The Netflix thriller Bloodline had an incredibly successful debut season, earning both the praise of critics as well as several Emmy nominations. However, even fans should approach season two with raised eyebrows.
The first season essentially told a self-contained story, ultimately killing off the show's greatest asset, the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn. Would the second season be like the sophomore outings of The Killing or Under the Dome, programs that frustrated viewers by going past their natural end points? (For another example, pop over to Fox for a look at Wayward Pines. Or, better yet, don't.) The jury is still out after Bloodline's second-season premiere, a strong dramatic hour that nevertheless stands in the shadow of what's missing from last year. It's not just Mendolsohn: The plotting in "Part 14" feels a little more rushed, decisions stretch the suspension of disbelief a bit more, and the themes of the season have yet to reveal themselves, if they ever will at all.
The death of Mendelsohn's Danny Rayburn defines this first episode. Loose ends and guilty consciences look like they might tear the Rayburn family apart. John (Kyle Chandler), Meg (Linda Cardellini), and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) all played a role in their brother's death, and they're handling the fallout from that life-changing event in different ways. John has some control over the investigation into Danny's murder but will soon learn that he may be more of a puppet than a puppeteer. Meg is on the run from her guilt, drowning herself in work and booze at a new job in New York City. And Kevin is … well, he's being Kevin, which means making a lot of dumb decisions, most of them fueled by drugs and self-loathing.
The first problem for the "Guilty Rayburns" comes in the form of Nolan (Owen Teague), who claims to be Danny's son. It's noteworthy that this season picks up almost immediately after the end of the last, meaning the Rayburns are still in a state of shock, uncertain about Nolan's identity or what the hell he wants. For now, John and his family decide to let him stay on their couch, although the morally self-righteous John couldn't be more derisive of this kid claiming to be his nephew. He always thought he was better than Danny, and that contempt is easily passed to his offspring. Nolan claims that he had nowhere else to go, then offers up a scrap of paper with his mom's last known contact information. It doesn't work, but it might help track her down.
Meanwhile, Kevin is in over his head financially. He's selling his boat for much less than it is worth, just to get half of the asking price by the end of the month. He can't pay his employees. And he's not the only one cleaning house. The drug cartel run by David Lowry (Glenn Morshower) is tying up loose ends as well, killing everyone who worked with Danny, while the cops are trying to pin the murder on Lowry and his people. Danny stole Lowry's drugs, and they had him whacked. Case closed. But John's partner Marco (Enrique Murciano) realizes this whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense. Why did Danny steal drugs and then come back? Marco wants to pursue some other leads, and John can't exactly stop him. It would look suspicious to not want to know the truth about his brother's death.
We get the first of what is likely to be several flashbacks to reinsert Mendelsohn into the action. Danny's buddy Eric (Jamie McShane) is taking a leak when someone takes a shot at him. Eric comes out to find Danny having taken out the attacker, and we see that he's about to leave a recording on a cassette tape. Uh-oh. This could come back to haunt the Rayburns.
There's a wonderful little scene that further exemplifies how the creators of Bloodline are willing to make their central family deeply unlikable. Meg, John, and Kevin think they're above everyone else, and if there's an interesting arc to this season, it's their likely fall from societal perches. In the scene, Jake (Michael Beasley), one of Kevin's employees, asks his unstable boss to take some time off, and Kevin has the balls to say, "I'm trying to build an empire here. And I'm not going to forget you little people." The Rayburns think everyone outside of their tight-knit circle is a little person. The first season played brilliantly with issues of class, and I hope the second keeps that up.
It certainly does when John comes home to find his daughter Jane (Taylor Rouviere) talking to Nolan, then orders her inside like he caught his nephew harassing her. Nolan says he just wanted to see if the legendary Rayburns were real or just another one of his father's lies. He reveals that Danny got in touch with him and started sending him money after he came back to the Keys. The money would come to Danny's place in Miami, where Nolan would pick it up. And then the money stopped coming, making Nolan a bit suspicious something had happened. Later, John fills his siblings in on the arrival, making Kevin even more paranoid and Meg more irritable.
Kevin takes that paranoia into a conversation with his wife, Belle (Katie Finneran), who is pregnant, as you may remember. They have a heart-to-heart about Kevin's inability to express himself and how he won't talk about Danny. Kevin is definitely the most likely character to have a few beers and confess something he shouldn't. And it looks like he might do just that to Belle when he says, "I fucked up," and starts to cry. He suddenly pivots, however, blaming the emotion on his money problems. It's a good scene, one that considers how often these characters pull back from true honesty, admitting an easy truth instead of revealing a deeper one.
In a logically questionable twist, John leaves the kid he doesn't trust alone in his house. He rummages through everything, of course. He finds a wad of cash in a drawer while John tells the "Lowry version of events" to his family over dinner. Danny stole drugs from Wayne Lowry, and the bad guy set someone after him. There's a clever twist of a siren in the background on Meg's phone that aggravates John, still the most "together" Rayburn even as he's starting to crack. Sally (Sissy Spacek) can tell that John is giving up on Danny's case. He attempts to reassure her with the political line, "We're gonna get this guy, I promise you," and Spacek fires back the look of a mother who knows her son is full of shit.
While Meg is getting drunk at a client dinner in New York, Sally confronts John on the porch. The new head of the Rayburn family offers a glass of dad's stash of whiskey, but mom's not drinking. He tells her that he's thinking of running for sheriff, but she has other things to discuss. Is it possible someone planted drugs in Danny's apartment? "When did you know he was dealing drugs?" She's pissed that she was left in the dark about Danny, and also keenly aware that she's not being given all of the information. John looks like he's about to confess something — a nice parallel to Kevin's scene earlier — but he goes back into political mode. Danny was involved with bad people. She storms off, knowing she's getting spun.
Marco asks Kevin to come look at what remains of the blown-up boat from last season, knowing that something doesn't make a lot of sense. If you're getting rid of a body, is this the best way to do it? Could it have been an accident or an engine fire? Not thinking straight because of cocaine, paranoia, and his general degree of stupidity, Kevin mentions how he saw something similar on an insurance scam. Maybe someone was trying to stage something? When John finds out, he is pissed: "Whenever Danny comes up, you've got to be smart," he tells his brother. Kevin just needs to take care of his wife and kid and lay low. Good luck with that.
As they often do, the writers of Bloodline plant a few revelations in the final scenes to hook us for the next episode. First, Meg gets a call about a regular disbursement that dad was making from his bank account, and quickly learns that he was sending $5,000 to Nolan's mom every month. Interesting. Second, Nolan arrives at Eric's house and says, "John is lying to me." Finally, John gets a call from Lowry and meets him in a boatyard. Lowry orders him to make the investigation go away. Why would John listen? Well, Lowry's got the tape. And then we hear Danny's voice: "Hey, John, I'd like you to meet my friend, Wayne Lowry. I've told him some things that could make your life very difficult."
- With the exception of the Danny flashbacks, it seems like the second season will be more linear, allowing the loose ends and paranoias to pile up until someone discovers the truth about Danny or ruins their life trying to protect it.
- The opening credits are the same — a smart move given how this show carries itself from season to season — but somehow that opening storm looks even more ominous, and the sunshine that breaks through more of a lie.
- People keep giving the Rayburns chances to confess — Marco, Mom, Belle, etc. — and they refuse to do so. The more they refuse the truth, the harder it will be to keep up the lie.
- The show ends with the great Gil Scott-Heron's "Your Soul and Mine." All of the Rayburns' souls are in serious trouble.