By: Anthony Zangrillo
Netflix’s new series is one that stays firmly in the wheelhouse it has built for itself, meaning it is a long-form drama that utilizes the art of the slow burn. Created by Glenn & Todd A. Kesler and Daniel Zelman i.e. the same people who made Damages, Bloodline is a tale, at its core, about a family. You have John (Kyle Chandler), Meg (Linda Cardellini), Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), and Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), who form the Rayburn clan along with father Robert (Sam Shepard) and mother Sally (Sissy Spacek). Danny is the black sheep of the Rayburn clan, the reason for which ultimately begins the unraveling of the perfect image the Rayburns have built. And thank goodness for that because the true greatness of the show really shines through as the Kesslers & Zelman demonstrate to the audience just how flawed and damaged (for lack of a better word) the Rayburns are. Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn is a standout in regard to his performance as Danny Rayburn. His portrayal as the tortured black sheep shows more shades of nuance and depth than any of his fellow cast can manage to muster up in the show’s 13 episodes. The hurt and betrayal practically oozes out of Mendelsohn in the latter half of the series, especially in regards to the revelations which show how exactly Danny became the black sheep he is in the present.
Structurally, Bloodline is similar to a three act play. It uses its first act as a way to introduce the characters and the plot elements that’ll come into play as the series progresses. This first act actually works very well, as it lets the audience get used to the kind of people the Rayburns are and entices them with ominous flash-forwards. By the end of the first act, the audience knows all the players and the second act is largely about moving the pieces to set up the final act’s explosive conclusion. If the first act was more about gaining the audience’s attention, the second act is about building the tension slowly. Emphasis on slowly. It will be a bit of a slog for the audience because the Kesslers & Zelman really do take their time moving the pieces and the players for the show’s inevitable third act. That being said, Bloodline’s third act is one which almost wholly redeems the momentum-killing nature of the second act. It’s explosive and momentous in such a way that by its end, everything the Rayburns claim to be in the first act is utterly changed. I unfortunately can’t go any deeper into that claim because of spoilers.
So, that’s all well and good, but what about the weak-points of the show? In the performance department, the rest of the siblings unfortunately end up turning in a noticeably weaker performance than Mendelsohn, but not for lack of trying. Both Meg (Linda Cardellini) and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) have storylines which really don’t give them the room to turn in performances like Mendelsohn. Meg in particular is given only one noticeable subplot, a generic infidelity storyline that ends up going nowhere. Even Kevin’s subplots harp on his character’s trait of being rash and end up giving no real depth to Kevin. Even John (Kyle Chandler) gets a bit one-note in the second act, as he becomes the naïve and trustful brother to Danny. And despite the greatness of the third act, it decides to make John pull a completely out-of-character action to serve as a final twist to the story. Plus, one of the series regulars dies by the end of the 5th episode, which does serve as an appropriate catalyst for the actions following, but you can’t help but feel a bit cheated because of the missed potential the show lost by the death.
Ultimately, Bloodline is a good show that just so happens to have a lot of missed opportunities. If you can forgive a meandering second act, some filler subplots, and dodgy characterization, there is a great show to be found. And with a second season on the way, there’s no doubt that only improvement can come to the show’s problems. In short, come for the excellent cast & pedigree, and stay for Mendelsohn’s performance and a phenomenal first & third act.
I give it 6/10.