“Families aren’t easy to join. They’re like an exclusive country club where membership makes impossible demands and the dues for an outsider are exorbitant.” – Erma Bombeck
The opening credits for Bloodline locates viewers in a distinct place and time in the South. The haunting theme song tells the story of a man on a sea quest while time-lapse images of day to night over a calm ocean pass in quick succession. Not to be undone, Mother Nature sends lightning bolts to make her presence known, lest you forget who’s in charge.
Set in the Florida Keys, the Southern locale brings to mind a few characters that might appear in a revival of a Tennessee Williams or Horton Foote play. The voiceover narration fits in this genre. However, does he know more than viewers or will he discover what’s afoot alongside, just before, or afterward?
We’re introduced to an imperfect family in succession, in various states of undress, work, and travel, and we have to figure out each of their roles, histories, and agendas. The idyllic white sand beachfront inn is tranquil for the moment, yet it’s a safe bet that all isn’t or won’t be for long.
If you pay close attention to the screen, you might notice and become slightly woozy from the camera effect of floating on a boat or hanging onto a raft awaiting rescue. This might become a recurring theme throughout the series of characters being off-balance and in need of a savior.
The matriarch’s, Sally Rayburn (Sissy Spacek), weathered countenance and body looks as if she’s burdened by secrets, favoritism, and some nostalgia. The patriarch, Robert Rayburn (Sam Shephard), is right at home in this world of alligators, palm trees, and secret machinations. The prodigal son, Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn), is returning yet again to his childhood home after having been away for reasons viewers will later discover. The inevitable magnet to his bloodline and wanting to be accepted by family stirs up mixed emotions. He has a lot of pressure as the oldest son who ought to be the heir apparent to the business. Which horrible memories causes him to temporarily second-guess celebrating with his siblings, parents, invited guests and staff?
There’s a weightiness in the first episode, yet it doesn’t overwhelm, but rather it allows viewers to find their footing with the main characters. Viewers will choose sides as we keep score and make mental notes as not to miss important details.
Southerners are different from Northerners in how they treat family, which isn’t to say that the South has a corner on tight knit, dysfunctional family dynamics. I just don’t think if Bloodline were set in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, it would work. The story and characters are specific to their location and mindset.
The protagonist, John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler), has the sometimes unenviable roles as the voice of reason and the glue that’s meant to hold everyone together. He’s the second oldest of five children, who not unlike his mother, unevenly carries the weight of the world and family expectations on his back and shoulders. His being a police detective is probably borne out a sense of trying to keep and maintain order, something he can’t always do with his family.
When a family member abandons their home, it leaves a void that echoes over time and is amplified upon their return. Pointing fingers and assigning blame is natural among those who are left behind. Why did he leave us? Were we not good enough, love him enough to keep him at home? It’s not always about love, hugs and bloodline, some people need to explore the outside world that’s made of more than glass houses with porcelain tea sets. There are countless instances of who and what’s lies beyond family boundaries is better than who and what’s waiting at home.
One of the underlying questions viewers will be tasked with answering is whether genetics, scrapbooks, and shared experiences can combat the darkest corners of the human heart? If this proves true over the subsequent episodes, can people repair past misdeeds and accept each other from the point of a public or private declaration of forgiveness?