Bloodline Recap: The Secret of Life


Part 32
Season 3 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Sissy Spacek as Sally, Kyle Chandler as John. Photo: Rod Millington/Netflix

The best episode of Bloodline’s final season is also the most formally playful, a series of dreams and hallucinations that allow us a window into the tortured mind of John Rayburn, plus the return of Danny Rayburn in those guilty visions. It’s an interesting choice for the penultimate episode, an hour that does little to advance the plot but highlights the show’s two best performers while offering a psychological prelude to the emotional finale.

John wakes up in the hospital, playing with his medical ID bracelet. He doesn’t remember how he got there or seeing the doctor last night, but there are state troopers waiting to talk to him. Remember that scene of John’s drowning that closed the last episode? Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. Did John try to kill himself? In quick succession, he also learns that Mike Gallagher, his old friend from Boston, is dead. Did John kill him?

Things get even stranger for John as he leaves the hospital, told by his mother Sally that she’s never heard of Mike Gallagher and Diana Rayburn has been out of town for the trial. It isn’t possible that John had dinner with her last night. Now John is really confused, asking if Eric O’Bannon took a plea in the Marco Diaz trial. Sally tells him that Eric tried to escape and was shot. John has been so deep in his own regret and paranoia that he doesn’t know what’s real anymore. As he starts talking about killing Danny, reality flips again with Sally saying he’s still alive. The car drifts into oncoming traffic and crashes.

Cut back to the opening shot of John playing with his ID bracelet in “Dream No. 2,” which makes up the bulk of the episode. There’s a new doctor, but he has many of the same questions and concerns. This time, John was drinking and took Ambien, found in the garage with the engine running. He rushes outside of his room and runs into Danny Rayburn as Mendelsohn makes his first appearance of the year and instantly changes the flow of the show with a single line: “Hey, John. Hey, buddy.” God, I missed him.

Now Danny is the one driving John home, yelling at him for trying to kill himself. In one scene, we see how much Bloodline has missed Mendelsohn. There’s so much energy and character in just this one drive, and it’s not even really happening. There’s an especially poignant context to hearing Danny say, “Everything’s fine.” Of course, we know it’s not.

John comes home and is surprised to find his mother, who he thought was in a car accident. She tells him that they came and pulled Kevin right out of bed — remember, the feds are ready to bust the dumbest Rayburn for his minor role in the Cuban drug trade. There’s a disconnect between what John says and how Belle responds in this scene that’s fascinating, too. Even as John yells at her, she just keeps saying thank you. John returns to his car to find Danny missing again, and is startled to see Nolan at his window. A flashback to Danny contains a line essential to the dangerous world of the Rayburns: “Secret of life? Knowing when to leave.”

John gets to work and his dream gets no less surreal. His partner tells him that his secret is safe with her. Then he’s at his desk, looking through files, when Aguirre comes in and gives a monologue about seat belts and car accidents. “You been going 100 miles per hour ever since Danny died,” he says. It seems like the end of the trial was the car accident, the thing that has hurled John Rayburn completely into his own guilt and grief. And he wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Cut to John at a restaurant, where he’s confused by the waitress also being the doctor from the beginning of the episode. Now time loops on itself as we see John waiting for Danny to get off the bus the first time, during his initial return to the Keys in the first season. As the bus pulls up, John talks to, well, John. Another version of himself appears at his own window, wondering why he’s bringing Danny home again. He’s a time bomb.

Time loops even more as John unravels. A scene of Danny Rayburn arriving home to a raucous game of tug-of-war flows into a scene in which John comes into the Rayburn Inn to find Sally talking to a young Danny. Sally even asks John if he’s finished his homework.

John comes back to his own home to find Jane in her room, but his daughter tells him that he’s not supposed to be there. For John Rayburn, there is literally nowhere to call home. He tries to cook for his kids and wait for his wife to return, but she won’t come home as long as he’s there. He looks in the mirror, hearing Danny’s laugh as he takes pills from the medicine cabinet without even breaking his own dead stare.

John is drunk and puking when he comes downstairs in the Rayburn home to see Danny at the table. “Hey, John,” he says again. Sally says, “There have clearly been some things going on with this family.” Danny even adds, “Getting rid of me makes complete sense on every level.” Some part of John’s brain is trying to rationalize the murder of his brother, a brother who calls his life a “costume and a performance.” Danny tells him to go to the beach, but John says he can’t.

When John attends the wake of Eric O’Bannon, the episode gets even more experimental: There’s an atonal ringing on the soundtrack and handheld camerawork that adds to the tension. He tries to apologize to Chelsea, but there’s no point. “You can’t be someone you’re not,” Beth tells him. Perhaps the most illuminating line of the episode comes in this scene as John says, “I don’t know what it is that I need to do.”

The ringing stops and John is behind the wheel with Nolan. They’re talking about Ozzy and how everything about him is getting erased. Nolan talks about unconditional family love. John tells a story about his father throwing him overboard to see if he could swim and Nolan calls him on the lie. They would have been swimming from a young age. The story is bullshit, just like so much of the Rayburn legacy.

The same images that closed “Part 31” segue into John’s brief, third dream with another ID bracelet and another doctor. This time, it’s a psychiatrist. In this final vision, Sally Rayburn tried to kill herself and Nolan is in charge of her DNR. Danny tells him to remember the day their father beat him for the death of Sarah. He tells John that he doesn’t blame him for that, but it’s how he’s treated Danny ever since that matters. He’s keeping him weak, making excuses, and treating him like an asshole. Danny cries. They hug as Sally flatlines.

Cut to John waking up on a chaise lounge on the beach. This is reality. “Lunch is ready,” his mother says. John really did almost die while diving, but Mike saved him. Nolan stopped by too. He’s got some questions.

Other Notes

• I wish Bloodline had been this formally daring all season. It would have been more interesting to see John Rayburn mentally falling apart during the trial.

• The image of John Rayburn that I’ll remember is him in that loose tie and oversize police jacket, looking sweaty and disheveled as if he’s been standing in the rain all night.

• Even John Rayburn’s hallucinations contain long scenes of driving. This show loves people talking while they’re behind the wheel.

• I love the idea that the trial was all that kept John Rayburn sane. Now that it’s over, Danny Rayburn returns to push John over the mental brink. And as he says in the final shots, “We’re not done yet.”

Bloodline Recap: The Secret of Life