Bloodline’s Showrunner Breaks Down the Final Season and the Fate of the Rayburn Family

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Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn. Photo: Netflix

Major Bloodline spoilers below. You’ve been warned!

The final season of Bloodline picks up exactly where the second season ended: The Rayburn family secrets are on the verge of exposure. When we last saw the Florida Keys family, older brother John (Kyle Chandler) was escaping and driving north; Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) was freaking out over killing Detective Marco Diaz (Enrique Murciano); and Meg (Linda Cardellini) was about to spill all the beans to their mother Sally (Sissy Spacek).

“It felt like the most exciting start to the season to pick up right where season two left off — right in the chaos,” executive producer Todd A. Kessler said. “I think season three is very much about trying to put the audience in the shoes of the characters. Starting right in the chaos where there’s no letting go; there’s no escape for the characters; and there’s no escape for the audience.”

Kessler also spoke to Vulture about how the story ends for each of the Rayburn children and their mother, the return of Danny (Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn), and why the writers opted for an open-ended closing to the series.

How much of a challenge was it for you to cull your plans and figure out what you would include? Were there a lot of stories that you didn’t tell at all?
There’s a lot of stuff we didn’t get a chance to tell, but each season was going to focus on a specific character and also aspects of family dynamics. So we ended up condensing and combining, and really pulling up stories that we had for seasons four, five, and six into season three. There were certain things that we just weren’t able to get to because of time constraints. But on the whole, I think that season three really delves very deeply into John’s character, Kevin’s, Sally’s, and Meg’s, too. What you’re seeing in season three is, in a certain way, a shorthand for what you’d see in seasons four, five, and six. It ended up creating a very dense and full picture of all of the Rayburns in the final season.

In the end, is Bloodline about how secrets can damage a family over decades and generations?
I still may be too close to it to be able to completely summarize what the series is about in that way. It’s still very fresh. But from the very beginning, I was interested in exploring identity and the roles we all play within families and relationships. How those roles can be assigned, how we can be trapped in those roles, how it is very challenging to break free of those roles, if it’s at all even possible to break free of those roles. So Bloodline itself is an exploration of all of those family dynamics.

It’s interesting how the characters internalize and experience that single tragic event in their lives — when Sarah dies. They’re stuck in the roles they took that day. Especially John, I think.
I think that’s very accurate. Some of that is because they were kids, and they were all different ages when those events happened, so they all interpreted them differently. That’s something that we had never seen before in a story, in a series, and we were very interested in exploring.

We’ve heard John say that they’re not bad people, but they did a bad thing. After all is said and done, because so many horrible things have happened, are they actually bad people?
Each character may answer that differently. As storytellers, I don’t think we look at them as either bad people or good people. As you’re saying, they continue to make bad decisions. In essence, they may have had blinders on, and you see how their decisions lead to the next and the next, without fully taking a moment to pause and say, “How do I want to move forward?” What does it even mean when all of a sudden these characters find themselves doing very bad things and there’s a resistance to taking responsibility for their actions? That is where the series really lives.

I was trying to think if one character had lost more than others. Maybe John. But Danny lost his life; Meg made the decision to leave everyone behind; and then, of course, poor Kevin. Do you think the loss and suffering is evenly distributed?
Everyone is definitely suffering a lot. If we’ve done our job as storytellers, they’ve each lost different aspects of themselves and different aspects of their relationships. We weren’t trying to hit the same note for everyone. Ideally, you’re able to reflect on what each one of them has lost, and how it’s been experienced in a different way. So John, to me, feels the most internally conflicted. That’s where the season and series leaves off — that internal conflict he has about how can he possibly move forward. Kevin and Meg and Sally have all made pretty distinct decisions, and John is in a place where he seems the most unsettled with how to potentially move forward.

