“You’re not roping me into anything. That’s what family’s for.”
Second seasons are tricky. Sometimes they act as a brilliant way of widening the borders of a series and expanding on what’s already been built. But for series that so often relish in playing with the audience’s perceptions and creating a layered mystery, second seasons can reach and collapse under their own weight.
Dramas that are built on the foundation of a compelling mystery, like Veronica Mars or even Zelman and the Kesslers’ previous series, Damages, both have second seasons that throw too much into the mix and suffer from an overly busy, convoluted mystery. Unfortunately, Bloodline seems to suffer from many of these same issues for its sophomore year.
The most disappointing thing is I thought Bloodline had a really wonderful first season and I was genuinely excited for the return of these whacky Rayburns. This is a case of a show scrambling to get things back together after the huge cliffhanger that they ended season one with. Huge cliffhangers are great if you know how to recover from them. There were so many moments in Alias’ lifespan that had jaw-dropping cliffhangers lead to eye-rolling aftermaths, and frankly, Danny’s death at the hands of John, Meg, and Kevin becomes a quicksand that the second season never recovers from.
The tagline for the first season of Netflix’s Bloodline was, “We’re not bad people. But we did a bad thing.” Well this second season argues that maybe the Rayburns are bad people after all. Maybe they’re kind of the worst.
Meg lets out to Marco in confidence, “The more you know about us, the more horrible we are. We’re not the people that you think we are,” and this season works its hardest to prove that point. It’s a little ridiculous the amount of times that the Rayburns are breaking the law this season or asking others to break the law for them. This could be a commentary on how one bad situation can beget an avalanche of more, or, y’know, the Rayburns might just be some entitled people that sort of suck.
This season begins with an appropriate amount on its plate, still reeling from Danny’s murder at the hands of his siblings, not to mention the arrival of his son, Nolan, in last year’s finale. Nolan does a good job at keeping the spirit of Danny present within the show (it seriously feels like he’s channeling his father at times), with his initial purpose seeming to just be to poke holes in the Rayburn family’s bond. Nolan quickly settles into his role within the show, but I would have preferred if the season played up the mystery angle with him a little more, introducing more fresh problems to the table rather than spending so much time in the past.
But I guess that’s what this show is all about; the past is never really buried. It also becomes a little exhausting at times to see the Rayburns continually digging deeper graves for themselves with each episode. This season feels like they never make a good decision, and honestly, I need a little more of these guys getting a win every now and again.
One of the aspects of this season that I particularly enjoyed was seeing Kevin almost absorb Danny’s role of the black sheep in the family, now that he’s gone. Kevin is screwing up at every turn and goes down a tragic path this year, but it also opens up the interesting idea that someone is always going to be the “Danny” in the family. If Kevin were to drop out of the picture, I have no doubt that Meg would be the next one to start buckling under the weight of things. This season might throw a lot at the viewer, but the material that explores whether Danny ever really had a chance or was progressively forced into the role that he ended up filling are by far the most interesting.
John also isn’t faring too well amidst all of this, with his incessant micromanaging of the various illegal plates that he’s spinning feeling like it’s going to give him a heart attack. The show does a good job at playing John’s idealized version of himself against cold, hard reality. He’s not as in control as he thinks he is, and he’s in constant repression and denial. This complex that he’s building pushes him further off the edge and makes him less and less empathetic. It gets as far as putting the thought in your head that John might even kill Kevin if he thinks that he’s going to slip up. A lost Kevin asks John, “We had to do it, right?” on the topic of Danny’s murder and the show continually deflating their once ironclad convictions is a much more interesting headspace to put these characters in.
The show should really just change its name to BLACKMAIL at this point, considering what the season eventually devolves into. A lot of this year comes down to situations of dueling blackmail where everyone has some piece of dirt on someone else and is itching to pull the trigger. This ultimately isn’t very exciting because any sort of movement on these fronts feels like it’s happening purely for the convenience of the story. Everyone is given some little piece of ammunition and then they inconspicuously do nothing with it because it’s too early in the season. Then when movement does happen, it doesn’t feel earned, either.
The season hopes to glide off the tension it creates by the countless relationships that see perversion, but as more goes on it feels increasingly cliché rather than suspenseful. There are a number of things that the show throws at you towards the end of the season that will have you going, “Oh, come on!”
In what’s an already cluttered season, you really don’t need a lot of the side characters (which includes a villainous turn from John Leguizamo). One efficient central antagonist could have maintained a lot more focus rather than each character having their own respective dilemmas to navigate through on top of the whole murder cover-up. It’s telling that even in a ten-episode season, versus a season of thirteen like last year, the season still feels a little muddled, unfocused, and repetitive in the middle stretch of it all. Even with less time to fill there’s still plenty of fat.
In spite of my many gripes with the handling of this season, there is still plenty of stuff that this year gets right that conjure up those vintage Bloodline feelings. It’s funny, with all of the Rayburns preoccupied with their many ill doings, Sally and Nolan end up getting left together a number of times and the pairing leads to winning results.
Spacek does incredible work as she finally opens her eyes towards her mistreatment of Danny. Seeing her get to experience her son for the first time through Nolan is really special and a silver lining to all of the wallowing in hatred that the season does. There’s even an interesting parallel that’s looked at where a bunch of dirt that’s revealed on Grandpa Robert Rayburn is played in tandem with more Danny revelations, connecting the dots between how similar they were. The show continues to have fun with the concept of how after someone’s death there are always skeletons waiting to come out of the closet.
Bloodline’s second season definitely ends on an apathetic shrug rather than the WTF posture-straightening that last year did. I fear that a lot of the magic might be gone from this show and that the characters have all gone to too unlikable of places too quickly. Zelman and the Kesslers have a wondrous ability to course correct so we’ll see what next year holds, but it’s certainly going to get a lot messier before it simplifies any time soon. There’s some seriously sloppy plotting in the finale that I don’t know how this show is going to plausibly figure out. It all stems back to how the show probably shouldn’t have killed Danny in the first place, or that maybe this is sadly a story that’s better suited for a one-season show rather than an ongoing entity.
I’ll still be checking out what the Rayburns will be up to next year, but with all of the lines that they’ve crossed and how bloody the entire family’s hands have become, there’s going to be a lot less compassion on my end. Honestly, maybe the best thing at this point is to start locking this family up.
While discussing Danny’s murder early on in the season, John tells his siblings, “We’re always going to be dealing with this. You got that?” It’s meant to be a moment that ties them together and hints at the rocky road ahead of them. Unfortunately, it also acts as confirmation that the show’s strong premiere season is always going to be hanging over it, reminding us of what we used to have.
All ten episodes of Bloodline’s second season are now available, only on Netflix.
This review is based on all ten hour-long episodes of Bloodline’s second season