Remember the old days when we’d all gather around the water cooler and discuss who shot JR or of Rachel and Ross were ever going to figure things out? Nowadays we’re all watching our own shows at our own paces and unless you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or Mad Men, you mostly miss out on this cultural sharing moment. Well, I finished a fantastic new series on Netflix last night and I want to share it with you here at our virtual water cooler. Let me tell you about Bloodline.
When Danny Rayburn comes home to the Florida Keys to help his family celebrate the dedication of a pier in their honor, the balance of that prominent family is upset and things start to go wrong almost immediately. It starts small as Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) ducks his brother John (Kyle Chandler) at the bus stop only to show up directly at the inn their family manages. But these little upsets are keys to the tension underlying the family dynamic and (as in all good narrative) that tension develops and soon explodes.
The tension seems to center around Danny, the black sheep who wants to be the prodigal son, but Danny is really not just a source of tension but also the Iago—the key to unraveling the smooth facades of everyone around him. Within the first few episodes we see that successful lawyer and youngest daughter Meg (Linda Cardellini) is in a serious relationship with someone else than the guy she is screwing in the backs of cars. Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is barely holding on to the pretension that his marriage isn’t headed for divorce. And John is finding it harder and harder to be the upstanding boy scout of a detective that he so desperately wants to be.
I can’t tell you how the story develops (it would spoil all your fun) but I can tell you that after watching an episode or two at night I felt all balled up with tension (and couldn’t wait to watch more). The writers have a very subtle way of focusing each episode around one character’s relationship with Danny even while advancing the story as a whole and it never feels formulaic.
No matter what Tolstoy said about unhappy families, there are similarities in the threads of dysfunction and one of the things I enjoyed most about watching Bloodline was trying to tie the characters in this show to members of our own families. It was also instructive to watch the master manipulation of characters like Papa Rayburn (Sam Shepard) as he pits his children (oh-so-subtly) against one another and Mama Rayburn (Sissy Spacek) as she feeds the conflict.
What deliciously complicates the dysfunction is the nuances in the character of Danny (and the excellent portrayal by Mendelsohn) that made me hate him, pity him, fear him, and then flat out wonder. To have a character where our understanding shifts and evolves that completely is pretty much unheard of and it’s the main reason I recommend this show.
As Danny’s poking at his siblings and parents, the whole family starts to unravel and secrets are revealed that make you look at all of the characters in a different light. This is such a gorgeous mirror of how small (and big) changes in life shift and re-shift our family relationships. It’s something I’m thinking about a lot as my pregnancy changes my relationship with some family members (I haven’t felt closer to my dad in a long time) and helps me see others more clearly.
I could go on and on about other amazing craft elements in Bloodline (like characterization) but I’m bound to reveal something I’d rather you get to discover on your own. If you like a good mystery and a well conceived and acted show, go watch Bloodline already. Then come back and tell me what you thought.