At the very end, he’s confessing. He says someone has to pay the price for all of it, but Aguirre’s response surprises him. It surprised me, too. He was hell-bent last season on prosecuting John. Now he forgives him?
In certain ways, John has come this whole distance to try and come clean, and the person that he’s coming clean to, the top authority as the sheriff who was hell-bent on getting him in season two, is saying, “Look, I’m done.” Too much has happened. That was before Marco was killed. That was before so many events had unfolded. Aguirre has an out and doesn’t want this to be his life anymore. But, yes, John confesses what he did to Aguirre, and the law is no longer after him. He’s in the clear on that score, but it’s a personal conscience that he’s wrestling with. That’s where he’s left in the ending with Nolan on the dock: Will he tell Nolan the truth of what happened? Hopefully, there’s something intriguing about that decision, where you might turn to the person next to you, or talk to a friend on the phone, and have a different interpretation of that ending.

Why did you decide to leave that up to us?
We’re trying to put the audience in the shoes of the characters. It’s a deeply personal question for John. It’s aligning the audience with that character, so you’re answering it for yourself, as opposed to being told what he did.

Do you hate Kevin? Kevin can’t catch a break!
[Laughs.] Well, Kevin always seems to make the wrong decisions, that’s for sure.

When I saw him drinking in Cuba, I thought he’d be the one who got away. But no.
Nope. He gets caught for something much more minor than what he did. But there is a comeuppance there.

Kevin is just that guy who can never get it right.
As the youngest of the three brothers, he’s always trying to carve out his own identity and ends up blaming a lot of people. He’s always pointing the finger. He knows that he’s a fuck-up. He just makes the wrong decisions and can’t stop himself. And you know, there’s something really sad and resonant about that. It’s not that he’s necessarily a bad person or has bad intentions. He’s trying to save himself, trying to do what’s right for his family. Even in killing Marco, he was trying to save his family. Obviously, it’s not a well-thought-out plan. But it’s not premeditated. He didn’t go there thinking he was going to kill Marco at the end of season two.

What about Meg? I kept waiting for her to get sucked back in, but she doesn’t.
It’s great to hear you say that because there’s an audience expectation that it can’t just end that way. But in fact, it does. There are those people who just try to sever ties. Meg has tried to, but I don’t think she’ll ever be free of her family, as much as she would want to be with her moving, her new name, and her new group of friends. There isn’t resolution in her journey. If anything, I hope that it’s unsettling. But also, you could completely understand that choice that she’s making.

In Sally’s last scene, she’s unraveling, and she’s so cruel to John and Kevin. The three performances were great in that scene. Why did you make that her final appearance? That’s our last impression of Sally.
That’s a pretty substantial scene of the series. Not only for John and Kevin, obviously, but for Sally. There’s just a lot packed into that, including the fact that Sally tried to sell the inn, and how it all unraveled because the people who were buying it were doing their due diligence and realized that it’s going to all be underwater and it’s worthless. And that’s something that Sally had devoted her life to. What hopefully that represents is this false structure of family that Sally has used to advance the inn and her sense of self, and her whole construction is collapsing on itself. That’s when she starts blaming her children for destroying her life. It’s the culmination of revealing who Sally really is, and then hopefully providing more of an understanding of the environment these kids grew up in.

Let’s talk about Ben Mendelsohn’s return. Danny felt different to me in the last two episodes. He wasn’t the antagonizing ghost character. His interactions with John felt more brotherly.
That’s very astute. It’s well-intended. With some time, John is able to process more and realize how meaningful Danny was in his life. The role that Danny played is not the menace. If anything, Danny’s presence is a menace to the truth for John. We just see more in the last episode, the flashback on the beach where young John asks young Danny advice about a girl. You’re seeing the closeness they actually had when they were kids.

You did leave some open threads. Is that because there’s still hope that Bloodline could continue elsewhere, or did you want some elements of the Rayburn story to be left to interpretation?
The experiences that I enjoy watching, hopefully, make you go back to start watching it again. To pick up more and more details. It’s not meant to be withholding from the audience. Ideally, it’s meant to plant seeds in the audience’s imagination that these characters and stories live on. You may start thinking about it a week after you watch it and have a different perspective. But it’s not meant to be frustrating. It’s not as if the series ends and then you say, “Okay, I’ve got it all.”

Bloodline Showrunner Breaks Down the Final Season