurance test, but at least it had a reason for being. This one doesn’t, unless predictable fallout is your thing.
Bloodline has always been an odd show trying to make it in a world with too many choices. The drama, heading into its second season on Friday, is from Netflix, but the series is anything but binge-worthy, its first season dragging out often interminable hours that left little desire to hit the play button on the next one.
But the series also wasn’t structured like a traditional drama — created primarily with the knowledge that all 13 hours of the first season would drop on the same day, and Netflix subscribers could watch it whenever they wanted in any way they wanted. For creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman (who created Damages), that must have seemed like a massive luxury. Unfortunately, it also felt like they were taking advantage of the Netflix concept at the expense of urgency and dramatic tension.
Oh, season one of Bloodline could be both dramatic and tension-filled, to be sure, but only if you labored through all 13 episodes to get the ultimate payoff — and it’s not hard to find people who couldn’t make that slog.
The benefit of enduring the slow pacing of Bloodline was that two of its stars, Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn, turned in brilliant acting performances and often elevated the series when they were onscreen together, no matter how languid things were in that particular episode. Meaning, Bloodline was very lucky to have both actors, particularly Mendelsohn, who played the black-sheep brother in the family-with-dark-secrets series. So much was asked of Mendelsohn, and he delivered at every turn.
Should you be one of those people who haven’t seen Bloodline and are thinking of starting it, everything after this sentence is going to be a massive spoiler for season one, so take heed and stop reading right now.
For everybody else, well, you know what happened: Mendelsohn’s character was killed off by brother John (Chandler), and the many tangled lies and deceptions of the Rayburn family were told (OK, most of them), including how sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) and brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) aided and abetted that murder, the three of them justifying it to the hilt along the way. There were plenty of other twists involving deceased Rayburn patriarch Robert (Sam Shepard) and matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek), and Bloodline ended up being a mostly satisfying one-season story, if you had both the patience and endurance to finish it and could handle some of the late-episode twists that seemed more eye-rolling than truly revealing.
It never would have worked as a traditional weekly series — not compelling enough — and was helped immensely by the fact that all 13 episodes were done, so no matter how long it took you to finish, there was never a threat of cancellation to truly worry that all the hours invested would be wasted.
Bloodline was, in short, a series too slow and aimless for some to finish and still too long for those who did, even if the payoff was finding out what happened to Danny, the poor Rayburn kid who got no help from his family when he needed it most, got warped from the process and came home later in life to settle scores. Ultimately, he wasn’t a sympathetic character because he did a lot of bad things, but a good drama makes you feel for the flawed people and makes you invested in understanding them. And a really fine actor cements all of that, as Mendelsohn did.
Bloodline did not finish neatly, however, even though Chandler’s voiceover narration told viewers long before that something bad was going to happen, and flash-forward devices gave viewers a pretty good idea that something did indeed go sideways. Not content to merely tell the main Danny story — clearly the Kesslers and Zelman wanted the story to go on — season one ended with the surprise revelation that Danny had a son, Nolan (Owen Teague), who showed up out of nowhere to torment the Rayburns at the end of the season and give the audience a groaning hint that there would be more lies and deception going forward.
But does anyone really want that? Bloodline is one of those shows where a second season seems almost pointless because the mystery has been solved. You learn how it happened. A second season witnessing the crushing emotional fallout on John, Meg and Kevin is less thrilling and certainly less mysterious. If they locked it down individually, there would be no second season, so that’s a huge hint.
And yet, promises of more secrets are hardly enticing after Bloodline became less enjoyable and more a contest of wills just to find out what the full story was. The first episode of season two — which takes place just a day after the first season’s actions — seemed exponentially long, which was not a good sign. Getting through a second one was also a chore but had enough ridiculous signs of where Bloodline was going this time to be enough evidence to bail right then and there.
Bloodline is 10 instead of 13 episodes this year, and that’s hardly a problem-solver, given how so many of the episodes in season one spun their wheels. And the first two hours of season two are chock-full of oh-please-don’t-go-in-that-direction turns that put the onus firmly on the viewer. If you watch more than that, well, you might as well go through all 10. That’s on you.
It certainly helps knowing that the Bloodline creators have found a way to involve Mendelsohn, but he’s not in it enough to offset the main roadblock of continuing the story — there’s no compelling reason to do it. How everyone deals with the fallout is not worth 10 hours, especially since the answer is “badly” and there are hints very early on that bad decisions and recriminations are forthcoming. In the second episode, Cardellini’s Meg character says, “Jesus Christ. This is all about Danny still. He won’t f—ing go away.”
If that’s too on-the-nose for you, well, yes, it should be. Even though Chandler is watchable in virtually anything — he’s always magnetic and conveys the struggles of his characters well — even he won’t be able to entice viewers from last season who are on the fence about committing their time this season. Danny’s son is, well, too TV-annoying to be real. And when everyone’s bad decisions start to influence the plot — even early on — that should be ample warning to heed.
Production company: KZK Productions
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacinda Barrett, Sissy Spacek, Jamie McShane
Creators: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman
All 10 episodes are available on Netflix starting Friday, May 27.