Is the Payoff Worth the Slow Burn of Netflix's 'Bloodline'?
Short answer: Yes. It absolutely is. Feel free to binge-watch Netflix’s Bloodline to your heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that — after 13 hours — you won’t be let down by the finale.
Longer answer: Bloodline is slow-burning greatness, and while doling the revelations out incrementally and reiterating old ones can be frustrating at times at the outset, the addictive quality of those slowly-building revelations all but ensures that you won’t be able to stop watching until you’ve completed the series.
The irony is that shortly into the series, you know how it will end. The series comes from the Brothers Kessler (one of whom cut his teeth on The Sopranos) and Daniel Zelman, best known for creating the Glenn Close/Rose Byrne series, Damages, which also played with the timeline by doling out flashes of the future as the narrative dangerously careened toward it. It’s a brilliant device that emphasizes that it’s more about the journey than the destination. That destination is already known; it’s the context that’s most compelling.
That journey takes place largely in a small and idyllic resort town in Florida, and centers on the Rayburn family, who run a successful inn popular with tourist. On the surface, the family seems almost too perfect: Sam Shepard plays the patriarch, Robert; Sissy Spacek plays the loving mother and wife, Sally; Kyle Chandler plays the eldest brother, John, who is also the town sheriff; Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a successful small-town lawyer; and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is a semi-successful business man.
Then there’s Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the estranged black sheep of the Rayburns, who rolls back into town and quickly pierces the facade. Without spoiling too much, we learn an immense amount about Danny over the course of the series, about why he’s the family fuck-up, why he’s back in town, and what is motivating him to tear down the Rayburn family from the inside.
Kyle Chandler may be the draw for Bloodline, and he’s as solid as ever (imagine Coach Taylor as a detective with the profanity filter turned off), but it’s Mendelsohn that will draw you in. He and Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) have basically already stamped their cards for next year’s Emmys. Television has never seen anything quite like Danny Rayburn, either: He’s oily and conniving, equal parts charming and terrifying. He’s like the dark half of Aden Young’s character in Rectify, the kind of character that disturbs your energy. There’s far more to him than what’s immediately apparent, and most of the fun of Bloodline is getting inside of his mind and figuring out what makes the guy tick. Spoiler alert: It’s pure spite and malevolence.
What’s interesting about Danny, however, is how easy it is to simultaneously sympathize and despise him. He’s that guy you can’t help but want to root for, even though you know it’s never going to work out for him. He’s doomed from the beginning, and the only question is how far he’ll take the rest of the family down with him. He’s not so much an anti-hero as he is a villain you’d like to see win a few battles before ultimately losing the war. He’s a snake, slithering through the lives of his siblings, striking through the pretense and opening up old wounds that have to have the poison sucked out.
Bloodline is engrossing, so much so that somewhere along the way, you may find yourself wondering if you skipped an episode. You’ll start in on episode 7, fall into a trance, and wake up somewhere around episode 10, wondering what happened to the last four hours of your life. Mendelson will hook you immediately, but after four or five episodes — once the pieces begin to fall into place — the story will sweep you along toward the dark and sickly satisfying end, capping the series off with four of the best episodes in the short but stellar history of Netflix’s original programming.
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